When I was 14, an engineer from IBM visited our school. He explained what he did, he spoke about the IBM company, and listed the great opportunities that it offered, such as working with new technology and travelling all over the world. This really appealed to me because I thought that the world of work was going to be boring.
I selected Computer Science as one of my options at school, and then applied to the Plymouth University to study Computing and Informatics for my degree. The third year of this degree was a placement in industry and I took a training position with IBM.
This was a great year. I started by building programs for document management and support. I learned how to write in different programming languages, how to build utilities, and how to collect requirements. What impressed me was the friendly IBM atmosphere and the level of autonomy I was given to plan my work and deliver the requirements in the way I thought best.
Once I finished my degree, I joined IBM full time.
During the 26 years I have been with the company, I have changed jobs every four years or so. I tend to work on new technology; first as it is are being explored through prototypes and proofs of concept, and then turning it into a sellable product.
With each new technology we have to spend a fair amount of time proving the technology works, understanding different customers, and defining the requirements they have for a new product. Often, people do not see the value of new ideas and others are annoyed that you are challenging the existing ways of working. So we also spend time explaining how the technology works and why it is important. Each wave of technology changes what is possible and whom we can serve.
I have been very fortunate to work in these different technical areas; they have allowed me to expand my view of technology and the scope of my expertise.
I did not initially have a strategy or plan to develop my career. I believed that by simply working hard, I would be recognised. This changed for me about 15 years ago when one of the senior directors of IBM explained the IBM career path, and asked if I was interested in moving my career forward. I was surprised and thrilled to learn about the possibilities that lay ahead for me, but shocked to discover that my manager did not know I had career ambitions beyond where I was, which meant I was not being considered for the next promotion. This is an important lesson to learn. No one can read your mind - so you have to explain how you want your career to progress.
Another point to remember is that careers are built on the small decisions you make every day to learn more, work with a variety of people and be excellent in what you do. It is not about the one big chance. Even if a project you are working on fails, it is not the end of your career. In fact you often learn a lot from these projects. Be professional and take every opportunity to understand who uses your technology and how it can be improved. This will give you the knowledge to take the right action and build a successful career.
You can choose to stay safe and do the same job your entire career. I have always looked for opportunities to move jobs within IBM, following our strategy where it is pushing technology into new spaces. As a result I have had a rich and varied career - and the good news is, I can see there are many amazing advances in technology on the horizon so there is still a lot more to learn and enjoy.
Mandy Chessell is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She is known for inventing and implementing tools and practices that have effected a step change in the productivity and reliability of e-business application software.
Identified in 2000 as one of MIT Technology Review's hundred young people most likely to make significant 21st Century technical innovation, she is distinguished as the first woman to win a Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal.
Mandy has also published numerous titles, such as her book ‘Patterns of Information Management’ on design patterns for better information management and has over 50 patents issued worldwide. More information can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandy_Chessell