Actually, this post begins yesterday, at the end of the day. Weary from jet lag, belly full from a visit to the Mandalay Bay Noodle Shop and a bowl of their very good Tom Yum Kong soup, I was dragging my lug-a-long back to the Delano through the garage short cut when I noticed a limo pulling up. Out popped a gaggle of dark suited security guys and a young woman. I recognized her immediately as the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rommity.
“Hey, Ginni,” I said, in a voice that I hoped would not excite her entourage, “You put on a great show!”
She looked confused at first, then seemed to realize that I was referring to the conference that I was attending and she was to speak at the next morning: IBM Interconnect. If I had just flown in from doing a deal with the Chinese to make IBM one of the largest cloud service providers in Asia, I probably would have been a bit slow to understand the words of a total stranger.
Anyway, having made such a grand new friend, I looked forward to hearing the Chairman’s Address first thing this AM. My friend, Ginni, took the stage to riotous applause from something like 20,000 attendees. She seemed to have recovered well from her jet lag.
Her opening was well received too. She spoke about the integral connection between cognitive technology and clouds, two terms that seem to be more from the domain of marketecture than architecture. I decided to hang with it and hear her out.
She seemed intent on making the case that enterprise-grade clouds from IBM were different from everyone else’s wannabe clouds. Moreover, she dwelled heavily on the productization of cloud and cognitive. IBM’s job, she said, was to help companies extract value from their data — and to keep it to themselves for competitive advantage. True enough, but I found myself longing for a bit more socially aware content. Something about making the world a better place through computing, cloud, cognitive, whatever.
I remembered past events where the agenda seemed to be written by California Avocado Dip Creamy Smooth Liberals. I remember long sessions on “green computing.” Or a talk covering advances that were going to unwrap the enigma of the DNA chain so that illness could be eradicated. Or something about finding water in Saharan Africa. IBM with a conscience.
But the CEO instead focused on capitalism. You invest in technology to gain advantage over your competitor in the market. If your success puts them out of business, so be it. Survival of the fit is the name of the game.
Her first guest seemed to reinforce this message, which while it makes perfect sense, did not exactly ring the bell of my inner 60s counter-culturalist. The AT&T CEO seemed likable enough, but together he and Ginni seemed to be like two Caesars, divvying up the world between the two of them.
I worried that this was one of those situations in which the times dictated the message. Just as the current politics seems to be hell bent on undoing all social advances for, say, the past 100 years, maybe tech companies felt a need to frame their value in strictly zero sum game terms. Forget society. Profit rules.
Then Ginni was joined by the CEO of SalesForce.com. I had never heard him speak before, but he struck me as a very likable fellow. I am not sure what kind of a business guy he is, having taken 11 years to build his brand to where it is today, but he said things that quelled a lot of my concerns. He had a good grasp of capitalism, but also vocalized concerns about the worker bees of the world, whether they would have the right skills going forward to land the kinds of work that would eliminate “income uncertainty.” He even used the alphabet soup term, LGBTQ, and gave a shout out to equal pay for women. This was something I longed to hear given that the preponderance of my children are female and/or gay.
A pleasant fellow from H&R Block took the stage next to extol the value of IBM technology and its assistance in applying Watson to tax preparation, a promise in a Superbowl Ad last minute and apparently before the product was ready to go . It was a good story; IBM was a hero of just in time delivery.
Then finally, Ginni chatted with the Royal Bank of Canada, who’s representative said his company had become an IT shop with a banking sign on the outside door. Fair enough.
Things were running long and the business humor was getting a bit thin. I started to eye the exit, but I remembered that Ginni’s final guest, would be the founder of Girls Who Code.
The entry of the founder of the group, then some of her graduates provided that chance for IBM to show that it was not only a capitalist cognitive-and-cloud tool company, but also a community comprised of people with real (not virtual) hearts who actually cared about the challenges faced by the next generation.
We got to hear from the founder, first, who noted that more than 40,000 girls had been taught to code by her organization, with the backing of Big Blue, and that she had set a goal to train 1 million girls to code by 2020. Big applause.
Then, the miraculous happened. Three outstanding young women took the stage and told their storage, with pictures on the big screen of them as the younger children they were when they entered the program. They were given paid internships by IBM at the end of the talk. Tears welled.
So, in the space of about 97 minutes, Ginny had gone from the Iron Maiden of technology to the Patron Saint for all of the girl programmers of the future. Her closing remarks were filled with love and joy.
A pretty good opener for day 2.
Again, IBM has paid for my attendance at this event, but they do not control my words. I thank them for the opportunity and hope that my girls will take an interest in Girls Who Code and other worthwhile IBM-sponsored efforts.