I used to be with IBM, now I work for Microsoft

I'm sorry children, but engaging in full-time writing has never paid my bills.

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"I'm sorry children, but I'm afraid I have no choice but to sell you all for scientific experiments."

In the writing of this piece, I am reminded of a very bawdy musical scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, where a Yorkshire man with dozens of children has to tell them that they are being sold for scientific experiments because he can no longer afford to house them. Actually, there's a more theological (and biological) reason he uses, but I'll leave that for you to listen to on your own.

So, where to begin. For the past 17 years, I've lived two separate lives. By day, I've been a working technologist, either as an independent contractor or a full-time employee in the financial and technology industries. By night and weekends, I write. Profusely.

This is the way things have been for the majority of my professional life. I don't see it changing anytime soon and it's exactly the way I like it. By being full-time employed in the technology industry, I get access to such tangibles as health benefits and a salary and a retirement plan, all of which greatly assists in dealing with the inevitable expenses we all have to bear.

There is another benefit to having full time employment in the technology industry, and that is being an actual practicing technologist and having exposure to actual technology that is used by real companies. Which makes anything one writes about in the technology industry that much more legitimate and authoritative as a result.

But the real fact of the matter is that my professional life would not be complete without being able to write as well.

Everyone who writes has some reason for doing it, and not all of us have the same reasons. Mine is that it keeps me from going crazy and it acts as a pressure valve for the random thoughts that are constantly racing through my brain. It also has the side benefit of paying for things such as the expensive toys that I like to play with and helps to keep my savings account at a water mark that my wife and I are comfortable with.

Some people who write in our industry are able to make a living out of writing full-time, and I have a huge respect for these folks because these are the real hard core professional journalists. At ZDNet, we have some people who are full-time freelancers, a smaller list of full-time staff employed by CBSi, and another subset of folks that do this part-time along with their regular day job.

While my title at ZDNet is Sr. Technology Editor because of my 5-year tenure at the publication and with my general technology focus on Tech Broiler, I am lumped in with the last group of folks, that write strictly on a part-time basis.

For the last five years, I was employed by IBM. This isn't exactly a state secret, it was in my mandatory ZDNet author disclosure page and I mentioned it in articles in which the company was referenced. It also was in my Wikipedia and LinkedIn entries too, both of which have now been updated.

IBM is a very big company. It touches many aspects of the technology industry, including Software, Hardware (Servers, Storage, Mainframes, Mid-range systems and Semiconductor Manufacturing) as well as a substantial Professional Services and Strategic Outsourcing business. 

As it was, I worked for IBM's Global Services Division as an Advisory Architect. I was a billable resource, a consultant who actually implemented and designed technology solutions for its customers, specifically around servers and datacenters. 

While I have written a bit about servers and datacenters, Cloud and related technologies over the last 5 years at ZDNet, I have also written about a lot of other things, including mobile technology, which is an area that greatly interests me. So I've embraced using things such as iPhones and iPads as well as Android devices. And I've also written about Open Source, Linux, Macs and yes, Microsoft's products as well.

I think it would be safe to say I have a passion about everything related to technology. I don't have a "religion" or a "moral alignment" when it comes to the technology that I use. I use all kinds of technology, and I want to learn about as much as I can and also use as much as I can.

All the technology products and services as well as the companies that produce them which I write about have their own strengths and their weaknesses. When it comes to my personal usage of these technologies, I like to mix it up as much as possible.

I am a technology renaissance man in every sense of the word. I am a self-described "Gourmand" of tech, which is not unlike my passion for food and wine.

I would certainly never limit myself to eating one type of cuisine or drinking one varietal of wine. My views towards technology are very much the same way, and this is a practice I intend to continue for as long as I am alive.

The burning issue that many readers seem concerned with as it relates to technology writing is if one's employment while working for a technology vendor or a provider can present an inherent bias in what one writes about.

In other words, can one be a completely unbiased writer? I believe the answer is no. However, I think this has absolutely nothing to do with who you work for full-time.

First, I want to qualify what many of us actually do at ZDNet. We have two kinds of writers. The first of which is reporters, which produce news content. News reporting, as one might suspect, is very much "just the facts." Some of these people also do analysis and speculative pieces, which falls in the area of opinion editorial.

What I write about can be classified strictly as opinion editorial.

So when I get the inevitable angry reader comment in our Talkbacks or via email or Twitter that I am a "biased journalist" or that I "must be paid by <insert vendor here> to write what you wrote" I have to laugh, because it is impossible for one who writes opinion not to have bias.

