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.


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:



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

The Role of the Data Scientist: More Critical Than Ever

The rise of the data scientist in the Smarter Planet

James Kobielus, Senior Program Director, Big Data Evangelist, IBM

IBM’s James Kobielus

Big Data is a little like the solar system, says James Kobielus, Senior Program Director, Big Data Evangelist, IBM. It’s a brilliant system of information and analysis that emerges from the inchoate mass of gas, dust, rocks and crystals known as “data.” And to continue the analogy, cloud computing is the galaxy in which the stars, rocks, and particles exist and interact.

That makes data scientists the astronomers, exploring the spinning, interconnected system, much of which consists of scattered matter that we call “unstructured.” But what exactly is a data scientist? Simply put, the data scientist is among the most important developer in Big Data.

What do data scientists do? What does it take? And how can you unlock the full value of Big Data for your business? Read more to find out.



A Smarter Planet

What is Big Data?

The IBM Big Data Portfolio

IBM Big Data on LinkedIn

– Posted by Regan Kelly

Dublin, Ireland Adopts Smarter Approach on Its Road to Recovery

Ireland’s capital, Dublin, is one of the oldest in Europe. Because its city council wants to maintain the city’s historic fabric, city policy today prevents new roads from being built in some of the most historic areas. But with traffic congestion worsening, the city sought an efficient solution to its traffic woes. To that end, it’s partnered with IBM to collect and analyze data to help tackle its congestion, all part of a push towards making Dublin a Smarter City.

File:Dublin Ireland Night.JPGIreland’s capital: an IBM Smarter City testbed

Today, journey information is released and updated by Dublin city council every minute, enabling residents to go online and find the quickest route to their destination. In addition, research is being conducted in Ireland on similar problems that might be tackled by joining up existing databases. The work is part of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, part of which emphasizes applying analytics to solve pressing problems. Read more in The Guardian.


– Posted by Regan Kelly. Part of our June 2013 theme on the environment and sustainability.

New CAI Study on Smarter Policing

– from the IBM Center for Applied Insights

Police agencies, wherever they are, have some things in common: they are sworn to keep those they serve safe and secure, an essential prerequisite for a stable and prosperous society. And regardless of where an agency serves, in a cosmopolitan North American city or in a fast-growing population in South Asia, digital information sources and social media generate a great deal of data to be mined, plus new ways to engage with the community.

infographic policing

To justify investments in technology, though, police in rapidly developing economies must build a business case that is relevant to their situation and challenges. This study – based on data relating to 56 police agencies from around the world and the communities they serve – suggests the potential returns for rapidly developing economies can be dramatic. The study identifies four distinct profiles of police agency in rapidly developing economies and shows that each should prioritize different investments and anticipate different profiles of agency and societal benefits.bitty cover Get the study.

Download the infographic

Mobile Business Isn’t Your Devices, It’s What’s BETWEEN Them

mobile firstMobile business is more than devices; it’s what you can do with the data between them.

In other words, the mobile world is open for business. Learn more.


IBM Mobile First

See it in action

IBM Offerings


– Posted by Regan Kelly

New Podcast: What Can You Do with Big Data?

Today, the conversations about big data are shifting, from “What is big data?” to “What can I do with big data?” Five key use cases have emerged that hold high potential value for many organizations.

Eric Sall, vice president of product marketing at IBM, describes those high-value uses for big data in this podcast, now available on demand.

Analytics: New Power Systems from IBM Challenge HP, Oracle and Dell For SMB Apps

–, Tom Groenfeldt

As Dell and HP struggle to figure out their businesses, IBM is moving into their territory with Power Systems starting at $5,947 at the low end of its newly launched Power line of computers. “With these new systems, IBM is forging an aggressive expanding of its Power and Storage Systems business into SMB and growth markets,” said Rod Atkins, senior vice president of IBM Systems and Technology Group.

“Big data and cloud systems that were once only affordable to large enterprises are now available to the masses.”

Colin Parris, VP, IBM Power Systems (photo, IBM Systems Magazine)

Colin Parris, VP, IBM Power Systems (photo, IBM Systems Magazine)

The systems have more power, greater stability and manageability because they’re are integrated from design through production, said Colin Parris, general manager, IBM Power Systems. Read the rest of the story.