December 20, 2018
Categorized: IBMer Stories | Meet IBMers | Women at IBM
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By Caroline Thomas (5 min read)
Recently I was at dinner with some IBM colleagues, including someone who left IBM recently to start a job at another company. As you can imagine, many were interested to know how this person was getting on in his new job. Is the grass really greener on the other side? Before you try and guess whether he missed IBM or whether the point of me sharing this story is to say that people who leave regret it, you have it all wrong… that isn’t where this is going. On the contrary, he is quite happy in the new job. The poignant part for me were the reasons why he is happy. I am paraphrasing here, so work with me, but essentially, he said: “It’s great. You get told what to do and you are expected to just go and do it. You come in, you do your job and you go home, no encouragement or expectation to get involved in other things like do patenting, give back to the community, and other initiatives… you just do exactly what you are told to do.”
Me, celebrating the IBM centenary in 2011 with 100 tea lights
He said much more than that, but I guess how you react to that statement is going to define what you think of the rest of this story. Suffice it to say though, that for me, the very essence of what makes IBM the place for me, is the reason he didn’t want to stay with IBM. I would go as far as to say what he described I found restrictive and oppressive. This got me thinking about what makes me tick and why I am at IBM and enjoying my career. I am a skilled, driven and ambitious person and I could get a job elsewhere so why am I here? What are those qualities that go way beyond pay and location?
- I’m a small fish in a big pond – and this is a good thing. You might think that being in a big global business makes you anonymous, but I have worked in some great teams and I have never felt anything but well connected and valued by those I work with. The advantage of the ‘big pond’ is you never hit the limits and the opportunity to network, grow and ‘swim in different waters’. I feel immense freedom to stretch and explore my career. The culture of networking and skills growth only helps proliferate this behaviour across the entire business.
- Nobody is above the law. IBM has a brand and reputation due to its size and role in wider society. IBM creates technology and solutions that run some of the world’s biggest businesses and in turn has a huge impact on society. The idea of working for a huge corporation might sound soulless to some, but to me it brings reassurance that I am not going to get caught up in small-minded or ugly behaviour and practices. What do I mean by that? Boss wants you to do a professional favour for a friend? Feel like you have to cope with discrimination? No way. At IBM, a large company with social responsibility and accountability, there are standards and there is no bowing to the will, ego, or preferences of one person, because you are within a society with all the culture and laws you would expect. Integrity, respect and inclusiveness are fundamental rights and values and no one person is above that.
- I have big and complex needs. I am a passionate and restless person and I constantly seek fulfilment; it takes a lot to keep feeding me. I don’t just work for money and I do not want to sit in the same chair everyday repeating the same tasks. The very idea of doing that for a number of weeks, never mind a number of years, fills me with dread. I am so pleased to tell you that that is not my reality. (Phew!) I rarely get told what to do. I take initiative and care for the things I am responsible for and have the freedom to nurture those areas how I see fit. I constantly pick up new stuff and ‘pick and mix’ what my role looks like to suit my ambitions and business needs. My opinion is welcome, and I cherish the input and collaboration of others. That might sound like the cliche of “being a team player”, but to me, this doesn’t just mean I play nice with others, it is more fundamental than that. Engagement with others and belonging to a community is essential to me. That is how I thrive and those are my conditions for survival.
What does all this mean then? I need a rich and diverse environment. I need other people with me, like-minded people with strong values and integrity. I want the opportunity to learn and grow on a daily basis. I want to lead and contribute to more than just my projects, I want to bring meaning to those around me. I want to bring my whole self to work, not just the part with the obvious skills, but the painter, the wife, the cat mother, the philosopher (now does the title make sense?), the wine snob. Unless I am emotionally engaged and calling on everything that I have to offer as a human being then I am not fulfilling or exploiting my potential and if I am not doing that then I cannot be fulfilled. The path I have chiseled so far through the IBM rock face is all my own and I’m proud of every role I have done. I won’t lie to you, I have had really tough days and felt disappointment many times, but this crazy special and fertile stomping ground has given me satisfaction, glory, friendships, personal growth and a sense of purpose that has shaped me professionally and personally.
That is why I love working at IBM and am hugely proud to be an IBMer.
Caroline Thomas is a development manager at IBM Hursley where she has worked for 8 years and has done a variety of roles including management, communications, business operations and technical writing. She is also an IBM Master Inventor, a career mentor and an advocate for Women in Technology.