Heck, even people who do straight news reporting have a bias depending on what their particular beat is. Entire publications could also be said to have an inherent bias depending on what their mission statement and focus is.

To not have bias is unnatural, because we all develop as human beings with a certain set of experiences, and those experiences form the basis of our knowledge, which is the font of stuff stored in our grey matter that we as writers use to produce our work.

Now, full-time employment will impact what one writes about, or how one writes. Because I worked for IBM, which is a technology company with a purely enterprise focus, I had pretty much free run in writing about consumer-ish stuff.

However, when talking about a direct competitor to IBM, I found the need to directly disclose it in the article itself (usually at the bottom as a disclaimer, sometimes in the context of the piece) because I did not want my own opinions to be perceived as that of my employer. Which they weren't. Ever.

On November 30, 2012, I left IBM. I loved my five years at the company and I was honored to work with such smart people with such strong integrity and work ethics. The company has an amazing talent for getting the most difficult things done and innovating in so many areas. I was priveleged to be a part of it, and in many ways, it is an experience that will always leave me as an IBMer, no matter who I end up working for in the future.

After a week's vacation (which I'll let you know about shortly) I joined Microsoft.

Now, from my own rose-colored perspective, this is just switching jobs and moving from one big technology company to another. In many ways, Microsoft and IBM are very similar, although technically moving from a company with over 430,000 employees to one of 94,000 is downsizing, but I would never dare to call Microsoft a small company.

Microsoft is a complex organization that like IBM touches many aspects of the technology industry, but where it focuses on things is somewhat different. The job that am also performing at Microsoft is also very different than what I did before. At IBM, I was part of a services delivery group as a Systems Architect and was a revenue-generating resource.

At Microsoft, I am part of their Sales, Marketing and Services Group (SMSG) as a Partner Technology Advisor, focusing specifically on Cloud hosting providers and ISPs and helping them to create their own Microsoft-based product offerings. It is an exciting position in a growing part of the company and I feel excited to be working with people who are just as passionate about technology as I am.

These are folks who truly love tech and drink it as if it was mother's milk. I'm truly energized just by being around them.

So how does this impact what I write and how my writing is perceived?

Well, despite the fact I joined Microsoft, I'm still the same person with the same set of experiences that I had before going in. Everything I have written to date is what it is. Over the last 10 years, and even in the last year, I have been extremely critical as well as lauded praise on Microsoft, and I have done the same for the company's competitors. When it comes to whacking vendors, I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity offender. 

Now, Microsoft clearly has areas of concentration that intersect in many more areas that I wrote about than when I was at IBM. That is unavoidable. Mobile, Devices, Desktop and Server Operating Systems, Web and Cloud-based servcies, Enterprise Software and Private Cloud/Virtualization are all areas that the company is involved in.

While my own work at the company will primarily touch Enterprise-based products and services, there may be times where there might be some consumer tie in, such as Desktop, particularly as it applies to Cloud-based implementations.  

Microsoft has set guidelines they expect me to follow when I blog and participate on social networks. I intend to abide by them. Fortunately, I am not being restricted in the subjects I can write about, but I need to make my affiliation with the company clear, which is why this piece is being written.

You will also notice that in addition to an update on my ZDNet Disclosure, every single blog post (including those on my legacy articles) now includes a sentence in my bio at the bottom of each page that I work for Microsoft, and my opinions are very much strictly my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

You can also expect that I will not be writing about unreleased Microsoft technology or issuing speculative statements about them either. Nor will I be sharing any information about such matters with my esteemed ZDNet colleagues who do write about such things. What is announced and is released will be fair game, however.

Many of you are probably wondering if I can still be trusted to write about products that come from companies that directly compete with Microsoft. As I said, at the end of the day, I am still the same person as I was before joining the company and I am not going to stop using the technologies I was using before.

It's really up to you as a reader to decide if the information and opinions I am relaying to you have weight and validity and overall value-add, given my many years of industry experience and my current employment situation as a whole.

So in short, whatever biases I had, I pretty much still have. I still enjoy using Linux and Open Source technology, Macs, Android, iOS, and of course, Windows. And yes, I just got a new Windows Phone and plan to delve into using the Surface. As it should be for any true gourmand of technology.

Enough with the explaining. I hope you continue to read and enjoy this column, as I explore the world of technology. As far as I am concerned, this business as usual on Tech Broiler.

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