IBM Alumni: Big Data Expert Gretchen Gottlich on Meeting Mandelbrot & other Tech Career Wins

Gretchen Gottlich, Enterprise Information Executive

Gretchen Gottlich, Enterprise Information Executive

IBM Alum: Gretchen Gottlich

IBM Tenure: 3 years

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Gretchen is currently an independent consultant running her own company, Wallace Rose Investments, LLC, specializing in leading the development and deployment of Big Data solutions across many industry sectors.
She also founded and maintains the @5280BigData Twitter site which provides a global Social Media distribution channel for the wealth of Big Data thought leadership, mind-share, start-ups, tools, and solutions in the Boulder/Denver region.   Gretchen also has a legal background and worked as a Regulatory and Compliance Manager in the Healthcare and Financial sector.   In her spare time Gretchen is finishing up her second Master’s degree in Communication and Technology management.  This semester she is studying Global Internet Law and thus being re-acquainted with her love of the rigors and cerebral machinations of law she is now also studying for her LSAT exam.   Her dream is to study Intellectual Property law at UC Berkeley on scholarship.

Gretchen has degrees from University of Maine, University of Arkansas, Indiana University, Denver University. She has also done executive MBA program work at UC Berkeley, College of William & Mary, University of Portland.

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When did you join IBM, and what led you to join the company?

I joined IBM January 1997.  My father worked as an engineer for GE and traveled around the world building Nuclear Power Plants.   When I “grew up” I wanted to be just like my Dad and travel around the world and “do important stuff” only  I wanted to work for IBM (How I knew this in first grade I don’t know ;).  Later after NASA ,a short stint at Fruit of Loom (designing, building and deploying their first intranet), and being a founder of an Internet start-up I decided my intellectual home was to work in “Information” and IBM was of course at the top of list.

What was the workplace like when you joined, and how did it change over time?

Back in 1997, I am not sure IBM the entire company had truly embraced the significantly disruptive effects of the Internet, the huge opportunities that would become available, and, specifically, how FAST products and services would need to be available to go to market.   From a strategic perspective, IBM totally “got it.” I was working at the Hawthorne lab at that time and lots of work on the WOM was going on (the ore-cursor to WebSphere).  Some part of the business understood the speed of change, but some still had yet to learn.

But very quickly under the leadership of Lou Gerstner, all IBM quickly “got it” and came up to speed in the global marketplace.  IBM is huge, and it was really something to see a Fortune 500 company move so quickly. One could say nimble.  And there again is another strength of IBM, the company can come together and move as “one.”

What did you like most about your career with IBM?

What I liked most about my career at IBM was demonstrating the embodiment of what it was to be an IBMer.  There was something enjoyable to me to know I was on “that” team and it challenged me every day to be the best that I could be as researcher and as a consultant.  You don’t hire IBM to not get top-line results. You hire IBM to get “it” done well and know that you have a technical team that will support you 24/7. The customer meant something.  The customer, that relationship was everything.

What were some of your more interesting roles and what did they entail?

IBM offered me many wonderful roles and opportunities.  However, I think two of best engagements.

I was an Asia/Pacific Senior. Enterprise Architect Consultant (Global Services) and worked in Canberra, Australia for one of the Government Ministries.    I led a team that in expanding the account by 17% within six months by implementing $1M USD web services integration architecture to support outsourcing efforts, utilizing COGNOS BI and performance management solutions.  We sold and delivered this solution using an “Agile like” methodology.  This was before the published draft of the Agile Manifesto in 2000.  This Agile like methodology was something I had created and fined tuned while at NASA and leading the Internet effort there.

The second exciting project was when I worked with the NA Transportation Global Services team.  I was on the team that did the “Watershed Study” which provided research and forecast how the Internet was going to completely distribute the Travel Industry sector.  The team interviewed research scientists at MIT and also traveled to London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Paris to interview corporate leaders in Travel Industry around the globe.  Those were some very exciting times when the Internet was “very young”.

“Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules…repeated without end.” - Benoit Mandelbrot

“Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules…repeated without end.” – Benoit Mandelbrot

And I have to add a third.  This memory is very close to my heart.  I was at the Hawthrone Lab in New York and was sharing with a colleague that I had just finished The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot and that I had found it quite fascinating.  My colleague calmly replied, “Oh yes Dr. Mandelbrot he is upstairs on the second floor.” I was so excited I believe I forgot excuse myself from the conversation before I flew upstairs, raced down the hallway looking at the name tags on the doors and when I found this cerebral GOD I tapped lightly on the door and asked if I could come in.  I believe all I could do was just gush like some silly teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber.  One of the richest rewards with working for IBM was being able to meet incredible minds that were contributing to Research and Development.

What has been your experience working as a woman in the technology industry?

It has had its ups and downs.  I can’t say any one region was more challenging than any other.  Issues that many women face in the workplace are perhaps more to do with a particular someone’s viewpoint and not geography.   I have worked for many large IT companies and I will say that although IBM is fantastically large there was always a sense that you as a person and an employee were cared for.  And I put person first there deliberately.  There was always this wonderful pride of being an IBMer.  We all were/are professionals.

