Thursday, July 11, 2013

My IBM Story

In what might be the quintessential IBM story, "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?", former IBM CEO and Chairman, Louis V. Gerstner Jr. shares an often fascinating and almost always interesting story of an iconic American corporation that was foundering and near extinction. According to Gerstner, the 'old IBM' of 1993 was heavily mired in traditions, policies, procedures and organizational structures that made it the antithesis of an agile company. He recounts how, in his nine years as CEO, his leadership turned an inwardly-focused and failing company into the #1 worldwide provider of IT services, hardware, enterprise software (excluding PCs) and custom designed, high performance computer chips. In words supportive of his 'dancing elephant metaphor', Gerstner's concludes his personal IBM story by stating, "As long as IBMers remain focused outward, the world will keep them on their toes."

I too have an IBM story. My story is likely similar to the stories of a great many other current and former IBMers, I'm guessing... A bit more modest than Chairman Gerstner's, perhaps, simply because... well... He'd already taught the elephant all those cool new dance moves. Just riding a dancing pachyderm is not without it's challenges though - or its accompanying rewards - as I hope my own story illustrates.

On the road

I received my first IBM ThinkPad PC in April of 1995, along with my first IBM ID badge and a stack of 'greensheets' (old 'IBM speak' for hardcopy-based, three-part expense reports). I filled out and submitted my first 'greensheet' just a few weeks later, after flying from northern California to Atlanta to help staff a network support helpdesk.

Over the next four years, I worked on projects in [mostly]well-known destinations like San Francisco and Seattle, Detroit and Dallas, Portland and Poughkeepsie. I also worked in less well-known places like Jamestown, ND, Seven Points, TX, Worland, WY and Clovis, CA. In the process of leading installation teams, troubleshooting servers and networks, managing roll-outs and more, I picked up numerous tips and tricks. More importantly though, I learned a great deal from the colleagues I worked with and the clients I served. 

I also enjoyed experiences and places I never before imagined... A massive, stucco buffalo in North Dakota, the special-of-the-day at a roadside Texas diner called "Cheyenne's Roadkill cafe", a nurse's office in Wyoming with hunting trophies on every wall, an outdoor church carved into the living granite of an Oregon cliff face. New sites, new people, new experiences... A wealth of memories I'll carry with me to the end of my days.

(I)'ve (B)een (M)oved

As interesting as the years of travel were, each project took me away from family, including a young daughter who often seemed to be growing up without me. Living in rural northern California, most of the projects I worked on required either a five-hour commute or a plane flight. In August of 1999, an opportunity arose that enabled me to finally get off the road... Though it also required that my family and I relocate more than two-thousand miles away from northern California.

After building-out the server and network infrastructure for a new IBM Innovation Center in Chicago, I spent the next five years supporting independent software vendors (ISVs) as they ported their applications to IBM platforms. The new position came with a host of new experiences... Daily commutes via mass transit into one of America's largest and most vibrant cities, exposure to Linux-based computing grids and other new technologies,  the opportunity to teach classes to ISVs and mentor Chicago Public Schools students, and occasional business trips to a parent center in Boston.

A community-focused career

A passion for writing and creative projects led me to marketing and new opportunities. From June, 2004 to October, 2010, I wrote copy for internal and external web pages, collaborated with internal and external agencies to create compelling print and digital materials, and otherwise worked on internal-, IBM Business Partner- and IBM client-focused projects and materials that successfully supported seven major product launches. I also helped staff various local and national events where I presented on new product releases, demonstrated new products, answered questions and captured leads. In October of 2010, I moved into my most recent marketing role, where I've designed and distributed a range of internal and external communications to audiences as large as +30K subscribers, with industry average-breaking open rates of +45%.

In addition to new professional opportunities, 2004 was the year I discovered IBM's On Demand Community and the many rewards of volunteerism. An IBM-sponsored program called Mentorplace provided my first volunteer opportunity. Through Mentorplace, I had the pleasure of serving as a volunteer mentor to a number of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students from October, 2004 to March, 2012. My introduction to volunteering inspired me to search out additional opportunities, including recording textbooks for blind and learning-disabled students, and helping fight homelessness. Related to my volunteering, I began tracking my volunteer hours in IBM's On Demand Community, enabling me to earn a number of IBM Community Grants that further supported the missions of the charities I worked with.

A life spent living and learning

Professional growth aside, perhaps the greatest benefits of being an IBMer are those I realized outside of work. IBM's relocation investment allowed my family and me to move to a very family-friendly community where my daughter attended some of the country's best public schools. A special IBM program enabled me to go back to school myself and earn a graduate degree. Most importantly, IBM's compensation helped me put my daughter through an excellent college where she earned two degrees, well-positioning herself for a promising career of her own.

Which brings me to the present and the end of the ride. Tomorrow, July 12, 2013, will be my last official day at IBM, a bittersweet reality accompanied by a fair share of uncertainty. Still, +17 years of living and learning as an IBMer continue to remind me of all I've gained along the way. Riding a dancing pachyderm is not without its challenges, nor is it for the faint of heart. I'd be lying though if I didn't admit that it's been one wild ride.

Note: If you'd like to connect with me professionally, you can do so via my LinkedIn profile at This blog posting was authored on a Yellow Dog Linux-powered Apple iBook G4. All graphics were edited in a Linux version of Gimp.  

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Blogger Debbie said...

Love your blog post, Tim. You had quite the ride with some great memories. I wish you the best. Please let me know if I may help in any way.


July 12, 2013 at 8:38 AM  

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