I'm currently in Austin, participating in the annual meeting of the IBM Academy of Technology.
In an organization as large, deep, and broad as IBM, one on-going challenge is the exploitation of cross-divisional and cross-discipline integration. The Academy is an essential mechanism for IBM to bring this kind of integration about, primarily by throwing many of IBM's best and brightest into one mix so that connections can be made at deep technical levels. I just finished listening to a fascinating presentation on nanotechnology - where else could a software geek like me hear about the latest developments in this space, and get a coverage of the points of pain therein? Very high cool factor.
On a more pragmatic level, I connected with some of the folks who have pioneered performance and timing analysis tools for IBM's chip business. This is a field that's not only mature, but is pretty much at the core of all contemporary chip development processes. It didn't always use to be that way, but as the complexity of chips has grown, such best practices have proven essential to managing that complexity. In contrast, performance and timing analysis is highly underserved in most software shops except in obvious domains such as time-sensitive embedded systems. By way of reference, check out the pioneering work of Lloyd Williams and Connie Smith on performance engineering.