Farewell, Initiate

The sign that used to greet visitors, now in a closet.

My old office closed its doors today.

Initiate Systems, founded in 1995 as Madison Information Technologies, officially ceased to exist last year when it was acquired by IBM.

I joined in 2005, asking my dad if this “customer data integration” thing had any potential. Since then, the Master Data Management market – the successor of that early CDI software – has exploded.

When I joined Initiate, I was one of about 90 employees. I sat in a cube between the offices of our CEO and CFO, and learned a lot just listening to their hallway conversations. We were most definitely a startup, with putting greens in the hallways, a foosball table in a conference room and a fridge full of free soda. We worked really hard, but we played hard, too, with extravagant All Company Meetings, Christmas parties, and more. Working with such a bright crew made everyone work harder, because we were building something better, competing against more established companies. We celebrated analyst mentions and customer wins.

Being a startup, we grew very fast, expanding office space to two additional floors. My cube moved four times, but I was always near good coworkers, occasionally within Nerf firing distance. By the time we were acquired, we were up to about 350 employees and multiple offices, but Chicago was our headquarters.

In the 18 months since acquisition, a lot has changed. Several colleagues have left for new adventures. There has been a push to work at home – which I have embraced, and enjoyed. I’ve still gone into our Madison Street office once or twice a week, ostensibly because it makes evening classes easier, but really, it’s been nice to touch base with with colleagues who have become friends. Working at home is nice, but it can get lonely. You get more done because people can’t stop by and chat, but you miss those hallway conversations.

Working for a giant company – 400,000+ employees – is cool. I just returned from our annual Information on Demand conference in Las Vegas, and marveled at how people are using our software to solve very real problems, with a huge impact. We built Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer, that has huge potential. The IBM brand itself has cachet, and it’s nice to not have to explain who I work for.

Officially, our group is moving to a new office that’s only a block away. It’s nice enough space, with “Innovation” in its name, and it’s a block closer to the train. But I didn’t request a permanent home there, knowing that realistically, I don’t go in often enough to merit a cube of my own. I’m fine with that. I know I’ll go in periodically and see my old colleagues and maybe even meet some new ones.

But it won’t quite be the same. We worked together to build a brand that is now gone, absorbed into something bigger. I was 23 when I started working there, and I marvel at how much my life has changed, how much I’ve learned, who I’ve become. Back then, I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Wrigleyville, commuting in heels on the Brown Line, still dating my college boyfriend. I had never heard of IMC, swore I’d never work for a giant company, and couldn’t imagine living in the suburbs again.

The "Initifish" logo on a cake for our first day as IBMers, April 2010

They say you spend more of your life at work, among coworkers, than you do at home with family. I feel so very fortunate to have been part of Initiate Systems and its legacy.

So thank you, Initiate, for everything.

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2 responses to “Farewell, Initiate

  1. Many fun times indeed with Initiate. I’m glad you joined us in 2005, and even more glad you came back after trying something else. You made Initiate a better place and you are continuing that with IBM.

    Thanks for this post of fond remembrances.

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