Stick With It

Stick With It Image

Dan Wardman, ’81 MS Computer Science, has the unusual skill of being able to interpret two arcane languages: code and poetry. How does a New English literatus halfway through a Ph.D. in American literature end up as site executive of IBM Silicon Valley Laboratory and vice president of information management mainframe software? Read on.

I wanted to be a college professor. In 1973, I was working part time in a car repair shop while working on a Ph.D. at State University of New York at Binghamton. But the war in Vietnam ended and college enrollment in liberal arts and sciences went through the floor. Universities just weren’t hiring English majors. One day after a meeting, my Elizabethan drama professor asked me about some car trouble he was having. Then he said, “You know, Dan, you’re luckier than your fellow graduate students. When you finish your Ph.D., you’ll be able to get a good job fixing cars and everybody else will be working at McDonald’s.” At that moment I realized: Boy, this guy is right.

My dad taught me: find a job you like with a good company and stick with it your whole career. At the time, my wife, Sharon, and I were living in Endicott, NY—where IBM was founded—and she had been hired there right after finishing her math and computer science degree. I saw IBM through her eyes: a company that was socially responsible, that really treated its employees well, that offered opportunities for a career with advancement and success. I thought: This is where I want to work. Of course, it took me a while.

Maybe I’m just an old guy with old-fashioned thoughts, but my advice is to just do the best you can with the job you’ve been given.”

We moved to the Bay Area when Sharon got an offer at Silicon Valley Lab, the location I now manage. I went back to school. It wasn’t that I was interested in computer science; I was interested in IBM. A San Jose State internship was my foot in the door, but as it concluded I got kind of desperate. I asked my manager, “Do we have anybody at this location writing manuals? I have an English degree and am halfway through a computer science degree and I think this would be a good fit for me.” He pointed to the next building over. I was hired on the spot. I had been rejected seven times by IBM before I got that job, and I’ll celebrate my 36th year with the company this June.

Every second there are 2 million transactions against the mainframe database software we build in Silicon Valley Lab—ATM transactions, credit card transactions. For comparison, every second there are 55,000 Google inquiries. These products are integral to how big business operates. I’ve been working with the SJSU engineering college to put information about our systems into the curriculum to better prepare graduates to come work at IBM and some of our client companies. Those skills are in short supply; it’s almost a job guarantee. The biggest challenge of my career was getting hired!

Jody Ulate

Jody Ulate, '05 MA English, is editor of the Washington Square blog and printed alumni magazine.

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