IBM Fellows

Fellows are the standard-bearers for IBM’s technical and scientific leadership

Sam Lightstone

Distinguished Engineer
IBM Watson and Cloud Platform
Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering, Queen’s University
Master of Math and Computer Science, University of Waterloo

Sam, an expert in analytics, has more than 60 patents issued and pending, has authored four books and has written more than 30 papers.

Great things happen when people take the initiative to hunt for important problems.

Current project that excites you most? 

I’m particularly excited right now about a new project, IBM Queryplex, which will make it possible to do analytic query processing across distributed data sets in ways we never dreamed of in the past. This is particularly exciting for mobile devices and the Internet of Things. 

Advice for tackling tough problems?

Hunt for the big juicy problems that are really important, hard to solve and hopefully untapped. Great things happen when people take the initiative to do this. 

Second, problem solving should start by researching the state of the art. Take some time up front to understand what intelligent people around the world have tried and begin where they leave off.  

Third, collaborate with brilliant people. No matter how smart you are, the interplay of ideas and added viewpoints will inspire better solutions, and help filter out the weak ones. 

Finally, keep it as simple as possible. When I find myself trending toward complicated approaches, a little voice inside me tells me, “there’s got to be a simpler, more elegant way to do this.”

What’s your passion project? 

As a teenager, I was a competitive fencer on the Canadian national circuit. I was a quiet kid from a low-income family, but when I started fencing I suddenly found myself training and competing with Olympians. While I never reached their level, I learned that a fighting spirit and timely tactics take you a long way. A few months ago, I picked it up again, now strictly as a pastime. I’m 30 years older, 30 pounds heavier, and 30 times slower — but it’s huge fun.

Greatest influence in your life?   

My father and father-in-law have played unique roles in my life. My father, Reuben Lightstone, grew up in poverty during the Great Depression, raised a large family on little money and lost his wife to cancer at a young age. After my mom passed away, he became both father and mother, and taught me the value of family and the power of personal resilience. My father-in-law, Joseph Berger, is a real Renaissance man — a doctor, an author, a speaker, a multi-sport athlete, deeply engaged with his family, his faith and his community. He’s taught me how to live a full life.  

What are you most proud of? 

My children! My daughter and son are far better people — more giving, responsible, studious, community-minded and grounded — than I was at their age. They inspire me daily. 

History of the IBM Fellows

An overview on extraordinary achievements by exceptional individuals

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