Category Archives: Work

Community Service Day

For Wednesday morning we were invited to attend and co-host the community service day at OFPPT, in collaboration with EFE. I think the invitation describes it the best:

“It’s the time of the season again when students are eager to finalize their academic year on a high note and with a bit of fun. EFE Maroc in partnership with DOT and IBM will be organizing interactive classroom and workshop style work readiness  for Wednesday May 14, 2014, just the right thing to leave a major impact on the students before the summer really kicks in.
You as IBMers will be talking about your career experiences but also about your culture, where you come from, personal experiences and what type of tools young people need today to make their careers. You will pass on valuable professional skills such as teamwork, communication, time and project management, career planning skills to OFPPT students in an interactive and entertaining way.
The idea is to show that all IBMers come from different backgrounds but have reached their career goals at IBM – (no need to be IT person to work at IBM, need to have an open mind set for success).”

The first challenge was actually to find the location. 3 out of 4 cars reached the correct place immediately. I was in the 4th… and I think our Odyssey  was more or less this:

Our Odysseye to OFPPT

Nevertheless also car number 4 finally made it and we could just jump in for the introduction round.

OFPPT - Auditorium

We then split up into four groups and hold interactive sessions with up to 30 students. We covered many topics like women in IT, making a good impression at the job interview and being passionate about what you’re doing to follow your career path. I tried to do it in French, which was a chance for me to “embrace challenge”. It worked quite well. :-) The students were very interested and active, which we rewarded with IBM gifts and Swiss chocolates for each comment or question. Other groups even did some role plays or other activities. At the end of the morning all of us came to a very positive conclusion about the community day. I think it’s a great opportunity for both the CSC participants and the students.

IBMers as career mentors Active OFPPT students

#ibmcsc morocco

Half Time Thoughts

We’ve just completed the first two weeks of our CSC assignment – time to reflect about the first half time!

JM Suites is a very good hotel with friendly and helpful staff. I’m good with my room, except that is just above the restaurant and bar: Thursday till Saturday the walls are shaking to the beat of the lout music below me. And some of us got even better rooms with separate bath tub and big terrace. Fortunately the lucky guys shared… well, the terrace, not the bath tub. Oh yeah, we actually came in a bad time, a lot of construction work is going on, the French restaurant is now a Pizzeria and currently we don’t know if the spa will be usable before our leave. But that’s complaining on a very high level.

We stay in a quite modern city with contrasts. A new electric tramway connects distant points of the city metro-like, but does not reduce the hectic car traffic on the streets significantly. You can spend your time (and money) in the alleys of the old medina or go to a super-modern mall.  You’ll get traditional moroccan food, enjoy a Hamam session, listen to the prayers from the minarets, glimpse women in burqas  – or have a burger at McDonald’s, observe Moroccans ordering a six-pack of (alcoholic) beers in a local (non-touristic) restaurant, see young (Moroccan) ladies in mini-skirt and go for clubbing at weekends… . Casablanca is not black-white, it is a vivid city with many contrasts, but also with charm.

More often used than the laptop: the flipchart!We 15 IBMers from all over the world have been assigned to 4 different organizations, each with different challenges. Nevertheless, many teams face similar challenges, too. The data gathering phases took a lot of time, many, many interviews have been conducted so far. And of course the language: each team has a team member or a translator who speaks French – nevertheless, a lot of time and information get lost in translation. My French skills are useful to me and it’s somehow cool to use it, but translating from one foreign language to another foreign language… that would be too much. Luckily we have Patrick from France in our ALCS team! Many of us are eagerly waiting to produce some tangible work products, which will happen during the next two weeks…
insha’ allah (if God wills)!

Personal impressions
One objective for me was to get out of my comfort zone, which definitely occurred, being in a foreign country, culture, new colleagues and project targets. But so far I can manage it well, thanks to the great team spirit, the motivation to work for a great AIDS prevention organization, the amazing weekend trips, a lot of fun and the support from home. So far I’ve never been in bed before midnight, but somehow it works.

Funny stuff (at least for me)

  • Swiss Army Knife vs. Moroccan staplesThe laundry form – you have to indicate what’s inside your laundry bag using predefined check boxes… but you can only choose between around 4 options. For the rest like socks, underwear, T-shirts, … well, you put them into the bag, hope they are returned and that they don’t cost the world. After the first laundry I decided to wash socks and underwear myself: removing all staples was one of the reasons not being in bed before midnight, despite the help of my Swiss Army Knife.
  • I once made a short shopping list: Detergents, coloring pens, beer, water. I returned with detergents and beer… .
    Shopping list
  • Cell phones of 4 generationsI have four cell phones with me! One for my Swiss business number (#1), one for my Swiss personal number (#2), one old Arabic Nokia (#3) for local calls… which I never used, I put the SIM card into another old smartphone (#4) for convenience and usability reasons.


  • Traffic – I experienced Indian and Indonesian traffic, so I know hectic traffic situations. In Morocco it is relatively well organized, but not always understandable to me. Especially strange to me: why do almost everyone drive exactly ON the central line of two lanes instead of deciding for one of them?

#ibmcsc morocco

CSC Status Call at IBM Morocco

This evening we met at IBM Morocco for a conference call with the CSC Program Management. We provided status updates and our thoughts about our experiences so far and the outlooks.

Conference Call with CSC Leadership  ALCS Team: Cathy, Ram, Gerry, Patrick

And we were able to make a great team photo together with Hassan Bahej, Country General Manager of IBM Morocco.

