Posted July 27, 2017
July 30 is the 25th anniversary of my leaving IBM, and I’ve been thinking of some way to
commemorate the date. I considered joining Facebook just to write a short note on Watching IBM, then I saw the call for articles from retirees.
I joined IBM right out of college in 1968. At that time, they were hiring anyone who could spell “programmer”. Indeed, we didn’t have a computer at the college, nor did they give any programming courses, but IBM offered me $150/week which was more than other offers I received having a BS in Biology.
I began my career at the ASDD Mohansic Lab in Yorktown, NY. I was immediately set to Basic Programmer training in Kingston, NY. There we were introduced to Assembler, PL/1, hexadecimal, EBCDIC, and JCL. We got our own S/360 Reference Data cards – the ubiquitous “green card”. As an aside, they had a Litton appliance in the lunchroom called a “radar oven” for heating food. I had never seen a microwave before!
Back at Mohansic, I worked in a support group writing programs for various projects. We had a single S/360 Mod 40 with 256K of core memory. I learned how to load cards in the reader, mount tapes and disks, and flip switches on the operator console to debug code. It was great fun!
I eventually joined a project involved in automating hospital admissions, registration, and even making some clinical decisions. It got transferred to Kingston in 1973, and I found a nice place to live and raise the family in Hurley, NY. For the next 19 years I worked on various projects in large (3090) and small (8100) systems, and got assigned to IBM Uithoorn in the Netherlands for a year working in Distributed Systems.
By the mid-80’s, it became apparent that something was amiss at IBM. Friends were joining computer clubs using Commodores. My own kids talked about the Apple computer they had at school.
The IBM PC was overpriced even for employees, and the PCJr was junk. I and a hundred other programmers were recruited to join a project developing IBM’s “Supercomputer”. At the first “allhands” meeting it became clear that they couldn’t even define “Supercomputer”! I spent the next 12 months reading the newspaper, playing chess, and finally requesting out.
My last project, and probably the most interesting, was in Graphics. I had my own computer (PS/2) in the office running MS DOS, and learned to program in C. For the first time I could write, compile, run and debug code without having to leave my seat. It was exhilarating! Even then, though, the clouds were building. We were testing graphics processors from SGI, HP, etc. in our lab. Their rendering speeds were faster than our processors still on the drawing board! We were forced to fudge numbers to avoid the wrath of higher-ups.
By the late 80’s IBM was running scared. They barraged us with MDQ, TQM, ISO, 6-Sigma, and other processes intended to improve quality. It was discouraging. The Chairman Akers interview surfaced where he complained about losing market share and that “too many people are standing around the water coolers when they should be focused on work”. This was the same Akers who built his sales reputation in the 1960’s when the S/360 was the only show in town, and he confused selling with taking orders from customers clamoring to buy computers. Then IBM introduced performance ranking, and the specter of layoffs arose.
I began thinking about what I could do if conditions became intolerable at work. I’m thankful that I didn’t have any fantasy about becoming a computer “consultant” because nobody outside of IBM used any of the skills or tools that we learned. IBM had previously offered a few plans supporting early retirement, but I didn’t qualify. Finally, on the day before Thanksgiving in 1991, the ITO-2 announcement went up on the bulletin board. I made a copy and brought it home to discuss with my wife. Basically, by leaving before 7/31/92, I would get 49 weeks pay, accrued vacation pay (another 100 days), 6 years service credit toward retirement in 1998, and 5 years (for a total of 29 years) toward
my defined pension. My kids were all done with college, and the house was nearly paid off. Still the question of what to do until the pension came through ?
IBM had always encouraged community service, and I was active in the local volunteer fire and ambulance company. I did some research and figured I could support my family as a Paramedic. It looked like a plan, but I didn’t make a firm decision until I was accepted into a Paramedic program at a local community college.
I mustered out of IBM on Thursday July 30, 1992. I had it marked on my calendar as
“Liberation Day”. There were so many people leaving Kingston that they had to schedule it over 2 days. Initially it felt strange not having a job, but I used my time volunteering at the local hospital where I learned skills and made contacts which would be important later.
I became a Paramedic in the spring of 1993 and got a job with a local ambulance company. The pay was about 1/3 of what I made last at IBM, but the education was an eye-opener! I’d always bristled when my wife called IBM “Disneyland”. Now I realized why. We had led a really sheltered life with very few social, medical, or monetary cares at “Big Blue”. The “real world” was different. “Disneyland” was their least offensive description for IBM. Many people actually despised IBM’ers for their security, wealth, and perceived arrogance.
