The professional side of life

Talking about my professional life on this web site does not happen often, because I work on projects for customers that usually are not public. Two projects that I can talk about are MACS and TAS3.

MACS has been discussed a while ago, and has seen recent developments towards integration in The European Library. It is one of the few projects where explicit manual work, supported by IT, provides a large amount of crosslinks between existing, independent vocabularies. Although it is not exactly ontology alignment or another semantic web buzzword, it does attract lots of attention. The main reason is that we do have the data instead of writing what we could do if we would have the data.

TAS3 is, at least for my personal web site, a new kid on the block. And it is quite a handful of a teenager.

TAS3 stands for Trusted Architecture for Securely Shared Services. It is a European Commission-sponsored integrated research and development project of about EUR 15 million total expenditure. TAS3 aims to provide a reference architecture that allows people to control what is happening with their personal information, such as healthcare records or employability information. Sensitive stuff, that usually is locked away in heavily protected systems. TAS3, on the contrary, wants to open up these secure vaults and allow your sensitive but valuable personal information to travel to the places where you want it to go. Of course, it needs to be safeguarded against abuse. So TAS3 handcuffs your valuable data to a special agent that travels with it, and watches whatever happens to your data as a dedicated body guard. (more)

Such an ambitious project requires a lot of effort. You have to bring together people from the legal side, who study and practice privacy legislation and contractual obligations, or even legal obligations such as Sarbanes-Oxley. And people from the security side, who talk to you in acronyms such as SAML, XACML, SSO, PERMIS, PEP, and PDP. And people from the business process side, with BPMN and BPEL and SoA and SOAP. Which brings you to people using SOAP on Fedora, with REST and XML thrown in. And it all ends with Java, C and C++, SVN, CVS, Xen, TLS, and HTTP. Oh, those people are from various countries, and work for organisations as diverse as a research lab of a university, a small company solving IT problems for customers, and service companies in the employability space.

My job in this European project is to head the Architecture and Integration cluster, with focus on how everything fits together. With nearly only hard-core specialists in the project, the challenge is to keep a true overview of the whole thing, and to mediate and moderate between specialists in case of apparent disagreement. Over the years, I have learned how to find my way quickly in new domains, and I am proud to say that I can meaningfully talk to most partners in their own (technical) language.

In a sense, my specialisation is that I can learn another specialisation very quickly, to be able to link it up with the neighbours. Calling me a generalist would probably not be right. I can and do go deep if required, but I can also go wide. As such I am not your typical project manager. I am a project integrator, a technical communicator in the broadest possible sense.

Another crossover in myself is that I hold both a technical Master's degree, and a research PhD. I've been in both places. I talk to engineers today and to researchers tomorrow, to have something innovative next week. And then I may talk to business people the day after tomorrow to build up a business plan, to sell the lot.

This kind of work is rarely advertised in job vacancies and it does happen that organisations believe strongly in hard-core specialists only. Needless to say that this is not what I believe in. If you try to do something novel, something that has not been done or even tried before, true specialists alone cannot do it. Exactly because they are specialists, who build on experience and routine. Sometimes you need people that are, foremost, creative and communicative. And secondly, darn good in the domains they already have visited before. People that can learn, and have proven they can.

I am proud to belong to such a group of people, and proud of my accomplishments in the TAS3 project to date.