What characteristics, skills, or attitudes set you apart and helped you be successful?

I have a very good ability to see the strategic business value of a technology.  I am also extremely adept at listening to the customer and understanding (really hearing) the pain the customer is having.  One thing that I believe set me apart from others early in my career at IBM is that I quite readily reached out to others, companies, scientists, business owners and asked lots of questions.  I wasn’t afraid to not know the answer and ask the questions.  The value of this came into play with program management.  I get things done.  Period.

What were some of the most important lessons you learned – from both successes and failures? Who/what were the most influential to your careers?

Oh, wow I have far more failures in my career than successes =).

  1. Define the requirements not the solution. It’s important to listen to the customer and understand what the customer requires/needs and not jump into an immediate solution.  For example a customer might require/need transportation from point A to B.  The customer might think they need a car, when in fact Light Rail might fulfill the need especially if maintaining a small carbon footprint is also a requirement/need.
  2. The relationship with customers is built on trust. Trust is EVERYTHING.
  3. Professionally, when you do what you truly enjoy, energy is infinite and the resulting value is magnified.   It’s the best feeling in the world.

Major influencers on my career range from Einstein, Mandelbrot, Mrs. Goggins my third grade school teacher, Carnegie, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien(s), the original Star Trek series, and TQM Training.

What advice would you give to Greater IBMers to help them be successful in their career? And is there anything specific to women? 

My advice to up and coming IBMers is to learn all you can both technically and business-wise with the wealth of resources that IBM offers.  Remember it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of IBM and you’re in good company. (All double entendres intended).

For women, the fact that Ginni Rometty is now CEO and Chairman I believe says it all.  Our time is now. Go make it happen.

Why did you move on from IBM and do you stay connected – with the business or your colleagues?

I moved on from IBM because I was in a hurry to reach for the brass ring and I felt I needed to advance faster. In hindsight, I left too soon and/or I never should have left. I sometimes think I wish I knew then what I know nowJ. I do stay in contact via some Linked In sites but not so much at a personal level.

Tell us about your work today and what you’ve taken from your experience at IBM to this role.

My work day is much like any consultant’s work day: there is a mission, there are planes to board, hopefully there is a road-map, there are politics to manage, and internet services to implement and integrate to meet customer requirements.  I do whatever it takes to get the job done.

What I took away from IBM was “knowing” with complete confidence what it was to be and equally important how to be an exemplary consultant with professional integrity.

What do you see are the major upcoming trends in your field and how do you stay attuned?

Big Data and all that fits under its umbrella.  I host a Twitter site called @5280BigData. The purpose of @5280BigData is to promote Big Data concepts, tools, and services developed in the Denver/Boulder metro region among global Big Data Research and Development and business communities. Companies I interact with a regular basis are Hitachi Data Systems,  SendGrid, Precog, FUSE, GNIP, Unvirsity Colorado Denver/Boulder, Tagwhat, Trueffect,  Techstars and Big Data organizations in London, UKI also write and present papers at conferences. A couple of my favorite available online:

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Related:

Posted by Jessica Benjamin, Brand System and Workforce Communications, IBM CHQ

How Many Times Should You Try Before Success? (Infographic) – No 1 Top Tweet

Image Credit:  Anna Vital

Image Credit: Anna Vital

Have you heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really become good at something?  Or that the first book by beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times by publishers before it finally achieved success?  Our number one top Tweet for 2013 was this infographic by Anna Vital that demonstrates how many times should you try before quitting in order to achieve success.  It’s much higher than you might think.

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Related:

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

Work Burnout in A Virtual Team? Here’s How to Avoid It

(Image Credit:  B2C)

(Image Credit: B2C)

The workplace of today is ‘always connected’ and yet, strangely, often disconnected with the prevalence of technology and global virtual teams. With mobile devices keeping us plugged in anytime, anywhere, it’s easy to keep on working, and working, and working, until you lose all sense of balance and separation between work and personal life. The to-do lists and inbox never seems to get any shorter, and you may never get to know your team in person. Enter the age of Burnout Culture in the Virtual World. Where you are always just one click away from your never-ending projects, but you’re working on them in isolation. Here’s some quick tips on how to avoid work burnout in a virtual team:

(Image Credit:  Mother Nature Network)

(Image Credit: Mother Nature Network)

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Related:

- By Julie Yamamoto

3 Ways to Beat the Monday Morning Blues

Image Credit:  Sudarshan Srinivasan, Chakraascope

Image Credit: Sudarshan Srinivasan, Chakraascope

blue Monday (noun) – a Monday regarded as a depressing workday in contrast to the pleasant relaxation of the weekend (dictionary.com)

Do you ever experience the Monday morning blues? While the prevailing definition seems to be about the contrast of the first workday of the week (Monday) versus the relaxation experienced over the weekend, the Monday morning blues can also be about other things as well, such as facing a long ‘to-do’ list for the week and feeling overwhelmed or simply feeling tired. Here are 3 ways you can beat the Monday morning blues and ensure that you have a good jump-start on your work week:

1 – Get a good night’s rest on the weekends too

It’s easy to get off-kilter over the weekend just because you can. Stay up late watching movies and then sleeping in late or taking naps in the afternoon over the weekend is a sure-fire way to get out of sync for the workweek. Sticking to the same schedule, regardless of the day of the week, will help you feel more rested and energized throughout the week. Plus, the bonus is, if you get up early on the weekends too, you’ll have more weekend time to get things done or enjoy your time!

