IBM Italy Fashion Industry Leader Dr. Dario de Judicibus: Create Your Own Opportunity

Dr. Dario

Dr. Dario de Judicibus, European Fashion Industry Leader, IBM Smarter Commerce

“I try to do something different every day. I do not wait for the opportunity – I try to create it.”

Dr. Dario de Judicibus is the European Fashion Industry Leader for IBM Smarter Commerce Italy, specializing in Business Strategy, Knowledge Management, and Social Networking.  He has written more than 250 articles in several magazines and newspapers, published 6 books, and speaks regularly at national and international conferences.  He is also a prolific IBM inventor with 7 patents to his name.  Prior to IBM, he worked at CERN (Geneva, Switzerland), Stanford, and DESY (German Electron Synchrotron), and he has a Laurea in Physics, High Energy Particles, from Florence University in Italy.

Be sure to join in the live Tweet chat we’ll be hosting with Dr. de Judicibus and Scott Duby on Thursday, February 6.

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The Greater IBM Connection:  When did you join IBM, and what led you to join the company?

I joined IBM in 1986.  I had just graduated and completed mandatory military service as an officer.  At the time, there weren’t a lot of good opportunities in Italy in research, so I was looking for a company that also did research.  IBM had a very strong research lab in Rome that I was interested in joining.  Because of my extensive background and research experience (CERN in Switzerland, SLAC at Stanford, and DESY in Hamburg), I was immediately hired, but that research lab closed after a few years, so I moved to a different job.  In my 27 years with IBM, I have had many different jobs, both technical and non-technical, but the real reason I love this company is the opportunity to interpret and create my job description as I wish.  In fact, I am what today is called a ‘Wild Duck‘. It is not always easy to operate independently in a company that has very strict processes at times, but I must say that I am never bored.

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

I’ve had a lot of different worldwide roles in IBM, but some of the most interesting and exciting for me were when I was practically inventing a new global practice from scratch.  For example, in 1993, when every software developer in IBM was continuously reinventing the wheel for every project, I founded the Reuse Shop, which was the first IBM group to create software libraries of building blocks that could be used to develop products.  I later took on managing the first Intellectual Property initiative (ICM) for Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, and Israel.  Then, in 2010, I became Fashion Industry Leader, first for Italy and later on for Europe, creating the first IBM Retail Practice and market segment focused on the Fashion and Luxury Products Industry.  Being a pioneer is not easy, especially when you really have no frame of reference to operate from, but it’s also extremely exciting to land in a totally new world and explore. There’s not many companies in the world that give their employees such an opportunity.

What was the workplace like when you joined and how has it changed over time?

One of IBM’s strengths since the 80’s has been the collaborative environment and sharing of expertise.  We didn’t have the same kind of sophisticated social sharing tools that we have today of course, but IBM has always had a global network of expertise, internal forums, and a set of tools to share documents and experiences.  So, even if the means were primitive as compared with today, somebody in some region of the world was always available and willing to help solve a problem.  It was a really big family.  Now the tools are more sophisticated and make it a lot easier to leverage extended networks of expertise, but the core IBMer attitude of willingness to help/volunteer and share your expertise hasn’t really changed.  This is the greatest asset we have in our company – our people.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

You might be surprised, but I do not remember a single day of work looking like another… Every day is a new challenge and a surprise.

Image Credit:  Venture Beat (The Internet of Things is coming, and IBM wants to be at the center of it)

Image Credit: Venture Beat (The Internet of Things is coming, and IBM wants to be at the center of it)

Is there any project or initiative you’d like to tell us more about?

Well, probably the Fashion Alliance, where I developed a new marketing channel approach.  Rather than thinking of our business partners simply as an additional channel to sell IBM solutions or their solutions based on IBM products, I created an ecosystem of several companies, each one strong in a specific area, working together like a football team.  In practice, I was able to solve customer problems by assembling this team of third party competencies, coordinated by IBM, who were stimulated to work with each other.  One of the solutions we developed was a family of products based on biometrics, not for security purposes, but for marketing.  One example was the Smarter mannequin, which was also one of the first elements of a vision I developed in 2010 called Total Reality.  To understand the concept, imagine taking the web and removing all the interfaces you currently use to access it – computers, tablets, and even smartphones.  Now substitute those devices with everyday objects such as rooms, tables, cars, or appliances like a refrigerator or an oven.  Suppose that your interactions with the object will be reflected as data changes in the web and the changes in the network data will also influence the objects themselves and how they interact with you.  A network of objects, communicating with human beings and even with each other – that is Total Reality.  Of course, objects not only have to be smart but also aware of what’s around them – that is, they must have some primitive sense or basic intelligence.

