By Marie Wieck, IBM General Manager, Application & Integration Middleware
Dear Claire and Grace,
I was just asked to write a letter of advice to my younger self, but I see so much of me in both of you that I thought I’d write to you instead. I hope there is at least one thing here that helps you on your journey.
For over 25 years now, I’ve been very fortunate to have had an exciting career at IBM. No one succeeds alone. I couldn’t have done any of this without all the great support I’ve had from you and our whole family. I want to thank you for understanding when I’ve been away on business trips and I’ve missed something exciting that you were doing, or when you’ve had to sit through the occasional boring business event. You and your dad will always be my top priority, but while it hasn’t always been easy, I can’t imagine missing the “work” part of my life either. So thank you for letting me have both. Just remember that you may not be able to have everything you want at the same time. You’ll have to make choices; just don’t feel guilty about them. Think about what’s most important to you (not what’s important to me, or anyone else), and you’ll make the right decision.
There are few other things that I’ve learned along the way as I’ve tried to make my own choices that I hope might help you have an exciting career of your own some day. When choosing between various jobs or career options, I’ve always tried to keep three things in mind:
1.) Do what you love. You spend too much of your life at work for it not to be something you want to get out of bed for in the morning. If you are happy, you will do well.
2.) Learn something new. Cherish your current optimism and excitement, and don’t shy away from new things. I’ve always loved new technology, and learning how to apply that technology to make other things easier for people. Remember that you are always a student, especially given the rate of change in technology these days. New areas can be risky, but they can also really open up new opportunities for you. Even if things don’t go as planned, you sometimes learn more from failure than success; just don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.
3.) Make sure you are giving back. You have to bring something to the table, so make sure you think about what you can contribute to your project, school, community, business, or customer. You just need to understand your strengths, and how you can help complement the entire team.
If the job or career you choose fits these criteria, then you are half way there, but there are a few other things to think about.
Aim high, or as Dad would say “Go big, or stay home.” Go to the best school you can get into. Join the best company you can. Be part of the best team you can find. Don’t settle for second best. Just remember that “best” doesn’t mean biggest or most expensive. I’ve turned down job offers that paid more because I didn’t like the company’s products or the location. Set tough goals for yourself that align to your values and then follow through. It may be hard, but surrounding yourself with the best in any field, will bring out the best in you.
While it’s less of an issue now than when I was starting out, there are still some stereotypes out there about what a woman can and can’t do. Don’t forget that you have earned a seat at the table and your voice deserves to be heard, but you are only as good as your word, so make those words count. This means you better make sure what you have to say is both accurate and insightful, but don’t back down if you’ve done your homework and you feel you are right. And this goes both ways. Everyone deserves respect, no matter what their job, race, religion, education, wealth or what they look like.
No one likes a whiner. Your great grandmother always said that you shouldn’t complain, unless you are prepared to do something about it. This applies just as much at home as it does at work. At a minimum, you better have a good suggestion for how to fix things before you complain. This usually means you need to learn a lot more than you may think before speaking out. It’s not bad advice, since listening is an underestimated skill. And real action — the ability to implement that idea — is priceless, just be prepared for some hard work to make it happen.
And last but not least, remember what your dad and I always say: “leave things better than how you found them.” Even little things make a difference — picking up litter, showing an act of kindness, helping out a colleague without expecting anything in return, etc. Your actions say a lot about who you are. Be true to yourself and what you believe in, and share that with others. No matter what, you’ll sleep well with this philosophy.
My most sincere hope of all is that you find happiness in what you do, no matter what that is. I’m sure you’ll continue to make a difference to those around you. Good luck! I know you’ll make us proud!
Your Mom, Marie Wieck