2 – Spend ‘quiet time’ every morning

Before you jump right into work and your long ‘to-do’ list, why not spend a few minutes of quiet time first? Grab a cup of coffee and sit out on your front porch, or wherever your best ‘quiet time’ place is. Before you read the newspaper, before you go to the gym, before you do anything really. Just a few minutes of quiet time to center yourself and collect your thoughts before you start the day. Call it ‘quiet time’ discipline, and use it however you like – to meditate, journal, or simply listen to the birds greet the morning. In our fast-paced lives, where 80% of the world’s data was created in the last two years, and people are acquiring cellphones at a pace 5 times faster than the growth of the human race, when do we take the time to stop and smell the roses? It’s important.

3 – Prioritize your ‘to-do’ list

One thing about Monday mornings is that you are facing a whole week’s worth of a ‘to-do’ list, or things that you really feel like you need to accomplish. Even if you haven’t written it down, you generally have an idea of what you think you need to accomplish this week, and it can be overwhelming.  Also, since your list might be really long, your Monday Morning Blues may also be taking into account that you won’t really have any breaks that week as you try to slug your way through that long list.  So take a few minutes to prioritize that list and lay out the most important goals you need to accomplish for the week.  That way, you will not only feel energized by the direction you’ve layed out for the week, but you will also feel great as you check off each item on the list.  Plus, as a bonus, since you are clear about accomplishing your major goals for the week, you will feel much better about taking small breaks throughout the week also, which will help to re-energize your thinking and creativity as well.

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Related:

- By Julie Yamamoto

Why Are There Still So Few Women in STEM?

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Graphic credit: IBM in ‘Helping Women in STEM Thrive’

At the Solvay Conference on Physics in 1927, the only woman in attendance was Marie Curie.  Today, there are still few women who pursue a STEM degree or career (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).  In the US, only one-fifth of physics Ph.D.’s are awarded to women, and only 14 percent of all the physics professors are women.  Globally, only 30 percent of women, on average, participate in STEM fields, both private and public.  A Yale study published last year demonstrated that a young male scientist applying for a STEM job in education is viewed more favorably on average than a woman with the same qualifications and offered a salary nearly $4000 higher. (All facts sourced from 1 and 2 below in ‘Related’ list).

IBM is investing in women, whether new to the company, previous employees or current employees. It is providing support through mentoring and networks that can create a foundation for a career path towards technical leadership roles.  Watch the Technologista YouTube series (below) for an inside glimpse of what women at IBM are doing, and learn more about women at IBM here.

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Related:

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

Women in Technology at IBM – Rejecting the ‘Expected’

technologista2IBM continues the Women Technologista series this week with two blog posts.  In the first one, IBM Senior Vice President and WITI Hall of Famer, Linda Sanford, talks about ‘Nurturing the Next Generation of Technologistas‘.  She talks about how studies have shown that women are naturally more collaborative and better at listening, two tenets for building strong teams and that teams with at least one woman outperform male-only teams.  However, women still hold less than one-fourth of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs, so how do we best tap into and grow this innate talent pool?  Mentorship is vital. Female-executive support groups and increased participation in industry associations, along with formal training and inclusion programs, would also help.  Read more on the Internet Evolution site.

In the second post, Stefanie Chiras, PhD, IBM Manager of System & Technology Group Design Center, shares how she learned to reject the ‘expected’ when she was 10 and her father told her they were going to fix a car transmission.  She said “I can’t do that,” and he replied without a pause, “People do it every day. You can certainly do it once.”  The advice, and the fact that they did fix the transmission, stuck with her.  Half the challenge is overcoming apprehension and preconceived notions.  As for advice from her own career path, she echoes some of the tenets found in the recent IBM Study of Insights from Women Executives, which are:

  • Stay visible
  • Plan your career
  • Integrate work and life

Read the full post, Rejecting ‘The Expected':  One Woman Engineer’s Story on the Huffington Post.

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Related:

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

5 Steps to Improve Your Self Worth

If you don’t think you’re awesome, who else will (besides your mother)? Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy. Sometimes we all need reminders to focus on achieving and showing our personal value to the world.

cat.lionDo you get stuck in the internal chatter of: “I can’t do it,” “I must not make a mistake,” “What if they don’t like me?”

Here are 5 steps to help you improve your internal conversation so that you build your self confidence so your personal brand can shine.

X-IBMer and Social Butterfly Lorian Lipton coaches you with Self Worth Starts With These 5 Steps, from her blog The Digital Attitude: Becoming Eminent.

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Greater IBM, what would you add to these? Have you got any tips to share?

- Posted by Lorian Lipton