While at the Paramedic job, I came into contact with many Physician Assistants at rural
hospitals. I was impressed with their skills and responsibilities and thought it would make an ideal career for me. I was accepted into a program at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. Two years of intense study later I earned my second BS degree as a Physician Assistant. Initially I worked in Emergency Rooms in the Hudson Valley, then did a stint in an Orthopedic office, and for the last 12 years have worked in an Urgent Care Center 3 miles from home.
I’ll be 70 on my next birthday and feel no need to retire. I work ~20 hours a week, and more if asked (I was interrupted twice while putting this draft together to come in for 5-6 hours at a time). I’m paid well and respected enough to receive frequent unsolicited offers from recruiters. Frankly, I get more job gratification and satisfaction in a single day now than I did in my entire IBM career (I refer to those 24 years as “The Black Hole”!). I’m not worried about being RA’d!
In 1995, IBM closed the Kingston plant, and sold the entire facility where 7000 people worked in dozens of buildings, for $3 million. It was an enormous blow to the local economy. 20 years later, most of the site is weed infested with low occupancy, and many structures dilapidated or torn down. I began receiving my defined pension in 1998 – it pays the electric bill and then some. I’ve held on to some IBM stock as a legacy, but it equates to <1% of my savings.
Once again, I wrote this just to commemorate leaving IBM 25 years ago this week. From
following Watching IBM, I know it’s a whole different company than the one I knew. I have no desire to gloat about my severance package, especially to recently let-go and current employees who have had their lives turned upside down by the turmoil. I did nothing special to deserve a pension. I just happened to be there at the right time.
If anyone wishes to contact me, I’m in the IBMAlumni.com database. I’d love to hear from coworkers from long ago.
I’d like to finish with a little ditty that was popular back then.
Bad John Akers took over and he decreed “We got a whole lotta people that we don’t really need.”
So John, he said, “This ain’t no Jive! You old-timers gotta go, but we’ll give you 5 and 5!”
Well, a lot of them left ’cause it was a good deal, but a lot still stayed ’cause it didn’t seem real.
Then John, he said, “This ain’t no crap! You gotta go now, but we’ll give you the FAP!’
So I thought about it but I said no. I stayed with Big Blue ’cause it wasn’t my time to go.
Then John, he said, “Believe you me, I’ll get rid of some more with the VTP!’
Well I still hung around ’cause the deal wasn’t right. I couldn’t pre-retire with no bennies in sight.
Then John, he said, “A lot more have to go, so we’ll do it nice and easy with the ITO!”
So a bunch left right out the door, when they finally realized IBM didn’t want ’em no more!
But I still had to stay tho’ I wanted to go. No pre-retirement leave and bennies? NO, NO!
At last John said, “Wake Up IBMers! I’m talking to YOU! We’re gonna drop a bunch with the ITO-2!
Well, I didn’t believe it, but it was true. I could leave with my bennies under ITO-2!!
So I thought and thought and got it thru my head, “It’s the last train out, if you stay here you’re dead!”
So to all my dear friends I bid a fond adieu, I’m leaving this month with my ITO-2!!!!!
Loved your story!
I worked in the Kingston Lab from ’71 to ’78 for Bill Gianopolus in Circuit Tec. In ’78 I went to Boca to work on S1 and eventually got subsumed into the PC. I retired from Raleigh in ’96 to go sailing….. We settled in Vero Beach in ’01 and had been working as a Guardian ad Litem for abused, neglected and abandoned kids.
I saw much of what you discuss, in spades, in the PC development. What happened to us in the PC division happened faster, more predictably to us what happened to the rest of IBM. We were the test case for the demise of the whole company
I joined Kingston IBM in 1956, and worked at various jobs from an assembly line (SAGE) to an office. It was like a situation where I needed IBM, and they needed me. After 35 years, I took an early ‘buyout ‘ retirement in 1991. Working at IBM let has allowed me to spend the last 27 years enjoyably retired with my wife. It’s a good life!! When I talk of IBM, I still say “WE”.
I joined IBM after college and worked almost 2 decades then took the severance package. I eventually found professional employment that lasted till retirement. It wasn’t till I was approaching retirement that I really developed a sense that my first goal my entire working life should have been to achieve financial independence. Instead it was really nothing more than spending to enjoy the moment in hindsight. Life as a monetary May fly. I see 99.99% of other people always doing the same. We all think we are successful because we can pay the bills. We have barely an inkling we are entirely dependent all our working years.
One of my friends I met along the way made financial independence his first monetary goal. His wife felt exactly the same. They lived very comfortably in a beautiful home and retired at age 45. They see what is happening with IBM, GE, Sears, Radio Shack and all the others including new companies. They always sum it up the same way: no tree grows endlessly all the way up to the top of the sky.
