Report from Tomorrow - Vol 32

1USD = S$1.64 (S$1 = 0.590USD)

Powerlender Status

I've had a few inquiries from some of you about my work for United Overseas Bank (UOB). The first draft, which you can read here, got really long and involved. If/when this one gets too much for real people, feel free to skip it.

As I've written before, I'm manager of the development support group. This is exactly the same sort of group I worked in at IBM for so many years - except this time I'm the manager. "Manager" in this context is not quite like at IBM, but more of a technical lead - except I do have personnel responsibilities, but no direct budget nor salary responsibilities. In part, this means I can hire or fire people, but don't have any influence on their pay levels.

My group is called "development support" in the org chart. We are responsible the infrastructure for the rest of the project. We run the Solaris machines (two then, now seven), administer Oracle (two servers now), administer Netscape's Suitespot servers (mail, news, LDAP and web servers), run the source control software (PVCS), install NT systems, deploy new/old hardware, run the weekly "builds", develop and maintain project status software and databases, develop whatever tools people need to work better and handle anything else that comes up (like demos).

When I first was introduced to people in the bank, my description of my group was, "We make them (pointing at the developers) look good. When things are going well, you can't tell it. When I'm having a bad day, everyone knows it."

I had five other people on my team when I arrived and within two months the first guy left - and then another and another and... While this was a blessing, it also left us terribly short handed. The short story is we had a bunch of successes and people started to trust we knew what was going on.

By May 1998 my team was feeling pretty low. I was terrified one of my guys was going to walk. In June and July I finally started getting people. First the Unix admin came and I suddenly had time enough to think about other problems. Then I got another tools person who has proved to be a real treasure. The last position was filled in early August - another web person.

Now in November, my job is so easy compared to six months ago. No one has left in many months. I have time to plan and think about the future. Deployment of the application is now becoming the topic of conversation and my team will likely have a major role in that.

Team morale has soared. Each person is pretty independent and can largely take care of him/herself. I can now outline a problem and suggest a solution and say "show me something in a bit" and walk away. It's a great feeling. Someday I hope they'll get to the point of bringing me proposals for solutions to problems they see coming.

The "product" of CLS is a very large Java application called Powerlender. Early estimates were for 500 KLOC of Java. It'll probably end up at about half of that. The original IBM project was for about 60% of what we will eventually complete. By Sept we were just a little past the IBM "it's not possible" point - no small point of pride, as you might guess.

There are several hundred potential end users of Powerlender in the bank, from the people who approve loans, to loan officers at the branches to members of the credit committee which includes the very top management in the bank (especially the Chairman). Geographically this means Powerlender is used in 87 branches around the island, each connected by a 64Kbps link (which is also used for ATMs, tellers, and other bank business) and at the main headquarters.

In the Fall of 1998 there are a million deployment questions to be answered as they affect decisions on space, people, and hardware. The top level management, now being believers, are keen to have Powerlender out there now. It's particularly important to have loan information computerized with the deepening Asian economic crisis.

So as I near the end of my first year with the project, I'm still very pleased to be here. I have been able to contribute enormously to the project and that is recognized by the people I care about. As I tell my people, we have the best technology and best toys in the bank. Powerlender is the best thing going on in the banking business in Singapore (at least), if not elsewhere too.

By the time I leave I'll be able to add a number of key skills to my resume. I'm no longer afraid of entry level management and can do a good job there, but I remain basically a techie. By the time I leave, I'll know lots more about Java, Oracle, Perl, LDAP, NT, Tk, Solaris, Marimba and administering a complex environment of mixed architectures. Seems like it should be useful to someone. :-)

I still go in every day with enthusiasm. I've got a long list of things to do and a seemingly never-ending list of surprises from upper management (which will likely increase as we get closer to deployment). But it's actually this sort of "invent as you're trying to catch-up" world that I am good at. I think I have excellent instincts about what to do in this sort of environment and I find it stimulating.

It's also not going to last forever. :-)