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Somethings I Remembered About IBM That Is No More

Updated on February 9, 2018
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years.

The IBM Pavillion

Introduction

I am an IBMer and probably will always be one. That is what we called a person who works at IBM. Even though I left IBM 15 years ago, I still feel connected to it. I worked at IBM during its haydays. This article was inspired by a friend who I ran into recently. He started his career at AT&T and ended the last few years at IBM before retiring. He was tellling me about his experiences. There are some traditions and practices I remember that are no more. Time marches on.

- July 2017

updated Feb. 2018 after receiving comments from Greenburgh Writer’s Group.

Some IBM Traditions

My love affair with IBM began in 1964, at the World’s Fair in NYC. I was only 13 then and it was amazing to see the IBM pavillion. It was shaped like an egg with the classic IBM logo all over it. It was so advanced and full of new technology that you can sense the future right there. My one memorable moment was seeing a demonstration of the carbon dating technique that was developed at that time. A piece of wood was placed in a chamber and after a few moments of analysis, a printout came out of the computer saying the approx. date of the item In question. It was full of promise and I was impressed and just knew that better days were ahead.

My next connection with IBM came in my junior year at CCNY. I took a class in computer science 101 and we had to learn to program an IBM 360 system using punch cards. I would carry the deck of cards in my pocket, feed it into the reader and waited a day for the output to print out. If a mistake was made, it takes another day to fix and rerun the job.

Sadly, here are some traditions at IBM that are no more.

  • IBM Clubs
  • IBM Quarter Century Club
  • Silver spoons
  • Family Day
  • IBM Holiday Party
  • Defined Benefit Pension plan
  • IBM Art Gallery
  • IBM Palisades Conference Center
  • IBM Award Recognition Dinner
  • Three Basic Beliefs
  • IBM Song - Ever Onward

Michael C. Fina Co.

My Memories of Past...

Many IBM locations had a nearby Country club facility. Some includes a golf course, bowling ally, swimming pool and other recreational facility. It cost very little to join and it was available to the family members as well. In recent financial difficulties, and cut backs, these places were sold off.

Becoming a Quarter Century Club member was a real honor. It meant you have worked for 25 years for IBM, a good chunk of one's professional career. Receiving a gold watch, a plaque and $1000 check and a luncheon was all par for the course. In 2016, the only thing that survived is a luncheon.

When my kids were born, we would receive a silver spoon with the first name engraved in the mail. It was a welcomed surprise. The message was you are part of the IBM family. Congratulations on a new addition.

Every summer, a day was set aside for families. A picnic at a local amusement park where all the rides are free and foods and drinks are free...

Christmas holiday was very special for all the kids. Santa will be there to take photos and hand out toys for all kids under 12 years of age. Cookies and refreshments for all.

It was a different era and a different work climate. We were expected to work our whole career in one company and we were part of a family. To some. It was described as a cult, but in a good way. We were taught to behave in a certain way and dealt with our customers in a certain way and conduct business in a certain fashion. The Watsons were very strict and no alcoholic liquor was allowed in any business function even in a company party. Customer Service personnel had to wear white shirts and a tie when at customer sites.

If you walk into an IBM building and walk past the cubicles, it is not unusual to find the IBM Motto “Think” on the desks.

It is sad for me to know that the culture I was familiar with is no more.

IBM Motto

Frida Kahlo - Self Portrait

Some Personal Detail...

One very personal loss for me was the IBM Art Gallery. There were some paintings collected by the Watson family. Our group was involved with a small side project of digital capturing the paintings. They included many from Frida Kahlo which was one of the favorite painters of the Watsons. Unfortunately, these painting were sold and the gallery shut down.

IBM Executive Conference Center - Palisades, NY. Located in scenic Palisades, where customers are brought in to meet and learn and relax... It was the one occasion that I met the CEO of IBM at the time, Lou Gerstner, in person. He was just like a regular guy. As I went to shake his hand, I saw that he had a digit missing. I found out later from a colleague that he lost a finger while mowing his lawn In a freak accident. I was impressed that a CEO or an executive at that level still mow his own lawn. I found out the Palisades Center was sold a few years ago.

The 3 Basic Beliefs as set by the CEO of IBM -Thomas Watson Jr.

  • Have respect for the individual.
  • Give the best customer service of any company in the world.
  • Pursue all tasks with the idea that they can be accomplished in a superior fashion.

These ideas are timeless, it is a shame that modern corporations lost that same principles that made IBM great.

Palisades Conference Center

My Personal Views

As someone who has been around a company for such a long period, I have accumulated some biases. I supported the corporation in what it does for its customers. I saw and experienced the changes that took place over the years and decades.

The recent sexual harrassment scandals and the debate over equal pay for women just reminded me how lucky I was to work at IBM. Thing like that would never happen on an IBM property Or office. In fact, IBM led the way to bring more women into technology and programming. They were treated equally in every way including salary. We were paid based on performance. The better you perform, the more money you make. It is not unheard of an employee making more money than his manager.

I was lucky to have moved around between divisions and experienced the various cultures at IBM. I was there for the highs and lows. I profited personally and professionally from interactions with colleagues.

