IBM Alumni Kathleen Butler: A #WomenInTech Leader Who Continues to Giveback

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Kathleen Butler, IBM Alum, currently serving on Board of Directors for Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation

Alum: Kathleen Butler
IBM Tenure: 35.5 Years 

At IBM, Kathleen was a member of the Integration and Value Team. Her last job was Vice President and Enterprise Process Owner for Global Sales and Distribution (S&D). She and her team focused on simplifying and integrating customer, business partner and tele-web facing processes to make it easier to do business with IBM and support revenue and profit initiatives. She held various executive positions throughout her career including sales, technical sales, marketing, process improvements and information technology systems.

Kathleen currently serves on the Connecticut Boards of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In addition to giving back, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family and friends, particularly her nieces and nephews. For recreation she likes to water and snow ski, and play golf. She is finally learning to cook.

                                                                                                                                              

Q&A WITH KATHLEEN BUTLER

How did you become an IBMer:
I always liked math and computers so it was always my goal to work for the IBM. IBM was “it.”

I joined a local branch team in Long Island in 1974 after graduating from The College of Mount Saint Vincent – before there was even such a thing as a computer science degree. I was part of an incoming group of five new employees; four of us were women. We were the first big influx of women at the time. I worked in technical sales – being interested in the technology part of business.

Having been part of an early influx of women at IBM, how did you feel when they announced Ginni Rometty as CEO?
I worked for Ginni for a short time. She was great to work with and I respect her a lot. I was  thrilled when she was named CEO. I look forward to seeing where she takes the business.

What were some of the most influential roles you held at IBM and what did you take from them?
I enjoyed working in technical sales, helping find solutions for a wide range of “intermediate” system clients, managing 10-15 accounts at a time. It takes a great deal of problem solving and I had the opportunity to really understand IBM systems, software and networking. It was extremely valuable to all my future roles at IBM.

A role that I really enjoyed was when I became a Systems Engineer Manager.  It was my first time managing other people and it was fun to interact and learn from them. Many of those I managed were men who were older than me. I had to work hard to gain their respect. I found that putting people first was the best way to do that – paying attention to them, helping them grow, and finding ways for them to advance. It was important to not see things hierarchically and thought of myself as part of the team. It also helped that I had the experience, technically, to hold my ground. I knew what I was doing.

As a leader, I learned a lot from my experience as an Administrative Assistant (now known as an Executive Assistant). I worked very closely with executives to learn from their different leadership styles. I got a view of what they worked on and how they handled many different kinds of issues. Specifically, as an assistant to the General Manager of the General Manager, United States, I learned how you needed to adapt your style to various situations and that you needed to embrace change and take risks. This particular leader was the type who addressed issues head on and focused on taking away barriers. He wasn’t intimidating or loud. He made people feel comfortable so that they could more freely share their ideas.  He helped his team find the solution themselves, trusting their perspective and opinions. I knew this was the kind of leader I wanted to be.

Did you have a mentor and have you mentored others?
One of the greatest things about IBM is the opportunities you have to grow and progress your career.  I had some great mentors myself.  I’m grateful for the path I was able to take and mentored 15-20 IBMers at a time to help them advance their own careers. It is a very important role that I still hold for some women in China and Singapore, who I continue to work with to help show them all the opportunities they have open to them.

What have you been up to since you left IBM?
There’s a joke in retirement: “I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” This feels very true for me. I’ve been very active, particularly with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

IBM always instilled a sense of community engagement and giving back. In fact, I helped lead significant year to year increase in the Employee Charitable Contributions Champagne donations for my teams in 2007 and 2008.

After retirement, I joined the Connecticut Alzheimer’s Association Board after working with an IBMer whose husband was diagnosed and passed away from early on-set Alzheimer’s at 58. She faced so many challenges in her personal life but never let it show.. I wanted to help others who faced similar challenges and provide assistance to others like her.

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Kathleen Butler and her sisters at a Christopher and Dana reeve “roll-a-thon.”

I have a very personal connection to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In 2003, while I was still with IBM, I suffered a spinal cord injury that left me temporarily paralyzed. But I was one of the lucky ones who got most of my function back.. I know that not everyone has that chance and I want to support those who face similar challenges.

I helped start the local Board for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in Connecticut in 2010. We’ve held successful events, such as “roll-a-thons” for able bodied people to experience what it is like in a wheelchair. We’ve raised more than $100,000 this way. I was also able to help a former IBM colleague who had a traumatic injury by connecting her to the Foundation and mentoring her through some recovery. I am still in contact with her today.

IBMers have terrific skills.  If they have not done so already, I would encourage every IBM alum to consider putting their skills to work at a local nonprofit that they are passionate about. Most of the retired IBMers I know are doing that.

