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!!!!!