(Related:  IBM Smarter Planet ‘Internet of Things’ and IBM ‘Internet of Things’ solutions)

What do you like most about your career with IBM?

Autonomy in my work. In most cases I am the manager of myself.

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

Curiosity, lateral thinking – that is, thinking outside the box, willingness to take risks, and focus on the customer point of view.

What were some of the most important lessons you learned?

Whatever we do must have an objective and a measurable result, but, once you have planned the action necessary to achieve that goal, forget it, and try to do your work to the best of your ability.  When you are running a race, you don’t need to think about how far away the finish line is – only have confidence in yourself and in the skills of people working with you.

What would you do differently if given the opportunity?

I try to do something different every day. I do not wait for the opportunity: I try to create it.

big data growingWhat do you see are the major upcoming trends in your field?

Mobile is changing the way we relate with the web and therefore all the resources that are available through the web – people, information, tools.  We are always connected and we continuously exchange millions of pieces of data even when we are not aware of it.  We are just at the beginning of this new era, but if we can figure out how to analyze all the weak signals hidden in this world of Big Data, we will have the ability to harness incredible power. So, the real challenge is the ethical aspect, not the technological one. I think that, in the future, we will have to ask ourselves how to develop ethical rules that will balance the need to handle this power of Big Data responsibly while still maintaining the independence and autonomy of the web, which is its major value and its founding mechanism of evolution.

Tarpaulin Photograph by Dario de Judicibus

Tarpaulin Photograph by Dario de Judicibus

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Really a lot of things – I like to try new things often.  I have practiced the martial arts since I was a child (judo, karate, aikido, kung-fu, krav maga, and archery). I also enjoy windsurfing and tennis and am currently practicing fencing and body building. Some other hobbies include the guitar, photography, and writing (I’m a published writer of essays and novels).

What advice would you give to Greater IBMers to help them be successful in their career?

Real innovation is in your ideas. Technology may help and may sometimes create opportunities that were impractical in the past, but real innovation is always born from brains. However, to have a good idea is not enough. To make it a real thing requires a lot of work and very practical attitudes. My model is to be a pioneer. A pioneer must be a visionary because, if you are not a visionary, you will never leave the safety of your own home to discover what lies beyond the mountains.  However, a pioneer must also be a very practical individual because, if you don’t have a good head on your shoulders, you won’t survive more than one day when you are beyond the mountains.

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Related:

–By Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

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

View Gretchen Gottlich's LinkedIn profileView Gretchin Gottlich’s profile

View Gretchen Gottlich on TwitterView Gretchin Gottlich on Twitter

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

IBM Infographic Cartoon – So Your Parent is an IBMer (Survival Guide for Kids)

Did you experience growing up with a parent who is an IBMer?  Or perhaps you are guilty of having done this to your kids?

Cartoon by Jessica Ramirez

Cartoon by Jessica Ramirez, a software designer/developer at IBM

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Related:

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

IBM Marketing Vice President Teresa Golden Retires – Always Stay Curious!

Teresa Golden, Vice President, Digital Transformation, for IBM Global Technology Services (GTS)

Teresa Golden, Vice President, Digital Transformation, for IBM Global Technology Services (GTS)

“At IBM, if you are curious and have the right level of dedication, you will never be bored!”

IBM Vice President, Teresa Golden, is retiring after more than 34 years with IBM.  Teresa is Vice President, Digital Transformation, for IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) where she is engaged in enhancing the GTS Web presence and client experience through digital channels.  Throughout her career at IBM, Teresa has held multiple executive, managerial and staff positions in marketing, finance, business strategy and planning across multiple lines of business including business process and IT services, software, UNIX systems, personal computers, printers, multimedia and the Internet.  She was involved with one of IBM’s most important inventions, e-business, as Vice President, e-business marketing, where she played a key role in extending IBM’s market leadership by driving initiatives to increase consideration and preference for IBM as an e-business solutions provider, leveraging the entire portfolio of hardware, software and services.  IBM had 10,000 e-business customers by 1999.  She later held executive leadership roles for IBM Learning Solutions, IBM Global Technology Services, and  IBM Global Process Services. where she was a key driver in bringing IBM solution and service teams together to further IBM’s leadership in the market.

