Why I love Osmosoft and why leaving is the best thing I can do for BT

I announced my intention to leave Osmosoft in a blog post just over a month ago, and it became real this week. When I posted my resignation, it was all about me – why I was leaving, what my plans were – but said nothing about my relationship with BT and Osmosoft, so I thought I’d rectify that.

I have something to say on how I feel personally about Osmosoft, my opinion about Osmosoft’s “success” and why BT will get its biggest return on investment from those of us that leave.

First of all, I am and will always be grateful to Jeremy and JP for creating and maintaining Osmosoft’s environment, as it allowed me to transform from some sort-of technical consultant, with little track record of actually building things, into the fully-functional member of society you know today.

This is the environment I’m talking about: one that allowed me to learn systems development on the job, encouraged everyone to follow their creative hunches and organise their own time, broadcast our individual personalities on to the web and into the conference arena and gave us the time to shape our attitudes about open source and the web into a pretty homogenous set of principles (in effect, if not in concrete).

Over two years, Osmosoft has transformed from a vehicle for one man’s project and the incipient commercialisation thereof, through being a public flag-bearer for a private corporation, into a software house specialising in collaboration systems and web prototyping. At Osmosoft’s offsites, held roughly once every six months, we regularly brought up two questions (@nickwebb deserves a lot of credit for not letting these go unanswered): “what is Osmosoft for?” and “how do we know if Osmosoft is successful?”. We never came up with good answers. Retrospectively, I think now I’d answer them like this (and as I write this, I am aware that Jeremy will likely maintain that this represents the truth as he has always seen it):

Osmosoft is for developing and demonstrating what BT thinks about the web and about open source software. Although Jeremy bears the title “Head of Open Source Innovation” at BT, Osmosoft is as much about attitudes towards the web as it is attitudes towards open source. And the funny thing is, BT has, like, a million people writing systems that you use through a web browser. AND we’ve been using linux and php and mysql and tomcat and asterisk and ALL THAT for years, but it’s taken a dude deposited into the executive with a job-title like Jeremy’s, narrowly focussing on a toolset like TiddlyWiki, before anybody has accepted that BT has a line on either of these things.

Does this mean that BT is justified in spending circa £2,000,000 over 2 years to keep us in pains aux chocolate and conference passes? Depends how you see it. What else does £2m buy you in BT? 2% of the Prison Phones contract; 0.2% of the NHS IT project; 0.02% of the Next Generation Network. Maybe a worthwhile investment if the practices and principles Osmosoft represents does, as Jeremy’s boss JP hopes, save Global Services (which, for the 99% of you who have never heard of them, currently earns 33% of BT’s income and about 100% of it’s net loss).

I’ve left all this behind and as I’ve already claimed via the title to this post, I think that’s great for BT. As I mentioned above, I was not a fabricator when I joined Osmosoft, tiny as it was, two years ago; now I think nothing of erecting savage Frakensteins to get an idea across, or delicately architecting part of the web’s nervous system (or concocting flamboyant metaphors). The magnitude of this change and the Osmosoft-centredness of it is not lost on me. Now I’m free of the obligations that go with someone paying your wage, it is natural to feel that I am also breaking free from Osmosoft and BT. However, this isn’t right. I am an Osmosoftonian, and as an alumni I will always be an Osmosoftonian. And it is here that BT should look for their return on investment.

In case you have just elevated your eye-brows, this is what I mean: To be optimistic would be to hope that in a year’s time I will have a non-zero portfolio of happy clients, for whom I have done interesting and impactful work to improve their individual measure of success. I will have done this by being an Osmosoftonian: using the tools, principles and brilliant brains I have got used to having around me.

At the start of Osmosoft’s journey with BT in May 2007, we thought we’d have overcome some pretty impressive hurdles if we could be a catalyst for changing views, both inside and outside BT. I think there will be no greater testament to the success of this ambition if BT’s leaders can point to its own successors and effectively say, with pride, “we made that”.


  1. Posted June 28, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    A very nice curtain call.

    While I have had similar trouble describing to others what Osmosoft is actually for, the guys* there are carrying out a high quality conversation about the web and all its works.

    When even the Economist is writing about open source, its pretty easy to see that the word is strong. And the web is the tool. And REST is good. And even I’m writing in javascript. And that is just what I can see.

    Harder than the real world, BT is also changing its ways. You can see honest attempts at the good, as well as bizarre references to the bad past. But like the edge of a black hole, time and space runs differently in a corporate.

    *Any women yet?

  2. Posted June 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    The Two Phils have already learnt this, but just in case….

    …you can check out any time you like… but…

    • Posted July 7, 2009 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      @nickwebb noticed this précis on Wikipedia:
      “On the surface, the song tells the tale of a weary traveler who becomes trapped in a nightmarish luxury hotel that at first appeared inviting and tempting.”

  3. Sandeep
    Posted July 24, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Nice blog post..
    not many of the 2005’s left now..

    Good Luck Lister!!

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