Monday, April 14, 2008

My Decision to Leave IBM

I was at IBM for 22 years ... I started on June 10, 1985 and my last day was November 30, 2007. I joined the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies in January 2008. I took Dec. "off" to regroup and get prepared emotionally.

I must say it was a big decision ... something I tried not to think too much about but instead went with my gut. I don't have tenure and came in at the Associate level so only have 3 years to get tenure. I try not to worry about this too much but it lurks in the back of my mind!

I joined IBM right after my undergrad but I knew I wanted to be an academic. I had also applied for scholarships and grad school. I received a Canadian gov't scholarship (NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship) that was deferrable for 2 years to go into industry so I took the job at IBM to get some experience (it was in the area of compiler development). I left after 2 years to pursue grad studies (my masters) and my (wise) manager at the time convinced me to take an educational leave of absence. I remember his reaction, “Never say never, Kelly. Things change. You’ll change,” when I told him I was never coming back. When I finished my masters and started my PhD, I went into IBM to resign but they extended my leave (that was almost 20 years ago -- I don't think it would be possible today). After my PhD, I wanted to have children and at the time looking for a faculty job seemed like a stressful process. I was offered and accepted a great job at IBM, had 2 wonderful children, and worked for 13 more years taking advantage of excellent opportunities and jobs I was given at IBM. Then (all of a sudden), I realized I had spent half my life with IBM (!) and I decided academia was now or never so I applied for academic jobs (I had built a lot of contacts in academia in Canada through my work at IBM so that helped).

And, here I am! It's pretty exciting and scarey all at once! People ask me what I miss the most about IBM and the answer is always, "the people" but fortunately, as an IBM CAS Faculty Fellow, I have the opportunity to stay in touch with and continue to interact with many of those tremendous people.

1 comment:

David Ing said...

I, like you, was an academic who came to IBM, and ended up staying (for 23 years). I've also had the benefit of flexible work arrangements recently (permanent part-time), and things are working out well.

I really appreciate the people at IBM. For 20 of the 23 years with the company, I've been in market development, consulting, executive education, and had an opportunity to lead a First-of-a-Kind project with Research. Aside from the first 3 years in headquarters planning, I've had the opportunity to work directly with customers, so I have a good appreciation of what the work environment is like elsewhere.

People who don't last with IBM tend to have issues about being with such a big company, but I've found some absolutely stellar people to work with. It's taken for granted that IBM has smart people, but the best people are also customer-oriented and passionate. I can't imagine working on a routine job day-in and day-out where I would be penalized for thinking.