Teresa earned an MBA from Pace University and a BA from the College of Mount Saint Vincent.  She is married with two grown children and a grandson.

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IBM Poughkeepsie is located in New York's Hudson Valley (Photo Credit:  IBM)

IBM Poughkeepsie is located in New York’s Hudson Valley (Photo Credit: IBM)

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

I joined in July 1979 as a junior systems analyst in Poughkeepsie, NY.  Having already worked in the technology industry for 4 years, just completed my MBA and recently moved Dutchess County, NY, I was looking for a new opportunity.  As a 2nd generation IBMer, I made my father very happy when I opted to join IBM.

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

I’ve enjoyed most of my roles over the last 34+ years.  One of the ‘fun’ roles early in my career was as a Graphics Marketing Support Representative during the infancy of computer-aided business graphics (e.g. 3279 and 3277 GA).  In that capacity, the Poughkeepsie-based Graphics Support Center conducted client briefings, held education classes for IBMers and participated in business shows about business and CAD/CAM graphics.   I am also very proud of the work my team did in my two stints in e-business marketing.  At the time, we were focused on re-positioning IBM as a leader in the technology industry.  And I also truly enjoyed working in more of a ‘start-up’ environment as part of IBM Learning Solutions, which focused on the emerging business opportunity of e-learning.  We established IBM as a leader in this space by developing a point of view on the Future of Learning, leveraging IBM’s experience in Leadership Development and applying a broad marketing mix to promote our capabilities while driving real business results.

Restored IBM 3277 Display terminal (Photo credit:  IBM System 3 Blog)

Restored IBM 3277 Display terminal (Photo credit: IBM System 3 Blog)

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

When I started, the 3277 display terminal was ‘new’ technology!  Some of the first reports I created used JCL (Job Control Language)!  Subsequently, there has been a marked acceleration in the pace at which decisions are made and a shift is where and how work gets done. Innovation is now happening much closer to the client versus primarily in the development labs.

What do you see are the major upcoming trends in your field?

In marketing, it’s all about becoming more personal and reaching target audiences primarily through digital, including mobile, channels.  Being able to capitalize on this will be key to marketing success in the future.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

Today, regardless of my physical work location, I can be productive as long as I have my laptop and a network connection.  I’m often on calls with other IBMers around the globe early mornings into late evenings but the pursuit of excellence remains the same as when I started.

Photo Credit:  HD Desktop Wallpaper Blog

Photo Credit: HD Desktop Wallpaper Blog

How and where do you find inspiration?

I personally love the quiet associated with being outdoors in nature to think things through and/or develop the next course of action.  That said, I’ve often been inspired by some incredible IBMers who envision the future and encourage others to stretch their limits.

What values are you committed to?

The Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.

What did you like most about your career with IBM?

I really appreciated the relatively fast pace of the technology industry with the opportunity to continually learn and apply new skills.  At IBM, if you are curious and have the right level of dedication, you will never be bored!

What qualities have you most appreciated in the people you have worked with in the past?

I tend to be very operational and thus truly appreciate individuals who are visionary and can motivate others about the impact that our work can have on individuals, industries and the world.

How do you show others that you believe in them?

Always acknowledge good work and the time that is expended in creating it.  Spend time with individually with team members talking through how/what they learn from their work and continually improve.

technologista2What has been your experience working as a woman in the technology industry?

The world has changed so much for women.  When IBM contacted me regarding my initial interviews, my father told me that I would not be hired because I was pregnant!  Thankfully, that prediction did not come true.  In the early days, there were very few women in professional roles.  Now, the IBM work force is more representative of the human population.  When my children were young, working from home was not an option.  Technology today offers so much more flexibility enabling work to be more smoothly integrated with ‘life’.

How did you achieve work-life balance?

