18 03 2017

When I worked at IBM in the late 70’s and early 80’s it was something very special. I have great memories of the clients I had and the IBMers I worked with. These experiences had a major impact on my career development.

One of the things I remember from the very beginning of being with IBM was a theme of “THINK”. This brand was part of IBM’s culture at the time and there were little reminders to reinforce it.

One was the THINK desk plaque shown above. You would see this plaque on desks and in many other places in an IBM environment. I would see them on top of IBM computer systems in a client’s office quite often , , , probably still a few of these roaming around companies who have been with IBM for generations. I still have mine.

Another item they gave me during my IBM Rookie days was a THINK Notepad.

It was handy for carrying with you and taking notes when with a client. Very small and functional. I used up many fillers for my notepad.

I also still have this item in my box of career memorabilia.

I probably didn’t think much about the message embodied within this brand of “THINK”, but it makes sense and was simple and to the point, , , just like IBM wanted, I imagine.

I think of the IBMers I worked with quite often. They hold a special place in my heart and memory bank. They were without a doubt some of the most professional and fun people to work with in my entire career.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was right out of college and still young and impressionable, but I think more of it was the sense of teamwork and camaraderie we had in the General Systems Division (GSD) of the Jackson, Mississippi office.

Another item we had that was handy was IBM note cards. They were simply blank 80-column cards we used in the old days of card systems with the message “THINK” printed at the top.

I think our local office had these made up and we simply stocked our supply with them to use as needed, , , sort of like nice golf clubs put out free golf tees for players to grab on their way to the first tee.

“THINK” has long been an IBM theme. Have you ever heard the term “thinkpad”?

Yep, it is IBM’s (now Lenovo) laptop brand name. They continue to use the word “think” to promote their products and services all these years.

I have three Thinkpads. One is a powerful machine that I use as my desktop, but because it is actually a laptop I can take my entire office with me if I want. It’s larger and heavier so I rarely unhook it from the docking station that has all my desk peripherals connected (monitor, presentation TV on the wall, scanner, external speakers, external microphone, Logitech webcam, etc.).

The 2nd is a Lenovo X1 Carbon Thinkpad that I use for travel. I’ve had this laptop for several years now. It’s highly functional, very light and thin, and has a long battery life when needed. Love this laptop.

The third is an older IBM Thinkpad that I keep around just in case of an emergency.

IBM’s use of the theme “THINK” looks like it has worked out pretty well.

From my IBM Scrapbook

3 01 2015

I began my career with IBM back in the late 1970’s when small and mid-size companies were buying their first computer. It was an exciting time called the “mini-computer days”.

One of the things I remember most was the great fun we had at IBM amidst some very hard work and long hours. It was a great experience where I learned the value of “working hard and playing hard”.

You may be experiencing some of the best time of your career right now. You owe it to yourself to capture a few memories along the way.

Here are a few photos from my IBM days:

Mike Sisco_IBMReceiving an award from Bryan Hathcock, , , Jim Cockerham and Jim Richie

Ginger and I receive Salesman of the Month honors from Macon Lee

After the meeting we played golf and had a big cookout, something we did once a year and it was great spending time on the big houseboat on the lake

A presentation in an off-site event

It was the days of the 3-piece suit and white shirts, , , an early presentation

Ron Scarbrough and me after a sales call

This is what it’s all about, , , my two senior mentors who helped me so much in my early career are on both sides as I receive a Regional IBM Manager’s Award.
Macon Lee, Charles Carroll, Me, Jim Cockerham, Jeannie Brunson

Charles Carroll and Jim Cockerham influenced my career considerably and I’ll always owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

My first presentation

27 01 2014

scientistHave you ever been truly scared of something, , , I mean really, really frightened?

I have been truly scared at least once in my life, and it probably isn’t what you might think it would be. It was when I had to make my very first presentation in front of a group of people I did not know.

You need some background
It was a cold, snowy January day when I arrived at my first IBM class in Atlanta. I was 28 at the time and had just graduated from college, , , I was a bit older than a typical college graduate because I took a 4-year detour with the United States Marine Corps.

In the class there were some 30 or so students from all parts of the US, , , we were all proud “IBM rookies” eager to make our mark in the world, , , and we were about to go through IBM’s class called A-Mod.

I remember having to introduce myself to the class like everyone else did and how nervous I got as it got closer and closer for my time to speak. I would soon learn this would just be a teaser.

At the end of the first day, our Instructor brings out flip chart pads and magic markers, , , then he passes out assignment material to each of us. He returns to the front of the class and proceeds to assign us a task for the evening, , , we would learn that homework was going to be a common theme in all IBM classes.

Our assignment — develop a short, 5-minute flip chart presentation on the topic we were given. Everyone had a separate topic, , , no teamwork in this exercise. The following day we were to deliver a stand-up presentation of our topic using the flip chart bullet points we came up with from the material we were given.

The presentation would be recorded so we could view it and our Instructors could critique them to help develop our presentation skills. Our presentations were to be graded and this is important because it leads to our final grade average, , , something our future Performance Review from our IBM managers back home would take into consideration.

Grading would be based upon three things: content, organization of the content, and presentation delivery.

I had never made a presentation to a group of people I did not know, , , never, , , and even though I was older than most in the room and a former Marine, , , I was intimidated by the whole thing.

Intimidated is putting it mildly, , , I was scared.

Not physically scared mind you, , , but afraid of making a mistake, looking foolish, or just generally not doing well in front of my peers, , , even though I didn’t know any of them. It’s a trait I would learn 15 years later is pretty consistent among IT people.

