On Notes, Domino, and New Zealand

Overview

I recently threw a couple of quick tounge in cheek comments up in response to this post by Alan Lepofsky on Ed Brill's site. My original comment was posted with a large dose of sarcasm, but the discussion has sort of ballooned out a wee bit. So I'm going to take my tounge out of my cheek and expand a little for anyone who's interested.

About me

First, a little about me. I'm no longer involved with Notes/Domino, but I used to be. I've worked with it since release 3, and have 11+ years of solid experience across multiple countries. I'm an IBM Certified Application Developer - Lotus Notes and Domino 6/6.5 as well as an IBM Certified Advanced Application Developer - Lotus Notes and Domino 6/6.5, a Lotus Solution Sales Professional, Principal Certified Lotus Professional Release 5 Application Development, Principal Certified Developer Release 4 Application Development and finally a Certified Lotus Professional Release 4 System Administration. So I know a bit about the product, and about a lot of its customers in New Zealand. I'm currently the Development Manager for a small software company in New Zealand, and even though my career is now completely .NET focused, I still help out a few of my old customers and friends who are using Notes/Domino in their organisations - and it's because of this that I still poke my nose into the community now and again to see what's going on.

2/2 Developers in New Zealand love Notes 8!

While my first comment about the 2 developers in this country was tounge in cheek, I've observed enough to know that it's accurate in parts.

Firstly, I've had a Seek jobmail in effect for the past 2-3 years, and when I compare it to my equivalent .NET job search the results are pretty scary. Many weeks there's nothing at all for my Notes search. Some weeks there's 1-2 jobs, which are for Helpdesk people who have used Notes. Occasionally there's a Developer role, and when there is those roles can stick about for quite a long time unfilled. Compare that to my .NET search, which yields a consistent 40-60+ jobs a week. Note that my search is just for the Auckland region, so there may be more going on in other parts of the country.

Secondly, I still get a lot of calls from agencies trying to match up Domino Developers with their jobs. I often get called multiple times about the same role, and the agents are always very desperate to find anyone with Domino skills. That might sound like a generalisation, but I've actually questioned a couple of them as to how many Domino people they've encountered, and they always say that they're having an incredibly hard time filling the roles. This is starting to show through in some of the ad text which is being posted - in fact one semi recent ad had wording equivalent to "everyone says there aren't any Domino Developers out there, but that can't be true! Send us your CVs!".

Next, I know a lot of people who used to be working with Domino who have moved, or are in the process of moving away. Those which spring to mind immediately are moving to .NET, but that's not necessarily true for all of them. I also know a few companies who used to use Domino heavily, who are now questioning this usage for the future. In a couple of these cases this is due to their existing developers leaving, and it simply not making business sense to even try to replace them. I can't go into heavy details here, but having a window into their thought processes definitely provides me with a unique insight into how the product is being perceived in this country, even if it's not something I can express in terms of solid metrics or provide public examples on.

So to summarise, while my comment regarding the 2 developers from New Zealand wasn't the result of any amount of heavy statistical analysis, it also wasn't said without at least a little bit of background knowledge.

Customers vs Projects

Alan mentions all the customers and partners which Ed keeps visiting. I never claimed that IBM doesn't have customers here - they do. A lot of the large NZ customers match the profile of multinationals like PwC - in that the head office made a global decision on Notes/Domino, and pushed it down to their spoke sites. The fact is that IBM's licensing model has never been that suited to a country where some of the largest companies only just manage to break the 1000 users mark.

My interest is not on whether there are customers here or not, but rather on the frequency and size of new (and interesting) development projects. Again, this is something which is heavily based on perception, and on media coverage, and in that regard you really don't hear a lot. Maybe part of that is because customers may be drawn to using the product internally rather than for public facing websites, but it also might be indicative of the fact that people simply aren't choosing the Notes/Domino stack for anything which has a potential for being high profile. Maybe that's an interesting thought to ponder? Maybe it's not. Again, my perception of the landscape here can only ever be shaped by the things I've had exposure to. Which in my case involves a few informal discussions with business partners to get an idea of what they're up to, as well as the fact that I worked for an IBM Business Partner for around 4 years - during that time the amount of queries for Notes/Domino work was minimal (which might have been more about them than about IBM in New Zealand, but still..). A lot of the work that partner did was legacy maintenance. Sure, technically it's work, but it's not exactly exciting and interesting work - and without that interest factor your stream of new Developers is going to be very very low.

