Bob Balaban's Blog


    Bob Balaban


    There are good things about IBM, this is not one of them

    Bob Balaban  March 31 2018 04:05:58 PM
    Greetings geeks!

    I've had a long association with IBM, going back to my pre-teen years. I have an uncle who worked for IBM in the 1950s and 60s, and he would bring me in to the office on weekends to play with the keypunch and card sorting machines. I became an IBM employee in 1995 when the company I was then working at (Lotus Development Corp./Iris Associates) was bought by Lou Gerstner's IBM in a hostile takeover (hostile in the sense that Lotus senior management did not want to be bought).

    I left Lotus/Iris/IBM in 1997 to write a book and start my own consulting business (Looseleaf Software). I continued a pretty tight association with Lotus/IBM for another 8 years. Looseleaf was an IBM business partner, and most of my consulting work revolved around various IBM technologies. I attended every Lotusphere, and was a speaker at most of them, as well as at other IBM-centric user groups and trade journal conferences. I made a pretty good living, and I worked with lots of people who I liked and admired (and still do). I thought the tech was great, and fun to work with.

    In 2005 I again became an IBM employee, working in the division-that-used-to-be-Lotus. I resigned (again) in 2008 to move on to other companies and other types of work. While I would not claim to be a victim of ageism, one of the things that disenchanted me about IBM in 2007-2008 was the growing drumbeat for re-focusing the software development work we were doing around younger target customers, and around the supposed need to "bring in younger developers". It was never an announced policy, but it was in the air. I'd be in architecture/design meetings and hear senior people say things like, "Our customer developer base is aging out into retirement, and our own developers are too old to relate to a younger customer demographic." It made me pretty angry, though I never felt as though I could (or should) complain about it.

    To be clear: nobody ever told me explicitly that I was too old to work there. I wasn't laid off ("Resource Actioned" in IBM lingo. They don't use "laid off" because that might imply that they have some intention of bringing you back, which they don't). I was told by one development manager that reducing headcount in the US and hiring people in China made "huge business sense -- they're half the price, and most of them studied at American universities!"

    That's all background to this recent article researched by Mother Jones and Pro Publica: Investigation Confirms IBM Layoffs Targeted Older Workers

    My (informed) opinion: IBM behaves disgracefully towards its employees. The widespread mantra of "our employees are our most valuable asset" is true, but they don't really believe it. They (senior IBM management) believe in financial engineering and boosting the stock price at all costs (including reducing employee headcount and shifting jobs to Asia).

    Is it illegal? I don't know. I do know that it ain't right.

    Geek ya later!

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    This article ┬ęCopyright 2018 by Looseleaf Software, all rights reserved. You may link to this page, but may not copy without prior approval.


    1John Smart  05/29/2018 9:13:22 AM  There are good things about IBM, this is not one of them

    Ugh. Sorry this happened to/around you, Bob. Thanks for the update. I'm always happy to read your posts.

    2Bob Balaban  05/31/2018 6:04:06 PM  There are good things about IBM, this is not one of them

    Hi John, thanks for posting. I do want to be completely accurate about this: I resigned from IBM in February, 2008. I was not laid off, or (so far as I know) targeted because of age. But I did see it happening, and I think, based on reports in the news, it's even worse now. Shame.

    3John Curtis  09/09/2018 6:28:33 AM  There are good things about IBM, this is not one of them

    Hi Bob,

    Don't know if you remember me; I definitely interacted with you during your second stint. Big echo on your synopsis though and you may be interested to know that HCL purchased the Notes/Domino business from IBM last year. The group of us left were let go from IBM but immediately hired by HCL. Things are MUCH better; old folks aren't evil and we're basically kicking butt. Feels good. Just so you know things can have a happy ending sometimes.


    John Curtis

    4Bob Balaban  09/13/2018 4:58:12 AM  There are good things about IBM, this is not one of them

    Hi John,

    Of course I remember working with you. I'm glad things are going well at HCL, please continue to kick butt!