For 32 years, since the day I walked out of college with one of the first, freshly minted computer science degrees, I have worked for IBM. My first manager, Al Goodwin, showed up on my university campus, he offered me a job as a product developer, and I accepted. Pat and I left Michigan for Kingston, New York; I graduated Friday and started work Monday morning. We had no money, hence no option to take time off.
In those days, IBM was the hallmark of a paternalistic company; full employment, free medical insurance, family day fairs, and Christmas extravaganzas. Christmas was my favorite – Broadway caliber shows in a local theater put on just for us. At the end, Santa handed a gift to each child – a big, beautifully wrapped package. And everything was free.
Our career largesse knew no boundaries, and we never envisioned an end.
But it did end. Actually, it crashed. Times changed. IBM barely survived. We began to pay for a part of our insurance, family day and the Christmas party – canceled, and the layoffs started. For many, the end of full employment was the most bitter change of all.
One day, we called our departments together to share a letter from the company announcing one of the first layoffs. My peer manager, a big bear of a man with over 30 years experience, read the letter to our combined teams. Half way through he stopped, raised his glasses and rubbed his eyes, then broke down and wept. I sat frozen, unable to look at the stunned faces next to me. And for the first time, I understood how deeply the changes in IBM affected long term employees.
But my father owned a very small business with no benefits. As long as I received paid vacation and any form of medical insurance support, I felt supremely fortunate. Through all the ups and downs, IBM and I maintained a very simple, if unspoken, agreement. I worked and they paid me – no more, no less. And for 32 years, we each upheld our end of the bargain.
Through our time together, IBM has helped raise three kids and send them all to college. It bought houses, paid for vacations and put food on our table. How can I be anything short of thankful?
But the time has come to move on. I have planned for, dreamed of and awaited this day for years. It has never been about leaving IBM (OK, some days it was all about leaving IBM – but hang on, I’m making a bigger point). I have goals beyond this one and only career. With our three kids grown, the time has come where I can take risk. And that is exactly what I intend to do.
This day is simultaneously scary and invigorating, excruciating and exciting. I have zero regrets. In spite of a mess of emotions, today – my final day as an IBMer – is filled with nothing but dreams and hope, thanks and fond memories.
The World in Between starts right now. Everything prior to this moment has been rehearsal. Today, I will hand in my badge, walk out the door, and not once glance back. It’s time.