We now come to the end of my career at IBM and the end of my active involvement in computer development.
In my last history column, the IBM Supercomputing Lab was disbanded, and I took a transfer to IBM Raleigh. Luckily I had some friends there, and so a transition into a development management job was fairly easy. I spent the next four years working on hardware and microcode/driver development for ISDN and ATM adapter cards for PCs, and also on advanced Ethernet switches. But since this was a new site and a new division for me, I always felt a bit of an outsider there. Towards the end of 1996 came The Offer. IBM had offered early retirement buyout programs for a few years now, but this one was rumored as the last, or at least the best you were going to get. Most people took it, as I did, and I left to seek new opportunities.
The next three years could have been an exciting time. I joined a start-up company, which spawned a second company, neither of which could make it. We developed some excellent products, including a Comdex Best of Show award winning USB-to-Ethernet adapter, but good technology wasn't enough to make up for poor management and the companies finally went broke towards the end of 1999. I was facing the prospect of actually looking for a job (outside of IBM) for the first time since I graduated high school. But the dot-com bubble had burst by that time, and technology jobs were getting mighty scarce in the Research Triangle Park area. Since we already had our second home here on Oak Island, my wife and I decided to sell the Raleigh house, move here, and the rest is history. One of the best decisions I ever made.
I look back on my time with IBM with mixed feelings. For a recently married kid out of college with a new degree and little else, the job offer from IBM was grabbing the brass ring. IBM at that time was, I believe, the best big company in the world to work for. The pay was good, benefits excellent, and the people you worked with were all top caliber. We lived out in the country in upstate New York in what was basically an IBM ghetto - this was true because there were so many IBMers compared to the size of the general population. But it was a good life, both inside the company and out. It stayed that way until the collapse of the mainframe in the early 90's, and because of not-so-subtle internal pressure within IBM to change its personnel methods to try to eliminate what was called the "entitlement mentality" that was perceived to be keeping IBM employees from giving their best to the company.
All this was recently brought into focus again for me, with the selling of the IBM PC business to the Chinese company Lenovo. You have probably seen a lot of ads recently for ThinkPad notebook PCs (the original IBM brand), but the IBM logo is now conspicuously absent. Although I was never in the IBM PC Company, I did consult on the original PC design back in 1980, and was always involved in PC technology. IBM never made much money in PCs, and so the sale was probably a good move. But for me, it marked the end of an era, and the end of any involvement at all with IBM.
One of the things that I was frustrated by was the fact that IBM turned to Microsoft for DOS. IBM had many small computer operating systems like DOS in use internally, and even if one of those wasn't suitable, the people I associated with easily had the skills to write one from scratch in a very short time. But the mission of the PC Company was to not use mainstream IBM technology, and so the decision was made - the work given to Microsoft and the rest of that is HISTORY in capital letters!
So, IBM for me now is not even a monthly check (it now comes from some subcontract company) and of course the yearly increase in medical benefit costs. It's the end of an era, and the end of this series of columns.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)