Libby Ingrassia Discusses the Power Systems Champions Program

Power Systems Champions

Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. I'm delighted to be joined today by Libby Ingrassia from IBM. Hello, Libby.

Libby Ingrassia: Hi Paul.

Paul: So Libby there are two reasons that I wanted to have an iTalk with you. One is I've just spent a couple of days down in Austin in Texas attending the IBM Power Champions Day―which was a day and a half, but we won't talk about that―where I have learned more about hardware than I've learned in the last 20 years. I have about 300 new acronyms that I have to start googling on. That was one reason, and the second reason was something that actually happened to me last week, Libby―which is when somebody asked me about this IBM Champion thing I have at the end of the my email. They asked me what exactly is an IBM Champion and I was kind of having a hard time describing it to them. So I said to myself, no better person than the person in charge of the IBM Champions program to ask about it. So Libby, let's start with this: What is an IBM Champion?

Libby: So an IBM Champion is someone who is an external advocate for IBM. Now that doesn't mean that you all are marketers in any sense of the word, but more than that you have both extreme expertise in your particular area. You're typically customers or business partners, and then the IBM Champion takes that expertise one step farther and shares it in the community. The IBM Champions are the ones who are speaking at conferences, writing articles, books, blogs, doing podcasts, doing webcasts, running user groups and user communities, running meet-ups. So the IBM Champion is an expert who is also an advocate.

Paul: Okay. Okay. I fit into a couple of those categories. Now I understand why I'm in there. So if somebody becomes a Champion, Libby, what exactly is―well what's in it for them, apart from going around saying, "I'm a Champion"?

Libby: Well amazingly enough, that's actually, I've been told, a pretty big benefit is the actual sort of imprimatur by IBM that we recognize both your expertise and your advocacy. You know IBM started the program to recognize, reward and inspire the Champions for their previous action and, you know, sort of to inspire the future actions. So what's in it for the Champion is a set of benefits. We start with the―you know, of course there's the swag. There are the shirts and the bags and the merchandise package. And that's―you know that's nice, because it starts conversations and it shows you sort of a concrete appreciation. From there we move to the more―we'll call it metaphysical just to you know make people raise their eyebrows―the kinds of things that you might not be able to put a specific dollar value on but that the Champions really appreciate. So we work to give our Champions a community where you can network amongst each other and with select IBMers. We work to give the IBM Champions a direct line into offering management, product development teams―and the thing that that gives both the Champion and the people who work with the Champions means that the Champions are a little bit better informed, a little bit earlier. And so you already know what to say and how to help our customers or your internal organization when a new announcement is made or when a new product is launched, because you've been working on that and hearing about it from the experts inside IBM for weeks and months in advance. Then of course we also give you things like discounts and invitations to, you know, some big IBM conferences. There's an open badge of verifiable, digital credential that shows that you're a Champion and these are your areas of expertise. And then of course you get me. I'm sort of the Champions' personal concierge into IBM so that, you know, when a Champion has an idea or needs to make a contact or has a problem, there's tons of ways that you can get in to IBM―but should all those fail or should you need someone else, I'm there for you―and your program manager Brandon in your area and in all the other areas, you know, is there for them as well.

Paul: Yeah. Well it is something to be―and I have to complement you and Brandon Pederson, Brandon being the―sorry―the guy who looks after the Power Champions on that side. I mean that event down in Austin, one of the great things for me was meeting people outside IBM i, that it was a little bit broader. You know I mean getting to meet some of the AIX Champions who were there and again, all of these hardware people. Oh my God, so much hardware. [Laughs]. Well anyway.

Libby: It was a bit hardware heavy, but―

Paul: And that's not a complaint. It was―and also it was great to get, you know, to get to see the labs and everything there where they're actually developing the Power chips. I mean that was―even for a software guy like me, that was quite fascinating. So Libby, the third question: I mean, I know that we all like to think that IBM is this beautiful altruistic company who just likes to do nice things for people, but I think we all know that isn't always the case. So what does IBM get out of this Champions program?

Libby: Well you know I would say that IBM gets sort of two categories of things. The first thing is research. Some recent research has been coming out to show that hearing from people who are not paid by the company―so whether that is a client who's willing to speak up and give a customer reference, or a business partner who just works with the technology―hearing from those people is much more convincing and helpful and authentic-seeming to our mutual customers or future customers. So they listen to you better. In fact there's one piece of research that says that a customer is about 50 percent more likely to take an action when they hear it from a non-IBMer―not specifically IBM but, you know, not inside the company but external. So there's a real concrete value there in that, when you know the story and you talk to the customers or your organizations or the community, they hear it as being much more authentic and much more real and maybe a little bit, you know, tested, and so it carries more weight. So that's a huge value to IBM and to the community. So that's one big area. Then the other area is, you know―I guess it's so interesting but the kinds of things that the Champions do contributes so much to the vibrancy and strength of the community. So you can look at it from the levels of Champions answer a lot of questions in forums and that means that IBM's help calls go down. You can look at as IBM Champions produce a ton of technical content, and again, help calls go down. And even more interesting, what goes up is innovation. So the more that the IBM Champions use the technology and tell people the amazing things that they're doing with the technology, well that inspires other people. And then they go out and they build upon what they see a Champion doing and they say "oh, well if the Champion, you know, built this application or, you know, made this new interface, then maybe if I took that and added these things," and then suddenly there's a new product or a new interface, or again, just a new innovation. And so all of that just makes it so worthwhile for IBM to have the relationships and the bonds that we have with the Champions so we can help you all do those things.

Paul: Yeah and actually it is one of the interesting things with that, again at the event in Austin, one of the things that I found fascinating, especially listening to the AIX people talk, was identifying the areas where there are―even though we're all on Power, where there are enormous differences between what happens in the AIX world as opposed to IBM i, and also the areas where things are the exact same.

