From Hamilton to IBM
When I first walked onto the Hamilton campus as a freshmen in 1994 I had in mind pursuing a career in law for the simple reason that it sounded like an admirable path and one I knew was fairly well-travelled by recent alums. In the fall semester of my freshmen campaign, frankly, I had no idea what I was doing so I selected a menagerie of classes including Economics, Spanish, English, Psychology, Drawing, Philosophy and Africana Studies. Being an adolescent male I put in much more effort to those classes I was interested in than those I was not, which produced predictable results.
Fortunately, my Hamilton studies became laser focused after my 1st semester sophomore class in Computer Science. I had always been very strong in Math and loved the logical aspects of computers – especially programming. My first foray into Computer Science was a huge success both scholastically and in terms of opening the aperture of what I could do for a career. In 1994 the internet was “new” on college campuses as hard as that is to imagine. The iPhone wouldn’t be released for another 13 years! I was fortunate that my parents purchased for me a new Macintosh computer when I entered college and I really became very proficient in the various tasks needed to accomplish college student tasks (troubleshooting, network configuration, local admin, etc). Not exactly hard-core Computer Science but it turns out these skills are exactly those required for working at the ITS Help Desk. My job at the Help Desk spanned all four years and offered me lots of “outside the classroom” growth opportunities both technical in nature and soft skills such as customer service, explaining foreign concepts to users, and responsibility to others. For me, the combination of classroom Computer Science and practical application of computer expertise served as an amazing foundation on which I have been able to build a career.
A Glimpse of Life after Hamilton….
During the summer between my junior and senior years I had an amazing summer participating in the Information Management Leadership Program internship at General Electric, Capital Division in Stamford CT. I am forever in debt to Don Torey, Hamilton ’79 for creating this opportunity for me. This blog is a small example of how I try to repay Don’s gift to me by helping other Hamilton students.
My summer at GE was my first experience working in a high demand, fast paced corporate culture, which was an excellent opportunity to really see what a career in IT would be like. I remember right from the beginning I was thrown in the deep end without a discussion of whether or not I could swim! On my first day my manager had me set up my workstation, which didn’t have a CD-ROM drive. He gave me a new CD-ROM drive (still in the package) and said get this working in your system. I had zero experience at this point installing hardware but it was a great opportunity to learn. It’s worth noting that following my summer at GE, during my senior year, I built a computer from scratch with Professor Mark Bailey as part of my thesis (luckily for you Mark is still there to learn from). I share this example because this “opportunity” (having no clue how to proceed) has happened many times since my summer at GE albeit in different forms. My approach has always been the same – don’t get outworked and know when to ask for help. It turns out people are generally more than happy to share their expertise especially when they see you’ve put in the work to take the problem as far as you can on your own. I learned many lessons during my internship at GE and built a strong set of experiences on which I continue to draw upon. At the end of the summer I was offered a full-time job with GE after graduation, which I happily accepted.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
Real World or Bust…..
Upon graduating in May, 1998 I moved to Stamford, CT to begin my career with GE. Although I decided to leave shortly thereafter, my time at GE remains a critical component of the career I’ve built. After a short stint at ITT Industries working as a Web Applications Developer, I landed an excellent opportunity at IBM. I had always wanted to work for IBM given their long history of innovation and technical expertise and began my IBM career on August 21, 2000 in Hawthorne, NY. I have worked at IBM for the past 17+ years during which I’ve held many technical roles as an individual contributor and as a manager. My goal for each new role I took was to learn something new while broadening my scope of responsibilities. Throughout my career it’s become apparent that trust and results are key to advancement. Very few opportunities will present themselves without you having demonstrated a track record of producing excellent results. Further, the person hiring you needs to trust that you can and will continue producing just like you have been. Every new position I have taken has had some percentage of it that I’ve never done before up to and including 100%. My IBM career has offered me many opportunities to challenge myself and follow my passion. To the extent I’ve been successful at IBM I often find myself reflecting back upon my days at GE to always know when to ask for help and never be outworked.
Working with others is often much more important than how smart you are or how many programming languages you know. Hamilton did an excellent job preparing me to think vs. teaching me a bunch of facts within a particular discipline. In the technology field it’s far less important that you know skill/language xyz vs. being able to figure out how to solve a problem no one has ever seen. During my professional career, the last 7 of which have been in management, the most important thing I look for when hiring is attitude. I can always count on someone who approaches work with a positive attitude since this invariably leads to attention to detail, professionalism, hard work, and collaboration all of which are critical skills in one’s post-Hamilton life.