The IBM CSC Team with the General Country Manager of IBM Morocco (right of me)

#ibmcsc morocco

Collecting Operational Data

One of our three sub projects for ALCS is the program data collection. As a short summary, the “field workers” (the doctors and volunteers who are in direct contact with the target population all over Morocco) collect and report activity specific data, e.g. how many education sessions were held, how many known or new contacts they worked with or how many prevention material for STD (sexually transmitted diseases) they could distribute. This is a good amount of data which get gathered, merged and validated on different organizational levels. Currently, this process is based on Excel sheets and a lot of copy-paste work – obviously with the risk to corrupt data and a long processing time. But to make it clear: even we as IT guys were impressed by the effort, quality and functionality in these files. The macros helped us a lot to understand dependencies and design requirements.

Operational data collection reporting sheet

This is the point where we came into picture. Dr. Ouarsas traveled from Agadir to Casablanca to give us further details and to explain the desired future state. This meeting changed our viewpoint a little – it is not only about setting up a database to replace Excel files, but to give recommendations and a draft for a framework, targeting a configurable and extensible application. Also, we recognized the similarities and dependencies between the budget-related challenges and those of Dr. Ouarsas. We have to think big and to combine our findings in order to be able to provide a sustainable solution for ALCS’ future requirements.

Dr. Ouarsas explaining the requirements

#ibmcsc morocco

Analog Database Modeling and Data Security

Ram and Patrick with Nidal working on the project finance toolingToday we split up into two groups: Ram and Patrick interviewed Nidal about her requirements regarding the project finance tool while Cathy and I analyzed the existing field data collection sheets from Dr. Ouarsas. Doing that, we learned a lot of technical terms (in French) and got a good overview of the “field”-activities.

The CSC program is an opportunity to try something new. For me, I never made database modeling by using paper only. It was fun and flexible, just the data security worried me a bit (ventilation vs. light paper, overeager cleaning personal).

Analog database modeling by paper

I managed to introduce two security layers before we left the office:

Data security in analog form

#ibmcsc morocco

Meeting the ALCS-VIPs

Presentation of our SOWSo far we could not meet several important people from ALCS, as they were engaged at an international HIV conference in Montpellier (FR). Today we finally had the honor to meet them in personal, e.g. Madame Fouzia Bennani, the head of ALCS and Madame Hakima Himmich, the founder of ALCS. We presented what our team has been working on so far. Generally we seem to have the same understanding. So, we continued to work on our SOW and almost finalized the objectives.

#ibmcsc morocco

Work at Home

alcs_sow_paper_1024Due to some absences and the need for an early departure to Chefchaouen at noon, the ALCS team made a work at home day and used the meeting room of our hotel. We had to summarize the input from ALCS and to refine our SOW (scope of work) – which also means to prioritize the suggested workload of seven different key issues! We hope to get a common understanding early next week.

#ibmcsc morocco

Understanding the Client

Karima, Nidal, Patrick, Cathy and RamThis Tuesday Cathy, Patrick, Ram and me were welcomed at the ALCS headquarter for starting the initial phase of our project. We have to get an overview of their issues which the IBM subteam will possibly analyze deeper in the next few weeks. After a quick tour through their offices – while making notes about the IT equipment – Nidal explained us issues which they are having with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Team and client in good moodIt was a very informative but also tough session, as it was mainly in French (thanks Patrick for translating) and we didn’t know much about this system before. Good luck we got Moroccan tea (and my chocolates from Switzerland) as energy kicks. At the end of the day we had filled multiple slide charts already.

Next day we continued to discuss more of the IT related problems together with Karima and Kezna. Personally, the new topics suited a bit better to my experience profile. I caught myself normalizing tables in my head and thinking about an inexact search. As it turned out it was the same for Patrick and Ram (both having a strong development background)… fortunately, Cathy brought us back to the business side.

A first draft of a possible GUI for the donor's databaseOne promising sign that we understand our partner was the topic about the donor’s database resp. application: during a discussion about ALCS’ dream I was drafting a GUI (graphical user interface). At the end Kezna – pointing at my drawings at the flip chart – said: “Cela, ç’est mon rêve!”  (This is exactly my dream!) :-)

#ibmcsc morocco

AIDS prevention – an unforgettable Experience

Team 1 (left to right: Nidal, Ram, Gerry, Cathy, Patrick, Karima)

(Click to enlarge)

Ok, enough being tourists for the next few days! We started business with a formal meeting (we all transformed into business clothes suddenly) with IBM Morocco management and DOT – and representative from the NGOs; finally met them face-to-face. After the meeting, each team visited their specific client’s locations and started with their work.

We were pleased to meet Nidal and Karima from ALCS (Association de lutte contre le sida) and were even more excited about their presentation of their amazing organization and the work they perform:

  • Prevent HIV infection
  • Provide care and psychological support for HIV-affected individuals
  • Deliver advocacy and human rights activities for the support of HIV-affected individuals

A terrific experience was the training session for sex professionals about condom usage and tips about what to do if a customer refuses to use a condom. But it took me actually some time to understand what these women were working – they looked like any other ordinary woman… and indeed they are, right?!?

Aids prevention with condoms

Next we could talk with medical volunteer who performs the HIV tests. They are able to provide the result after a few minutes; records are kept anonymously and the volunteers are trained to break bad news to the people.

HIV Testing

(Click to enlarge)

I am aware that these terms and pictures are not very “comfortable” topics, but the ALCS organization is fighting against exactly these kind of taboos – so why not supporting them to spread their message?

On the way back to our hotel we walked through the big park and visited the cathedral, which is used as a museum nowadays. We could walk up onto the tower (minding birds nest and eggs) and enjoyed the great view over Casablanca. Strange thing was that we paid 30 Dh (about $3) each – just read in Sue’s blog that they were charged 20 Dh ($2) only! ;)

View over Casablanca from cathedral's tower

(Click to enlarge)

#ibmcsc morocco