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The College of Mount Saint Vincent honored Kathleen Butler, Class of 1974 with the Ad Laudem Dei awards October 24 2013 for her outstanding professional achievements and contributions to the community.

If you could share advice with a new IBMer, what would it be?
My advice would be:

1)  Always put the client first, then IBM, then your Function
2)  You are only as good as your people; so develop your people and help identify and Promote Diverse Executive Leaders
3)  Deliver on your commitments and measure your value to your client, IBM, function

                                                                                                                                                            

Related:

- By Jessica Benjamin, Brand Systems Workforce Enablement

IBM Fellow Irene Greif Retires – A Pioneer in Building a Workplace that Works

Irene Greif, IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist for Social Business (Photo Credit:  Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology)

Irene Greif, IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist for Social Business (Photo Credit: Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology)

IBM Fellow Irene Greif is retiring after more than 25 years with Lotus Development Corporation (where she was head of Research) and IBM. At IBM, she went on to create the Center for Social Business, a global research effort on reinventing the way people work. Along the way, these teams built the foundations of Lotus Sametime and IBM Connections, and revamped email to be the social tool it is today.

Irene began her journey into the workplace of the future while at MIT. Trained as a computer scientist, she was attracted to challenges of communication and collaboration – regardless of underlying technologies. In the 1980s, questions raised by Doug Engelbart’s 1968 Mother of All Demos, such as why some inventions (the mouse) took off, and others (video conferencing and shared screens) were still being reinvented in research labs, led her to study the opportunities – and limits – for office automation solutions. She founded the field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) in 1984 to help computer scientists and social scientists join forces to understand “how collaborative activities and their coordination can be supported by means of computer systems.”

Irene’s pioneering work changed how technology helps us work, and work together. She reflects on the inspiration to make these tools – and inspiring others to do the same.

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What were the workplace tools like when you started your career?

When I was on the faculty at MIT in the late 1970s and early 80s, office automation was the big thing. But the most interesting technologies being used beyond email were still stuck in research labs. At work, the personal computer – loaded with spreadsheet software, usually Lotus 1-2-3 at the time – was cropping up all over the place, outside IT control. And the question of which word processor to adopt was the next big issue.

Local areas networks were just being installed and slowly replacing “sneakernet” for transferring files. So, there was a lot of opportunity for change. What’s more, since researchers who were inventing new tools for collaboration were looking for realistic test beds outside their labs, it was a great time for a researcher to move into a business setting – that’s where the action was going to be.

How has CSCW evolved since the 1980s?

I started the research field of CSCW before joining IBM, but it fit right into what Lotus (and later IBM) was doing with group support systems. I’ve had the chance to keep reinventing workplace solutions – and recreating CSCW teams – ever since.

In the 1980s, group support systems such as online forms and formal networked processes (to pass information around without printing it or carry floppy disks in our pockets) were still new. Also new were anthropologists studying office life and culture. They found that office work was rarely done according to formal written processes. So, when companies built formal processes into online systems, informal actions, such as just knowing who else was in an approval chain when a manager was on vacation, were ignored.

Working with anthropologists helped us look beyond the technology, and brought social science and computer science together on the team.

How has CSCW impacted design? 

This “observe first” approach led us to reinventing email. We discovered that people hacked together ways to manage their lives around their email. It wasn’t just for messages; they used it for reminders and calendar appointments – well before these functions were built into any email platform.

We set out to design an email system that reflected what people were actually trying to do with it. We used our research to make subtle adjustments, integrating new features into Lotus Notes and providing the rich context that now integrates presence, threading, calendars, and instant messaging.

How else were new ideas by designers and developers meshed with what was being observed?

We also kept an eye on the consumer space to ask “would any of those tools be useful in business communications?” For example, chat apps were popular with kids in the 1990s, and that initially made it a challenge to pitch as a business opportunity. So, we used design through storytelling to prove that it could be useful. Our storyboard showed how customer support could “chat” with experts to help solve a technical issue – while staying on the phone with the customer and providing answers seamlessly. This was the origin of Sametime, the ubiquitous tool that IBMers rely on today.

We’ve been fortunate to work with an extremely open and creative corporate IT department that supports experimentation inside IBM. As a result, we can deploy and observe prototypes inside our really large company. And in some cases, the most important inventions were by the crowd – our users – and not our teams.

We’ve taken a similar approach outside IBM on the internet with projects such as Many Eyes. Launched in 2007, we wanted to know how people would use a visual analytics tool. It’s been active for years and in fact, the users pushed us from numerical to text visualizations that were invented and installed on the site. Many Eyes technology has since been transferred to a product team. Version two was released this year.