Well, we all go to our apartments and everyone focuses on developing their presentation. My flip charts look great and I believe I have created bullet points that capture the key points of my topic. I was totally comfortable with this part.

But I’m still very much afraid of this task because of the presenting part to come, , , so much concern that I gave real thought to checking out, going to the airport, and heading home to tell my manager that I did not sign up to be  a salesman.

Fortunately, I didn’t go through with it. Can’t hurt that much, can it?

The next day we begin making our presentations and we deliver them in alphabetical order, , , so my name beginning with an “S” means I’ll deliver mine in the afternoon.

How much of the morning sessions do you think I heard?

That’s right, , , none of them.

Why? because I’m thinking through my presentation and analyzing every aspect of it, , , trying to remember what I need to say, etc. The closer we get to my turn, the more nervous I become.

Well, it finally comes my time to deliver, so I go up to the front of the room, they help me place my three flip chart sheets on the stand, , , put a microphone around my neck, , , , , , , ,

Did I mention they were going to place a microphone around our neck and record the whole thing?

More pressure!!!!!!!

OK, I’m finally all set and ready to begin, , , but first, a question for you:

Are you aware of what happens when you are truly scared, , ,  I mean truly frightened about something?

presentation_8Well, your body does some strange things that I learned for the first time at this moment in my life.

First, you can perspire or sweat.

Your body can tremble or shake.

Your voice can quiver, even come out at a higher pitch.

Your heart certainly beats faster and pounds like it’s coming out of your chest. I know this to be true.

But there is another thing that happens to you that I had no idea of until it occurred to me in this presentation.

Your mouth gets very dry, , , cotton dry, , , dry as the desert sand.

Well, when you speak your tongue actually bounces off the roof of your mouth as you say certain words and when your mouth is cotton dry, your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth. As you talk, your tongue gets stuck and when it releases, there is a distinct “POP“.

That’s right, you will hear an intermittent “popping” sound, , , you don’t know exactly when the “POP” will occur but it definitely does.

And remember, I have a microphone hanging around my neck.

As I work through my presentation, I hear this “POP” from time to time and I’m sure everyone else hears it. It’s a bit unsettling, but something occurred during this ordeal, , , as I went further and further into my presentation, it all got easier and easier.

My presence here today is testimony that this frightful event did not kill me, , , but it truly did scare the “bejeevies” out of me leading up to the event.

Mike Sisco – early IBM presentation – 1977

I’ve been very nervous in a few other large presentations in my career, but they got easier the more I gained experience in presenting.

The lesson
Today, I can deliver a presentation to hundreds of people and I don’t get nervous, , , as long as I’m prepared and know my material. What this says is that you can overcome your fears and learn how to do things that once intimidated you. It’s all about making an investment to become what you want to become.

They say the two things people are most afraid of are public speaking and death. Well, I’ve overcome the first one. If I can do it, I’m fairly confident anyone can.

Strong communication skills can help you considerably in your career, , , well worth the investment to gain them.

Something to think about
After I made my presentation in the IBM A-MOD class, the lady sitting next to me went up to do her presentation, , , and she “knocked it out of the park”. She was really good and did a super job, , , partly I thought because she had some teaching experience and had experience getting in front of people.

I was impressed so during a break I told her what a great job she did. Her reply surprised me. She said she was extremely nervous because of all the people in the room with IT degrees and experience, , , he degree and background was in History so she was intimidated a bit, , , just like me and probably the rest of us in the class but for different reasons.

What this told me is that “everyone gets scared” when presenting or doing things out of their comfort zone. From that point on, presentations got easier, , , and easier, , , and even better as I gained more and more experience.

My first day at IBM

29 04 2012

When I joined IBM I had never met my new boss. He had taken the advice of his counterpart in Memphis, TN that I would be a good hire so Bryan hired me for the Jackson, MS office sight unseen. We talked on the phone but my first visit with him would be my very first day of work.

I remember getting to the office 15 minutes early. Bryan told me to come in at 8:30am and we would get started. I show up at 8:15am, but the doors weren’t open yet, , , they didn’t unlock the main doors until 8:30am. Oh well, I’m standing on the front porch of the IBM building looking pretty dumb (I’m thinking) as car after car passes me on their way to the back parking lot. They were all IBMers coming in for work and they entered the building via a back door I didn’t realize was there, , , wouldn’t have mattered because I couldn’t have gotten in anyway.

Finally, I meet Bryan Hathcock, , , a big gray haired gentleman with a rough exterior. Later, I would learn he was just a big teddy bear and someone I would look to as one of the best managers of my career.

After a short meeting, Bryan showed me around and introduced me to the IBMers of our division who were in the office that day. It was a very friendly group and very professional as I remember. The guys all wore white shirts and pinstripe suits in those days and so did I although my suits were on the inexpensive side at that point.

Bryan told me to make a copy of some paperwork and I made a big mistake by asking him, “Where is the Xerox?” He quickly made me understand that we used IBM copiers, not Xerox, , , I never made that mistake again.

Bryan gave me a piece of advice that first day that I have used throughout my career and I still use today. He said, “Mike, I’m going to pair you up to make client calls with some of our senior System Engineers (SE) and Marketing Reps. When you’re with them, observe how they do things, , , how they organize their time, how they plan for a client call, how they deal with client issues, etc. What you need to do is learn from them and incorporate the best of what you see into how you do things. If you see something that works really well, use it to your advantage and become the best you can be.”

I’ve done this my entire life and many of the things I do today are because I observed how well they worked for someone else. It was very good advice.

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