Yes, I work at a big company

Sara Morgan e-mailed me to ask if I could tell any stories about self-employment for inclusion in her upcoming book, “No Limits: How I escaped corporate America to live the life of my dreams.” I laughed and told her that I’m actually very much in corporate [North] America, having joined IBM fresh out of graduate school a little over a year and a half ago. People often think I’m self-employed or an independent consultant. I guess they think I’m much too happy to be working for a large company. <grin>

Big companies have gotten quite a bad rap. Job security? Health benefits? Retirement plans? Lots of things have been scaled back. The benefits that used to differentiate large companies from small companies or self-employment seem to have dwindled. On the flip side, technology and society make it easier for people to start their own companies and provide products or services to a global market, so it’s even easier now to get into the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship.

I didn’t join my company for job security. I joined it because I wanted to work with these absolutely amazing people all around the world, and because I believed that we could make a difference in the way companies and people work, at a scale much larger than I could do by myself. After one and a half years, one worldwide economic shock, and lots of friends now at different companies, self-employed, or retired, I’m even more passionate, more engaged, and more amazed that I have these opportunities to make a difference.

What is it like to work in a large company? You probably don’t hear many good things in blogs or news. It seems fashionable to complain, or to hunker down and just get through. So let me tell you what I love about my work, and maybe you’ll recognize some of your own company in it.

I love the people I get to work with all over the world. When I think about how much my mentors have shared with me, when I think of all the talents sprinkled through the organization, when I think of how people are looking out for me and helping me learn, I feel just absolutely privileged to be in the same company, to have the same overall goals, and to share so much common ground with them. I can’t wait to help as many people as I can, and I’m so lucky that the same infrastructure that helps me discover and meet all these inspiring people is also the same platform for me to try to reach out and help others along the way.

I love the work we get to do and how it helps me grow. I hear stories about the big projects that people work on, things that save lives and make difficult things easier. For me, even with the small project I’m working on, there’s always something new to learn every day, and there’s always something little I can teach others. I care about what I’m building, and it helps me learn how to build even bigger systems.

I love it just because I do. It’s easy to get weighed down by other people’s fears, anxieties, and complaints. But work is such a large chunk of life, so I may as well look for and maximize the things I enjoy about it!

I might try working with a small business sometime, and I’ve got endless lists of businesses I would love to try myself. But while I’m here in corporate (North) America, I’m going to be completely here, and I’m going to totally rock it. =) If I change that situation, it won’t be because I’ve let the situation grind me down into misery, it’ll be because I think that change would make life even better. Won’t that be a fun experiment?

And no, this isn’t just because I’m new around here. I know some people who are still like this after decades, and I think that’s absolutely amazing. No matter which path I end up taking, I hope to grow up to be like them.

I’m living the life of my dreams, and my dreams just keep getting better and better. I don’t think of myself as ambitious. I’m already happy and successful. I’m just driven by curiosity: how awesome can things be, and how can I help others along the way?

May 8, 2012
So I get to give a proper update, yay! I had a lot of fun working at IBM, and I ended up rocking it for four years. After I built up my opportunity fund, I left in order to explore my curiosity about experimenting with business. This is turning out to be wonderful too. I still have a warm and fuzzy feeling about what I got to do in the corporate world, and I think I had the best experience possible. On to new adventures!
  • Your passion and positive outlook is really inspiring. =)

  • I wish I loved what I do as much as you do! I’m still struggling to find myself a niche and the size of the company is overwhelming me at that.

  • Skrud: What do you love doing, and what aspects of your current work do you enjoy? Help people learn about what you do well, and you might find that opportunities to do more of those things (and related things you might enjoy) will just keep coming… =D

  • Working in global multinational takes some getting used to. I’ve coached newcomers to the company that it takes about 9 months to figure out whether an individual really will fit or won’t fit within the culture. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s a reason that interviewing processes are so rigourous. It takes a lot of resources to bring someone into a company, and then have them spin off.

    There are cultural behaviours that aren’t written down in a book that a person has to pick up. Most interesting to me is the behaviour working with peers. In an inclusive culture, people are often asked to participate in a meeting. There are different roles: some are there to manage the process, some are there to get decisions made, some are there to provide information, and some are there just to learn. It takes a bit of maturity to know when to speak up, and when to shut up.

    I’ve met a few people who I immediately assess won’t be with the company for long. These individuals tend to be brash, and want to change the company quickly (i.e. turn the company around — even if it’s not in trouble! — within a few months or a year). This doesn’t reflect an appreciation that there are a lot of smart people working in a successful global multinational enterprise who can have decades of experience with business. Sometimes it’s not what a company does, but what it consciously doesn’t do that is worth studying. There are examples of major strategic initiatives that didn’t happen — and perhaps those are worth studying in business school.

  • I really love it here at IBM too. No, it’s not always perfect, but it is challenging and rewarding and exceptionally interesting. A wide variety of opportunities abound, and very cool and smart people can be found at every turn if you look hard enough. We are deeply connected through a number of social computing platforms and offerings and frankly, I like my network both here in the office and across the globe.

    What’s funny though, Sacha, is that it does sometimes feel like we are entrepreneurs when working inside these public and private online social spaces. A testament to IBM and what it truly offers to it’s employees, IMO.