What’s next in workplace collaboration technology?

What’s next, in my opinion, is less about technology, and more about design. In fact, at this year’s CSCW conference, the new “Lasting Impact” award will be given to a 1988 paper about why group systems fail. The insight still proves true today: the cost-benefit balance of a tool is often wrong, or not accounted for, in the design phase. If you’re building a new workplace app, some people are likely to benefit more than others. You need to take that into account – either increase benefits to all, or make it particularly appealing for the “helpers” to participate.

Every one of my teams has had computer scientists, social scientists, developers and designers. And we have tried to apply this benefit thought in our designs. The simplest way is to try to assure there is personal value to each participant, even before they realize any benefit from sharing. This approach helped us get buy-in, for example, to add IBM Connections’ shared bookmarks feature. It gets everyone’s bookmarks out of a browser, and into a community of people who will also find them useful.

Since I’m betting on a better design – more user-centered and culturally aware design – as the most important ingredient, I’d like to say just how thrilled I am to see IBM’s renewed focus in design. Their design thinking is close to my heart, based on rich stories and deep understanding of not just how something is used, but why it would be used in the first place.

What has it meant to you to be a “trailblazing” woman in technology?

I sometimes envy the women who came up the technical career ranks after me because they had other women to talk to, and share stories with – something I didn’t have when I was a graduate student. It’s important for me, and others who were “firsts” in their fields, to participate in communities like the Anita Borg Institute. Today, as we see more and more women blazing trails, I remind them to look around and talk to other women while they are in the process.

Regarding mentoring, while having a formal mentor is important, don’t discount your second and third degree connections, who can offer you what I often call meaningful “mentoring moments.” Some of the colleagues I’ve sought out for advice never knew in the moment that their opinions played a role in something that amounted to a critical decision for me.

This kind of interaction is supported in social networking theory: it’s not the people you talk to everyday, but it’s those you reach out to who will have new, and maybe the best, insights.

What are some of your plans after retirement?

The great thing is that I don’t have to have a plan. I never really had a plan for my career, but rather let it evolve and I expect to do the same now. I would like to spend more time on STEM education, mentoring and volunteering, and working with organizations such as the National Academy of Engineering.

And I’ll continue to knit, though maybe now I’ll find time to organize the mess of yarn I’ve collected over the years.

(Video credit: IBM Social Business)

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Related:

- Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager The Greater IBM Connection via Chris Nay, IBM Research Communications

Coffee Break Cartoon: Polly Wants A Hashtag (by IBM Alumni)

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The cartoon is courtesy of Devon Wickens, who is an IBM Alumni.  During her time at IBM, she was an Executive Producer of the IBM/TALK corporate radio series.  In 2011, she founded BabyBummers cartoons, which are cartoons about what is trending now.  In addition to her BabyBummers initiative, she also works as a Business Content writer at the Gaming Corporation.  To learn more:

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Related:

- Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager The Greater IBM Connection

Announcing IBM South Africa Alumni Group

The Greater IBM Connection and the IBM South Africa team are pleased to announce the launch of the new South Africa LinkedIn group of our community. We’re starting this group as a way for our community of Greater IBMers to interact and network with community members in India.

To do this, we’ve partnered with an IBM Recruiting team in South Africa, led by Natasha Pillay-Bemath.

To join the South Africa group sub-community:

  • You must first join the global Greater IBM Connection community here.
  • Then request to join the South Africa Alumni group here.
  • Note: You must provide accurate information about your IBM employment on your profile so that your membership can be approved for both groups.

Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to you joining today!

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– Posted by Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

The IBM Jobs Blog Just Launched!

IBM Recruitment has launched its new blog – IBMJobs Blog – to provide jobseekers with information about careers, latest news, and worldwide jobs at IBM.

IBM Jobs logoVisit the blog today and find out what it means to be an IBMer and how we work together to change the way the world works. We hope you enjoy the blog and share it with others, and we hope it helps you to expand your own thoughts on how to reach your career potential with IBM.

Subscribe to IBMjobs blog by visiting http://blog.ibm.jobs/

Follow us on Twitter @IBMJobsGlobal

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What do you think of the newly launched blog? Let us know in the Leave a Reply field.

- Posted by Regan Kelly

IBM Watson Ads Are a Hit During US Open

In 2011, Watson won Jeopardy!. Now, it’s answering bigger questions.

Tennis ball over the net imageIf you’ve been paying attention to The US Open, then you’ve probably been enjoying the IBM Watson 15-second ads like this one:

We’re happy to report there are four more! All of them are posted here, at IBM’s YouTube Channel.

Take a look, share this with your friends, let us know what you think.

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- Posted by Regan Kelly