Adding the requirement that projects are "interesting" might sound a bit fickle, and I guess it is in some ways. But interesting technologies = developer interest. Developers like shinies. It's that simple.

Developers - new blood

As a side point, I'd be very interested in viewing some metrics for Domino Developers in New Zealand. I suspect there are quite a few people who muddle through with Domino along side their other job duties as that's very often the way jobs can go here in New Zealand - people become jack of all trades simply because the size of their employer dictates that there's not a requirement for a specialist Developer 100% of the time. However the statistic I'd be most interested in would be the number of new developers a year, or people to choosing to train into Domino as a viable career option. I wouldn't think the number would be too high, which again is possibly due to perception - a lot of people don't see a future for Notes/Domino, so why train into it. It's like COBOL - there's work going, and demand for developers, but would you spend time becoming a COBOL specialist now if you were fresh out of University? I'd suspect that you wouldn't.

Again, note that I'm talking about perception. It's hard to measure, and just because something is perceived in a certain way it doesn't automatically become fact. Also ones perception of something can depend on the sorts of people they're talking to - so maybe the cross section of people I've talked to isn't too varied (however believe me, it covers a lot of different people at a lot of different levels across New Zealand businesses).

TechEd vs IBM Forum

One of the other points of comparison is the popularity of TechEd vs IBM's Forum. I know that Ed has pointed out before that it's not an apples with apples comparison, and I accept that. However it's definately a factor to use to help form a perception. If you attended both events (as I have done in some years) you'd come away with a very different feeling fom each. IBM's attendance is poor, especially considering it's free, whereas the Microsoft event sells out incredibly quickly (despite it's hefty cost) and has an incredibly vibrant feeling to it. The content of the sessions is also very different - the IBM Forum sessions have really lacked a "Wow" factor from a Developer's perspective. I have to say I've never quite managed to put my finger on who the intended audience was/is for the IBM Forum events - they feel more like they're for the IT Manager who's already running the product. If this is the case, then what events are out there to specifically try and pull in new customers? How do you identify potential new customers, and get them attend Forum, and if you did, would they be turned on or turned off by what they saw?

Again, perception. But it's perception which IBM needs to fight against in New Zealand, especially after that period where the Workplace brand confused people into not knowing what the future direction is. It is perception which is going to keep them out of the minds of that 200-300 user company when they're thinking about which technology to use for their infrastructure, or their project, or whatever. It's perception which is going to bring that influx of new developers, or create that outflux of leaving developers..

Summary

Ed commented that he was glad to have given me a place to vent. I really didn't feel like I was venting, but maybe I was. I'm long gone from the Notes/Domino community, and I'm currently involved in some of the most interesting and challenging projects of my life. Helping customers deliver real world solutions which are actually being used. It's all good. I guess the reason why the post riled me a bit was that people in the IBM community have a tendancy to throw comments at Microsoft people for 'drinking the kool aid', however they themselves are guilty of getting caught up in the cycle of "Wow aren't we wonderful. Isn't everything going well?" whether they know it or not. Don't get me wrong, it's great to be positive about what you're doing and working with, but sometimes the amount of defensiveness that comes out of various Lotus sites is quite strong, and imho that's not the sort of attitude which enables positive discussion - it turns into a shit fight all too quickly.

There's so much more that I can't really write about for confidentiality reasons. It's a shame, as these things would add weight to some of my points above. I'm just one person, and these are just my opinions and perceptions. However I am a person who keeps in touch with many other people, and has a finger at least somewhere near the pulse of what's going on. Enough so that I'm able to sit down and write a hulking post like this on the topic and know that I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

Good luck IBM, and good luck to all the New Zealand Business Partners for the future of their business.

Link: Lotus Notes in Middle Earth

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Posted on Sunday, August 12, 2007 12:10 PM | NZ Notes/Domino

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