In fact, in my small group, we had two IBM Fellows, which are the highest achievement of an IBMer. One was hispanic and the other a women. I am truly blessed to have been part of this experience. As someone who values history, I am doing my part to preserve the legacy of the old IBM that I knew. I have initiated a project on my own to donate some of my personal memorabilia to the IBM Archives.

Some people say you can never go back. That may be true, but we can remember how it was and how we are affected for the better. I want to show my gratitude to the Watson family for their leadership and bold initiatives and never forgeting the family. The three beliefs are timeless.

IBM Fellow - Frances Allen

Never Again...

It is a sad story. My life and career with IBM, had ups and downs, mostly ups. From 1974 when I joined right out of college, till I left in 2002, it was filled with adventures and interesting colleagues and challenging projects. Mostly, we had fun doing it. It was not only the employees but a family affair. From the birth of our child to Christmas holidays and summer Family day picnics, the families were invited to join in the celebration. In the rare event of a Corp. Recognition dinner, we were treated to a high class celebration. On my Quarter Century Club luncheon, I was given a binder of letters of congratulations from the CEO and many colleagues. I will treasure that forever.

It is sad because those memories will never again materialize for these new generations of IBMers.

Letter From CEO

Some Details for People Who May Not Recognize...

The IBM punch card - it is an IBM invention back when IBM was commissioned to conduct the census. Later, it was used to program the 360 general purpose computers. The holes on the card specify which letter or number was punched. A reader then interpret the holes and convert them into the binary codes that the computer understands.

The Selectric typewriter - A line of electric business typewriters developed by IBM and they were the work horse of most large typing pools. The unique design of the type ball is an improvement over the traditional typewriter of individual punches. This way, it cannot be jammed. The ball rotates to the position of the desired letter.

The IBM PC - Came into market in 1981. It was the first commercial home computer for mass markets. The first killer app were Visicalc, a spread sheet. The first video game was Microsoft Adventure. It ran on DOS, a text based Operating system.

Core Memory - Invented by IBM, the first computer memory were little magnetic rings called core wrapped with wires.

TSO - A multi user shared computer system created by IBM to communicate with Mainframes. TSO stands for Terminal Shared Option. It ran on a monochrome CRT display.

IBM Punch Card

IBM Selectric

Core Memory

The IBM PC

TSO

Corporate America

I realize it is a new era. In recent development, it became fashonable among some to blame large corporations for their greed and exploitation of workers. However, I want to remind people some history. During World War II, it was corporate America that stepped up to help fight against the tyranny of Nazism Fascism. IBM lead the way by converting their Poughkeepsie plant into an arms factory.

The commitment of the Watsons to their workforce and family extended to our country . In a time of war, they stepped up to meet the challenge. That was part of the IBM culture of old. I would hope it is still that way again if the need arises.

IBM Employees Working in Munition Manufacturing - WW II

Lyrics that is Probably not Politically Correct in 2017...

Ever Onward

There's a thrill in store for all,
For we're about to toast,
The corporation known in every land.
We're here to cheer each pioneer
And also proudly boast
Of that "man of men," our friend and guiding hand.
The name of T. J. Watson means a courage none can stem;
And we feel honored to be here to toast the "IBM."

EVER ONWARD -- EVER ONWARD!
That's the spirit that has brought us fame!
We're big, but bigger we will be
We can't fail for all can see
That to serve humanity has been our aim!
Our products now are known, in every zone,
Our reputation sparkles like a gem!
We've fought our way through -- and new
Fields we're sure to conquer too
For the EVER ONWARD I.B.M.

EVER ONWARD -- EVER ONWARD!
We're bound for the top to never fall!
Right here and now we thankfully
Pledge sincerest loyalty
To the corporation that's the best of all!
Our leaders we revere, and while we're here,
Let's show the world just what we think of them!
So let us sing, men! SING, MEN!
Once or twice then sing again
For the EVER ONWARD I.B.M.

IBM Three Beliefs

Postscript

After contemplating the losses, I am reminded that many IBM technologies have survived the test of time. They include some of the following which you might not even associate with the IBM brand.

Somethings are still around.

  • magnetic strips
  • UPC barcodes
  • laser surgery for the eye
  • scanning tunnel microscopy
  • Relational Database
  • Fortran language
  • APL language
  • COBOL language
  • mainframe computers
  • super conductors

© 2017 Jack Lee

Comments

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    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 

      10 months ago from Arizona

      Hey! My Dad used to work for IBM, when he first started the computers were still vacuum tubes! So here's a unofficial ditty about Poughkeepsie, NY:

      Everybody work for IBM

      All the women and all the men

      So it comes to no surprise -

      All the girls are computerized!

      The old-timers were called zipper-heads to update the brain with a new chip but now IBM's use velcro ...

      Also called 'beamers' (not the BMW kind)

      Remember the Country Club, all that stuff you mentioned.

      When at Endicott-Johnson,NY, saw the computer museum and the guts of the computer looked like macramé sewn by tiny fingers where each intersection of the wires was a tiny magnetic toroid.

      ! I would hate to rewire that! Glad I was born in the 1960's!

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