Regardless of what you do, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on around you. Let me recap the different jobs I have had within IBM:
- Software Development
I started as a Software Engineer on DFHSM, which was later renamed to DFSMShsm, and worked my way up to lead architect for the entire DFSMS product. I attended user group conferences like SHARE and GUIDE to formally present the latest releases of the product, and to collect requirements for improvements and additions desired by the CIOs, IT directors and Storage Admins that attended. Each requirement was proposed to the group, who then voted on a scale from -3 to +3, with zero considered abstention. Six months later, I would come back to present which requirements were implemented, which ones were in consideration for future releases, and which ones were rejected because they were not strategic. Not everyone was happy with these decisions, and I took a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of gathering requirements was important, and the products are better for it.
I switched over to Marketing, starting out as a Marketing Manager for various prodcts, and working my way up to lead Marketing Strategist for the IBM System Storage product line. I continued to attend conferences to understand the client requirements, but I also attended meetings with IBM sales reps and Business Partners. For those who lump "Marketing and Sales" into a single category, there is a difference. Marketing is the transfer of awareness and enthusiasm, whereas Sales is the transfer of ownership. When Marketing does their job well, prospects are lining up to buy your product. When they don't, the Sales team has to pick up the slack, and provide the awareness and enthusiasm that Marketing failed to deliver. I traveled all over the world to present our Marketing Strategy. Not everyone was happy with some of our decisions, and I took a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of "socializing" the marketing message and hearing feedback of those who faced clients every day was important, and the marketing strategy was better for it.
Three years ago, I switched again, this time to be a Storage Consultant at the Tucson Executive Briefing Center. While I still travel to clients and conferences, in most cases the clients come to me, here in Tucson, Arizona. I get to present our strategy, solutions and products. Not everyone is happy with some of our decisions, and I take a lot of abuse on this. However, the process of helping customers make tough business and IT purchase decisions is important, and both IBM and our clients are better for it.
It was in this same concept that US Representative Gabrielle ("Gabby") Giffords launched a series of "Congress on your Corner" meetings. These were open air townhall meetings that allowed her to present her priorities and plans for the future, and to get feedback from her constituents. Last Saturday, at one such event here in Tucson, she was shot in the head. The shooter then proceeded to shoot another 20 rounds at others before being tackled to the ground by two volunteers. He had another 70 bullets left, so it could have been much worse.
Congresswoman Gifford survived, but six died, including a US Federal Judge, a Pastor at a local church, and a 9-year-old girl, who ironically was born on Setpember 11, 2001, the date of another US tragedy. The girl had just been elected to her student council, and came out to learn what government was all about. Another dozen people were wounded.
The last time I saw Gabby in person was last October 2010, at a charity auction to benefit the local Boys and Girls Club of America. She was shaking hands with everyone. I wished her good luck on her re-election campaign, which she won a few weeks later by a slim margin of some 4,000 votes.
(People have asked me if I knew her in high school. Gabby and I both attended University High in Tucson, rated one of the top 25 high schools in the USA. She would have started her freshman year months after I graduated, so I don't remember ever crossing paths.)
Having spent much of my childhood in Central and South America, I have witnessed my fair share of gun violence, military coups, and government take-overs. Of course, in a democratic government, there is a more peaceful way to resolve your differences. In my younger days, I was a lobbyist for local and state government here in Arizona for various causes and issues. I have met and dealt with many politicians. While many people are still in shock and awe over Saturday's tragedy, consider the following:
- Tucson is part of the Wild, Wild, West. We are not far from the infamous town of Tombstone where a famous shoot-out happened at the OK Corrall. A popular activity here is to shoot rounds at a shooting range, either rent a gun or bring your own. Gun ownership is high, and hunting is a popular sport. Tucson hosts "Gun Shows" that allow people to buy guns without the mandatory 5-day waiting period. Every year, Tucson celebrates "Dillinger Days" to comemorate the capture of gunslinger John Dilinger at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.
- Tucson is close to Mexico. Authorities have reported as many as 30,000 people have been killed on the other side of the US-Mexico border in the past five years by rival drug cartels. An estimated 30 percent of the Tucson economy comes from human and drug trafficking. Those killed in Mexico include government officials, law enforcement and journalists. Last year, US President Barack Obama [ordered 1200 troops to protect the US-Mexico border], of which half were deployed here in Arizona. The district I live in that Congresswoman Giffords represents borders Mexico.
- Tucson has high schools, colleges and Universities. We have had our share of shootings by frustrated students.
While everyone immediately was quick to blame this tragedy on everyone from [Sarah Palin] to Mexican drug lords, it appears the shooter was merely a frustrated college student, acting alone, and is now in custody awaiting trial. He was attending Pima Community College and had his run-ins with the college police there as well. He had applied to join the US Army, but his application was rejected.
In the early 1990s, to help me prepare to become a public speaker, IBM loaned me out to teach at the local schools. I did four semesters of high school, and then taught a year of Computer Science 101 at Pima Community College. (Yes, I have all the teaching credentials to do this.) I found this experience to be great training for me to practice my speaking skills. However, I took a lot of abuse. I had disruptive students, angry students, frustrated students, and students that would threaten me if they did not pass the class. One by one, they would drop out of my class, leaving me with only nine students finishing my class with a passing grade.
Sadly, community colleges across the country carry a stigma that they are not as good as a full four-year University. The students I met at Pima Community College were here because they could not find decent employment with just a high school diploma, weren't smart enough or rich enough to attend the University of Arizona, and just didn't know what to do with their lives. Some who graduate manage to get jobs as technicians and medical assistants, while others use this as a stepping stone to transfer over to the University of Arizona or other specialized training program.
I am sure there is much more to learn about this incident. Politicians can expect to take some abuse for the decisions made, their actions or lack of action on various issues, but nobody deserves being shot. Congresswoman Giffords was just trying to put her finger on the pulse of her district, to understand the concerns of her constituents so that she could represent us properly in her third term in office. Instead, we have doctors at the University Medical Center keeping their finger on her pulse. So far, things are hopeful, she is able to respond to commands such as "wiggle your toes" or "hold up two fingers".
I wish her a quick recovery.