During a recent trip to the UK, IBM Chief Information Officer Jeanette Horan spoke with teenage students in the coastal town of Broadstairs. Recounting the path that took her
from a youngster with a passion for mathematics to a career in IT, Ms. Horan stressed
the importance of study and informed risk taking in building a successful career.
Not surprisingly, she made a strong case for the pursuit of careers related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and why they are so in demand
and rewarding. Here are excerpts from Ms. Horan’s remarks:
My job provides me the opportunity to travel a lot. I’ve visited many countries and cities
of the world, but I still consider this area home.
I guess a love of math runs in my family. My sister is a math teacher, and it was my favorite subject, too. In fact, you could say she was my first teacher, as she would come home from school and teach me what she had learned that day.
While my math teachers were inspirational to me, there was another teacher who encouraged me to think more broadly and be open to new ideas. The encouragement I received from her helped me to build confidence in my own abilities. Math remained my favorite subject, but I was always interested in new ideas, exploring different concepts
and taking calculated risks.
One of those risks was making the move from the United Kingdom to the United States.
I was young, only a few years out of university and starting my career. I got an opportunity to work for a company in Florida, and even though it was a leap into the unknown, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I thought I was going to do it for two years. And here I am 30 years later, the CIO of IBM. Looking back, taking that risk was one of the best things
I ever did.
As I progressed in my career, I sought out new opportunities. That led to advancement and to new jobs at different companies. I have worked on medical ultrasound, flight simulators, and, of course, computers. Even today, I keep my mind open to new opportunities, new challenges and I welcome the chance to take calculated risks.
If you have a passion for it, I strongly encourage you to follow a path in math or other STEM fields. Young people must master mathematical concepts so they’ll be prepared for both university and career – in any field. Most jobs today require some knowledge of math.
And many careers need young women and men with good analytical skills.
Landscape architects use geometry, science and analytics to create designs, estimate costs and manage projects. A crime scene investigator uses analytical skills to collect, identify and process evidence. A barrister (a judge) uses skills that support logical reasoning and require a methodical mind – like those skills you learn studying algebra. Mathematics is even fundamental to complex rhythms of music. And think about this:
the Olympic Games, held right here in London, would not be possible without the talents
of engineers and technicians to support construction, infrastructure, transport, hospitality, tourism and more.
Yet even as the demand for people with STEM backgrounds grows, these skills are becoming harder to find. The number of students studying STEM disciplines is simply
not increasing fast enough to keep pace with the need in the labor market. But the simple truth is that if you study math, the doors to your future will be wide open. Still, I understand that math is not for everyone. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find something
that you love.
I’d like to leave you with three things:
First, get a solid education that will allow you to keep your career options open for a long time and help you grow into an intellectually well-rounded adult. Second, always stay open to new ideas. Not only will doing so provide variety and advancement in your career – it will also keep your mind young. And finally, step outside of your comfort zone to reach your highest potential, just like the Olympic athletes had to do to win their medals.
Jeanette Horan is Chief Information Officer of IBM.