WiAC '12: Career Information and Workload Warriors – Time Saving Tips and Tricks / Clea Zolotow

Hey! I’m at the USENIX Women in Advanced Computing 2012 Summit and will be blogging the talks today. You can view more of my posts about this conference under the wiac12 category on this blog.
UPDATE 19 June 2012: Clea has kindly sent me a copy of the STSM checklist she mentioned during the talk. It’s a spreadsheet file that you can download right here.

Career Information and Workload Warriors – Time Saving Tips and Tricks

Speaker: Clea Zolotow, Senior Technical Staff Member, IBM

Clea started by talking about her early background. She graduated from high school in 1982. She first got into technology because she was lazy: she wrote a program in BASIC to translate Latin. Her career path started at Dunkin Donuts, then she became a bartender, and she ended up becoming a system programmer. She started her technology career in Medford MA as a ‘Kelly Girl,’ before the company came to be called ‘Kelly Services.” She was a typist for Amdahl computers on-site at American Express. There was a dresscode and she had to wear a skirt. She ended up getting hired by Amex as clerk.
During Leslie’s talk, it was postulated that it might be easier for women on the west coast to gain higher-level positions in technology companies than on the east coast. In Masachusetts, Clea never had a problem – maybe because she was so entry level, and wasn’t a threat. She became a MICS admin for the next year, ended up doing on call work for 10 years.
Then she went to school. She went to many schools:

  • George Washington
  • Northeastern
  • North Virginia Community College
  • MIT
  • Bunker Hill Community College
  • University of Colorado (grad school, without an undergrad degree)
  • Regis College

Along the way she received bachelors and masters degrees in computer science. When she started, if you knew how to do something you didn’t need the degree. The only reason she has them, she said, is credentialism.
She relocated in 1995. She found out that she made $25k a year and that the guy working next to her made $50k for the same job. In fact, the administrative staff made more money than she did. Clea had a lot of terrible stories to share about how she was treated during this time period:

  • “You should volunteer to be laid off. Men take layoffs much harder than women do.” This came from a head of an HR department.
  • “You are taking jobs away from men that need to support families.”
  • “You only got this job because you wear a skirt and filled a quota.”

This all happened in the 80’s and early 90’s. She’s not sure if it could have been avoided.
“I will put up with this and I won’t make a fuss.”
She got into MVS systems programming. Why was her life was so difficult? Clea showed a picture of herself from the time, decked out in a leather jacket and bandana and leaning on a motorcycle.
Clea started trying to join IBM in 1997. She succeeded in 1999. First, she was hired in as a capacity planner: no more 24-7 on call! She got married in 2002 – it was hard to get dates before, she frequently had to leave because of her pager.
Clea told us about her “Sunday morning fun time.” This is a time period during which she works on whatever she wanted. She doesn’t work on Friday afternoons, instead she used Sunday morning fun time to work on those projects that the week was too hectic to focus on.
Clea never had problems with IBMers. She did encounter issues with clients, but not many. She recieved some patents, and started to do cost savings for the company through virtualization. For example, she optimized efficient LPAR capacity consolidation. She bought most of the IBM internal equipment for 3 years. Her cost savings finally got the attention of distinguished engineers and VPs at IBM.
She talked about some of the things she’s working on now, involving math – model statistics / probability / odd things/ game theory. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she can call IBM research and have them look at the problem. They like to work with her, because she has real problems to solve for real customers.
She became an IBM senior technical staff member in 2008. STSMs are considered technical track, but are usually on the same level as VPs. Sometimes they are referred to as seagulls – fly over problems, pooping on everyone all the way. Clea said, “I dont want to be that person, though.” If she is called in, there’s not an obvious solution, so don’t ‘poop’ on the co-workers you’re supposed to help. Don’t go in like gangbusters and make everyone mad; they won’t want to work with you again. She will apply for distinguished engineer in October. She talked mentioned that nobody paid that much attention to her until she became an STSM.
Life as an IBM Senior Tech Staff Member:

  • She never knows what the day will bring.
  • She is back to doing critsits and staying up all night.
  • She is the chief engineer for the enterprise computing model.

The Best Advice Clea has:

  • Don’t accept what other people tell you your goals should be, especially if they are too easy.
  • Pick 1 or 2 really hard things and work on them all year long.
  • Do NOT give up. Ever.
  • Goals can be personal:
    • I will be in a good mood every single day this year.
    • I will not get mad when I do travel expense accounting in the incredibly picky way my manager requires which takes 4 hours longer than it should.
  • Goals can be technical:
    • I will build a model of physical to virtual consolidation in secondlife this year (took a year of Sunday mornings).
    • I will learn spss.
    • I will understand everything about workload optimized systems.
  • Have fun (avoiding burnout):
    • Have a Sunday fun day.
    • Create a lot of fun at work (going to be hard depending on your manager.)
  • Give back
  • Get your name out there!

Clea talked about some of the ways she’s tried to give back. She works on a Technical Vitality Council. She has 20+ mentees, 3 who are women (she also has 4 mentors.) She’s found that some women dont want to be promoted because they do not want the hours and the travel. Other women do not know how to push their career forward. Some are constrained by their kids. Clea uses the STSM checklist to help push herself and her mentees through this. For example, she can work on patents and certifications together with her mentees.
She also talked about how she’s gotten her name out there. She is co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Computer Measurement Group. She presents there. She said, “I’m dipped in blue, and I don’t tknow if I’m useful outside of the IBM bubble in the external world – so I meet non-IBMers at this group.” She is also chair of the ‘hottopics’ group at the national CMG.
Clea is @cleacoulter on Twitter and Clea Zolotow on LinkedIn.


1. Can you share the STSM checklist with us?

She will post it with her slides. There are four categories – one is patents.
You can now download the STSM checklist here.

2. Mentoring – who do you mentor through? an IBM program?

It’s supposed to be but I do so much with the Tech Vitality Council sometimes I come into mentorship relationships that way. Sometimes I get managers emailing me saying their reports are underperforming and need advice. I really enjoy doing it. Some people have challenges I’ve never had – I can’t physically stay up all night, that’s my challenge. But two autistic kids, and divorce! I don’t have those challenges.

3. Sunday fun day – how did you get started with that?

On the mainframe, systems got taken / worked with for maintenance, had access to admins that day, got into habit in Medford.

1 Comment

  1. Hi! Thanks for the great summary of my talk! Is there any way you could post the STSM checklist here for me? I’ll send it via email.

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