What I’ve learned in 10 years at IBM

old school under construction

This Wednesday I drove out to my local IBM HQ to get a new badge.  After 10 years, my magnetized badge no longer works with most of the new  badge readers.  I had to turn in my old badge, and when I hesitated a moment in handing it over to the security guy who made my new one, he was apologetic.  Apparently I’m not the only IBMer who feels nostalgic about his/her first badge.  But it’s not really the badge I’m nostalgic for, it’s the me I was a decade ago.  Ten years ago I came into IBM as an intern with training in Usability and Testing, Technical writing, and HTML.  I was so proud of my HTML skills.  I had several Geocities Web sites and a blogspot blog.  I cringe now when I think of the graphics and the coding and the silly stuff I posted to the internet (in Web 2.0, you  post pictures of your cat on Facebook, not your blog).  Mercifully, Yahoo finally put those Geocities sites out of their misery a year ago.  And the good thing is, I have learned so much in the past 10 years that those early sites do not reflect who I am and what I know anymore.

Ten years at one of the  largest technology companies in the world, working with some of the most talented developers, marketers, and business people in the world (seriously), has taught me a lot.   Over the years, I have learned how little I know (apparently there is more to the Web than basic HTML) and how valuable it is to surround myself with a team of people who know more.  And the best teachers I’ve had at IBM were the people who never came right out and pointed out the gaps in my knowledge, but instead patiently walked me through what I absolutely needed to know to get my job done.  I cannot thank those people enough — especially knowing that initially, I probably pissed a lot of them off coming in with my “great ideas” without a clue of what needed to be done to implement them.

My decade of learning experiences (many of them painful) have not made me give up on “great ideas” but I have a better understanding now of what it takes to be a good colleague in a large, multi-skilled, multi-country and time zone organization.  And one action I’ve learned is key no matter where you sit in the organization is to be respectful.  Some people call this by different names — having patience, being flexible, practicing kindness, etc. But if you always have Be Respectful at the top of your ToDo list, you will come to the end of each day with more goals reached and more of your humanity intact. And being respectful helps you create those teams of smart people you need to surround yourself in order to complete those complicated projects.  Some days it’s hard to remember and I let my eagerness to get the job done at any cost get in the way of being my most respectful self — I’m not perfect.  But each day is a work in progress.

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