I never really got to a work-life in balance.  However, with the help of my husband of 38 years, we muddled through, raised two wonderful children and survived!

What dreams and goals inspired you to succeed?

Throughout my career, a common goal has been to be in a position to leave a role and/or a team in better shape than when I found it.  At the end of the day, we all just want to make a difference!

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

I seem to thrive in environments where I can help create order out of chaos.  This ‘skill’, which most likely was learned growing up as the 3rd of nine children, has served me well.

How did you get where you are today?

I’ve recall being fascinated with technology in grade school, fueled by my father who used to talk about computers at my school.  During college, I opted for business, math and programming courses and even spent a summer working for IBM as a tape librarian in a data center.  After graduation, I worked for two other technology firms before I joined IBM as a junior systems analyst in Poughkeepsie, New York.  I can’t say I ‘planned’ my career but looked for roles that I found interesting, typically focused on new growth areas, that enabled me to work for and with people I respected and knew I could learn from.  I never hesitated to switch divisions as I knew it was an opportunity to learn about different aspects of this company – resulting in an exposure to hardware, software and services.  I fell in love with marketing because it is always at the intersection of sales, development and finance and thus provides a good view of what is happening both internally and externally.

Who influenced you the most and why?

My father, now a retired IBMer, who opened the door to the possibilities of technology and encouraged me throughout my career.

Did you have any mentors, and, if so, how did they help you?

I’ve had multiple mentors, both male and female, throughout my career.  One of them sponsored and helped me get my first executive role, Others have been wonderful ‘sounding boards’ to help me work through specific challenges I was facing.

Did you act as a mentor to others, and, if so, how did you help them?

I’ve mentored numerous IBMers over the years.  Hopefully, I’ve provided them with a different perspective to think about and potentially act upon.  Often, I’ve been a ‘sounding board’ and/or a source of encouragement.  I have learned so much from my mentees making the time investment worthwhile.

What advice would you give to other women in tech to help them be successful?

Don’t lose sight of your priorities.  Work will always be there but your family will grow up before you know it.  Take the time to enjoy the special family moments.  You now have the flexibility to do this.  Take advantage of it!

What were some of the most important lessons you learned from your IBM career?

IBMers are so talented but we all have a different combination of skills that can be applied to the task at hand.  Appreciating the differences and applying them where appropriate is fundamental to getting the most out of a team.

What would you do differently if given the opportunity?

I’d love to work on addressing some of the challenges associated with our current educational system.  Education is the door opener to opportunity and is critical to the future success of our nation and the world.  (Learn more about IBM education initiatives)

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time with my family – especially with my 5 year old grandson.  I seem to recharge quickly when I’m outdoors with nature but a good book will also capture my attention.

(Photo Credit:  Ellis' Forest Management Greenhouse Nursery)

(Photo Credit: Ellis’ Forest Management Greenhouse Nursery)

What are some of your plans after retirement?

I’m looking forward to having the luxury of time to spend with my family. In addition, I hope to be able to read more, start a vegetable garden, furnish/landscape our new home in upstate New York, and learn about forestry management.  The possibilities are endless!

Any words of advice for Greater IBMers?

Regardless of your role, get as close to the customer or the ‘market’ as you can.  Having a deep understanding and appreciation of the ‘real-life’ issues that our clients are facing is fundamental to coming up with an approach that addresses their challenges.

Video Courtesy of IBM Smarter Marketing

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Related:

–By Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection

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

IBM Europe Virtual Career Exploration for Graduates – Nov 15 and Nov 20

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Greater IBMers, is your son or daughter getting ready to graduate?  Or do you know a forward-thinking graduate who might be interested in a career with IBM?

IBM Career Exploration is an exciting virtual careers fair aimed at forward-thinking university students to give them an opportunity to engage in an information exchange with IBM, and learn how they can make a difference for themselves, for IBM and for the world.

The events will be held on November 15 for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and November 20 for UK and Ireland.  Virtual doors will open at 10am for students to log in, and the event starting with the first webcast at 10.30am. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore career development and continuing education programs at IBM; understand how to build and apply their expertise and further their networks; and learn how to best position themselves in a highly competitive job market.

If you know a forward-thinking graduate who might benefit from this experience, please direct them to the links below to register in advance:

Why Work at IBM?

More:

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

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