Why IBM’s Splitting Up Makes Me Forlorn and Hopeful

The existential threat to my sense of belonging to something grand and good.

Pensive and Hopeful
Image made by the author in Canva Pro

‘My granddad worked for IBM’ is what I’ve imagined my grandkids telling their friends. It has the cachet for me of ‘My granddad worked for NASA’ or (unfortunately, due to the slowness of human evolution) ‘he was in the army’.

Now, what’s making me despondent is that for the final few years in this job, I may end up in ‘NewCo’ and it may not even sport the IBM brand name (here’s the announcement). (I am hoping they’ll call the two companies IBM Services and IBM Infrastructure, but it’s not likely, is it?)

Here are a few things I loved and may lose.

I am an engineer and proud of the profession. The fact that one of the highest technical recognitions in IBM is Distinguished Engineer not only indicates its foundations but is a sort of serendipity for me.

IBM is an ocean with many seas. That I could change my work or role without leaving the company was a comfort for someone who likes the occupation more than the money. And the support for exploring and doing new things has been strong in IBM, in all my 21 years in it.

I am also an Enterprise Architect, and IBM can pretty much design and deliver any Information Technology capability a client needed. I’ve farmed the rich variety of its thought leadership and offerings, whether we finally selected from its own portfolio or partners. It’s given me a sense of command over all the natural forces involved in Enterprise Architecture. And no other company does the architecture profession better, in general.

In terms of work-to-life balance, it’s been close to ideal. And at work, I’ve never got the feeling anyone is breathing down my neck. As long as we’ve delivered, we have been given a lot of freedom. I suppose it is a culture of trust. And decent behaviour at all levels and in all directions. I’ve seen enough instances of harsh managers being eventually squeezed out of the company to know that being gentlemen and ladies is expected and pervasive.

How many entities has humankind created on this planet that are so large and useful for ages? And one that’s done well for the world, while being commercially successful enough to provide a decent living for millions of people. A name and a brand universally known and instinctively respected.

We all need a sense of belonging to something. I am not very religious, nor jingoistic about India or Australia, my two homes. I can only fall back on my profession and my company. I changed jobs four times before finding a home where I’ve lived for over two decades.

It’s felt like home because I have a bent for methods, specialised roles and rationality, all of which have remained intrinsic to IBM. Perhaps it comes from being a Virgo (yeah, I conveniently believe in the good things of this mumbo jumbo, so sue me). Still, I can’t think of any other company with the same level of belief and foundation in the scientific method.

Of course, no organisation is perfect, and I’ve had my share of frustrations in IBM. But it has somehow always managed to get me past them in one way or another.

In the end, if the handful who remember me were to say ‘he became a writer after finishing a long career at IBM’, I would be content. I hope it still turns out to be true.

That was my heart speaking. My rational mind says a lot of expensive thinking and analysis must have gone into the decision to split the company. And if the two resultant parts do well and Big Blue goes strong for another century as two Medium Blues, it would be something fine. Who knows, they may both retain enough of what I loved, to soothe my heart. Fingers crossed.

Published by Shashidhar Sastry

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