Libby: Right.

Paul: You know where there are similarities and differences. I think especially as we're starting to move towards this whole area of cognitive, which is sort of all of these platforms heading towards a common area, it's things where those differences and similarities start to become more important as well.

Libby: Absolutely. Well you know one of the things that I've sort of sold the Champions as doing for IBM and for the customers is, you know, the Champions have this deep body of knowledge in the technologies they're in, in IBM i, AIX, and Power and in all of the other areas. But so many of you are also interested in cognitive or data or analytics or some of the things kind of the future, the direction that we're all heading. And so as long as we help you, you provide a bridge for your organizations, for the customers, for the community to follow along, to head to those new areas. It's so amazing to watch some of the things we're all learning.

Paul: Yeah. Okay so and again I ask this Libby because I know the nominations for Champions are open at the moment, so how does somebody go about becoming an IBM Champion?

Libby: So nominations are open until the 13th of November. Someone just applies and you can either―we call it a nomination process so a person can self-nominate. They can be nominated by a colleague or someone in the community or they can be nominated by an IBMer. So one goes―the website to start is From there, there are links for the nominations and other information about the program. You go in, you say how you are using the form, you fill it out, or you talk to a current Champion or someone else in the community. You say "hey, I've done these things. Would you be interested in nominating me?" Then they can put the nomination in for you. Then inside IBM, we take all those nominations. We, you know, evaluate the kinds of contributions that people have made. You know, like we were talking about everything from writing a book to doing a podcast to speaking at, you know, conferences and user communities. We look at all those and we sort of see what the, you know, level set is. Then a committee of IBMers and a few other folks select the best ones, the top cream of the crop, top 1 percent and we invite them to become Champions. We usually make that announcement towards the middle of December.

Paul: Cool. Okay and I'll put that link in the text as well just for people to make sure everybody sees it so for everybody can start nominating. Okay, just a couple of things before we finish up though, Libby. One of the other things―and I just came across this on a couple of the social media links that I saw it on. I think actually I noticed this, I think it was on LinkedIn that I saw it and you mentioned it the other day: Girls Who Code. Do you want to tell people what that is?

Libby: I would love to. So I used to be―the other half of my job used to be running the relationship between IBM and Girls Who Code. That's not technically my job anymore but it is still one of my passions, so I'm happy to talk about it. Girls Who Code is a nonprofit in the United States that has as its mission to teach young women to code, to erase the gender gap in technology and STEM fields. IBM is a corporate sponsor and through that corporate sponsor partnership, Girls Who Code runs two big programs. One is a summer immersion program where they take young women from like junior and senior in high school―for seven weeks they embed them in a company or organization and they teach them a programming language per week during that seven weeks. They come out with a fully coded final project at the end of that. IBM has been a sponsor. This past summer we sponsored three camps, and these young women are so amazing. Then the other thing that the Girls Who Code organization does is clubs. So this runs during the school year. It runs from students everywhere from middle school through high school, and they do coding projects and learn coding languages all throughout the year―you know, either through their school or a community organization. Then the big corporate sponsors also come in and help participate in that. One of the neat things that the IBM sponsorship has just done is made available for the Girls Who Code club a cognitive lesson, right? So the girls, these young women, can code―I think they're calling it Chatbots for Good. It is an emotions Chatbot with Watson that the young women are learning to code through this curriculum that IBM has created.

Paul: Absolutely cool. I think it was great. When I heard you talking about the other day, I was sort of going "that is one of the neatest things I've heard in a long time." So Libby, I always like to end up on these iTalks on a personal note with somebody. There's something you were telling me yesterday and I'm going to warn people that this may sound a little bit sad as we start it out, but follow through to the end, okay. So Libby you are one of the people who was greatly affected by the recent hurricane that hit Houston, because that's where you live. So do you want to―well can I just say, you tell the story?

Libby: Well sure. No, I mean, you know, we were flooded. So many, about one third of the homes in Houston have been flooded, and you know there's been so many sort of crises and catastrophes lately that I almost hate to talk about it, but I do have to say that even in the midst of a sad flood, you know there's a moment of kind of giggling cheerfulness. I have 4-year-old twins, and you know we were watching the storm, looking out. You know I stayed up until 2-3 o'clock in the morning worried that it was going to flood. Then I fell asleep and my daughter wakes up in the morning, rolls out of bed to come see us about six o'clock in the morning, and all we hear is: splash. We found the fact that we had flooded by rolling out of bed into six inches of floodwater. So you know needless to say that was a little bit of a new experience for us. [Laughs]. That splash was followed by a little bit of a squeak, but you know now we can kind of look back on it and giggle. That's going to be a story my daughter will have to dine out on her whole life. [Laughs]

Paul: Well like I was saying to you before, Libby, I think it is―in times of all of these tragic things when they happen when you can find something in the midst of it to laugh at, it really takes the edge off it.

Libby: It definitely does and I do have to say that, you know, the Champions community among so many others has participated in helping not only me but other people in Houston. There were some donations from some of the Champions. Another one of the Champions actually drove a truck full of supplies―the kind of things that are actually useful right after a flood―down to Houston from Indianapolis. And so you know it is kind of amazing, these personal relationships that we build just turn into such a rich relationships. You know we start with the business and then they become you know personal, and so I have to thank all the Champions out there who participated in raising some funds for helping the Hurricane Harvey victims, me included.

Paul: Okay. So I think that's as a good a note as any to leave it on. So Libby, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know that you're just going to be pestering the hell out of me for the next year hopefully, so Libby, thanks a million.

Libby: Thank you so much for having me, Paul.

Paul: Okay everybody. That's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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