Pan Am had it’s hay day. Woolworth’s too along with a long history of companies worldwide. Even AT&T would not exist if they had not bought Cellular One and renamed it. I think a remnant of the Dutch East India Company still operates providing office supplies.
The writing was on the wall for IBM the day we all stood around the desk at work watching the first personal computer be booted. Not a one of us sensed the implications of the name Microsoft being displayed for the disk operating system. We should have all immediately turned away and returned to our desks and called our brokers and diverted our stock purchases from IBM to Microsoft. We were all so brainwashed, all so caught up in the glory of the name IBM.
Do people have even a clue what is still coming? Self driving cars will not be personally owned. People will have no assurance that they are free to be mobil then. Our income dependency on an employer will then be replicated to our ability to go any where.
Oh well I am getting off topic. Sad to see yesterday’s creators of the modern world as we know it become something entirely different and treat everyone as just supply items.
Dear Bill , Thank you for taking the time to share your very inspiring story. And thanks to Lee Conrad and the dedicated folks at the Alliance@IBM for continuing the communications on Watching IBM. I am still deeply saddened we did not get the union to come to being despite the efforts of the wonderful superheroes at the Alliance. Respectfully, Deb Kelly
I worked for IBM for 44 years (and 20 days) in New Zealand with many business trips to Australia, USA, and Europe. In my younger years at IBM it was very exciting being educated and learning many skills. As the education dried up life became a lot more difficult to support our customers and things spiralled downwards. Got RA’ed. a year ago.! And don’t miss IBM one little bit but miss a lot of the good people (IBM’ers and customers) that I worked with.
Very well written!
I started in June 69 as a CE on 1401 in IBM World Trade Corporation. Few months later, I was trained on 402, 407 tabulators and related peripherals.
Few years later, I legally migrated to US and was trained on S/34 and IBM Series/1.
Few more years, and we were shown videos of John Akers, how Harley Davidson improved performance, starring Tom Watson Jr. and many others.
I moved to software, attended 3 months transition class in Chicago where I experienced first snow fall in my life. The class was interrupted for me to see snowfall.
Moved to S/390 Performance Benchmarking area and loved the challenges, working 16 hours a day for several weeks in a row at times.
Money was not an issue as work was very satisfying, challenging and benefits were good.
Retired in 2002 with Lou Dude on same date.
IBM was a pleasant company to work for in those days when bi-polar technology based CPUs on mainframe had good profit margin.
Nice story. Mine parallel’s yours but started in 1976 in Pok/Kingston as a 3168/3033 system test tech. Fast forward to 2007 and shown the door as an Advisory Engineer. Don’t miss the place, just some of the people, been 10 years now and I still exist!! Now spend my time as a Fire fighter and Grandfather!
John, system test class of 1976, Kingston…
I worked for IBM in the UK for 37 years from 1973 until 2010. All but the last year were pleasant I revenue earned to the last day. I traveled widely at IBM’s expense to the US on 3 assignments, and to the Nordic Nations on 3 further assignments, as well as touring a lot of the UK. So it was great whilst it lasted. We now live in a strange corporate world where money is cheap, not much tax paid, and in the UK a political decision to employ Adversity policies. Economic illiterates in Government.
In the UK the pensions dispute is now scheduled for an Appeal Court hearing April 2017. The judgment as it stands has found IBM acted in bad faith, and ordered to restart the pension plan, until at least 2014.
My father, grandfather, and I all retired from IBM. I grew up in Endicott and it was great place to live.
I learned to play golf at the IBM homestead with my father. I remember the Christmas parties at the country club. and the quarter century club diners, basketball leagues, and baseball leagues. It is a shame what has happened to IBM over the years.
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As a retiree I and others have had to adjust to the change in benefits. Some of us were fortunate enough to retire under the old DB plan while others were moved into the CB plan which due to some legal challenge benefited these individuals. There has always been and still is the discussions of empty promises that IBM led employees to believe . It will eventually end as we pass on but for those who read these forms and who weren’t part of the early IBM glory days it is good history. We have all to some degree reaped from being employed by IBM whether it be salary and benefits or just the fellowship of working with a great group of people. Although some have bitter feeling due to being forced to retire we should all be thank full that we survived and are now enjoying our post work life. I am still proud to have been employed by IBM but it is because I only relive the good days . LIG
It is still sad to see what has become of what was once a great company to work for. I have never worked for them myself, but my father started with them in the 50s. I remember as a kid going to the country club, IBM day, and when my dad received his Rolex watch when he moved into the quarter century club. How times have changed.
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Similar memories from Dutchess county. My farher, farher in law wife and I all retired from IBM in the good old days for IBM.