Momentos from twenty-three years at IBM sit on my bookshelf. Maybe more are hiding in my desk drawers. I might have lifted my stapler from the office. My history with IBM began when I drove a forklift working on their packaging line the summer of 1981, as part of the production of word processors manufactured in their Austin, Texas facility. I later worked as a computer operator as an intern in 1990 while obtaining my masters from CU in Boulder. I then started my 23 year run in 1994 with their wholly-owned subsidiary ISSC. I forget what that stands for now.
My stash includes a coffee mug from that first gig with ISSC, various recognition things, a passport with all its pages full of stamps, a sticker making fun at me for an attempt to write a motivational blog when times were bleak – made me laugh even though the joke was on me – and the ubiquitous Think logo. Not pictured, the stapler because I use that.
Karen and I have always considered it ironic that my career was so steady while she averaged three W2s and 1099-misc forms annually from her contract jobs, because our personalities suggest the inverse. She’s cautious and I’m the risk taker. But I was generally satisfied, doing really cool things. When I did begin to think of departing, other life events got in the way. And my searches were always passive, meaning I only responded to recruiters contacting me first. I could enumerate a half dozen reasons for finally leaving but the primary logic is that sometimes stimulating professional growth requires a new start somewhere else. So that’s what I’m doing. New job begins May 1st.
Funniest thing is that, because I turn 55 on Monday, tomorrow, three days before my last day on the job, I qualify for retirement. Specifically, the retirement benefits IBM makes available to departing employees based on certain criteria of age and years of service. I get to take my pension with me and roll it over into an IRA. And I get future health benefits that I’ll be able to apply toward medical insurance premiums after I’m retired for reals. I didn’t plan this, it’s all bonus.
Meeting retirement criteria though, actually accepting the benefits, on top of turning 55, is enough to make me consider that I might have reached middle age. I didn’t pay much attention to turning 50, but 55, well, it has twice as many fives in it. Karen arranged for a few friends to come over next Friday evening for a happy hour to celebrate both my birthday and changing jobs, and it has the undeniable feel of a retirement party to it. My fault I suppose for working so many years at IBM before moving on. I’m not normally very introspective. Very few of these blogs ever wax nostalgic. But saying goodbye to so many colleagues and the events of my last days has given me pause to reflect on my career.
I’ll be 70 in another fifteen years. Safe to say I’ll be retired before then. I simply don’t feel that old. I run a marathon in another two weeks. I’m still youthful, in my mind. Granted, I grip the stair rail walking down in the morning, to support my delicate knees and ankles. But that’s just because I run so many darned miles. After sporting a buzz cut throughout my 40s, I grew my hair out, and it’s not all entirely gray. It still grows like a weed. I will admit to listening to relaxing music, but that’s my acquired taste. I still wear blue jeans and t-shirts. I still do new things. Published a book. I’m taking on a new job. I’m not dead yet.
Neither is IBM. It might seem like I’m leaving a sinking ship. Five years of shrinking revenue. But I’m not leaving because of that. Like most people still there, I believe in their strategic imperatives, and I understand their business will diminish before it picks back up. That’s simply the way creative destruction works. Other than say the phone company, IBM is perhaps the only American technology company still around after 100 years. If I say IBM, you hear computers. IBM is synonymous with technology. IBM will be fine. By the way, I have a half dozen IBM-logo button downs from working as a booth-babe at trade shows if anyone is interested.