Sandy Carter

Vice president, business process management, service oriented architecture and WebSphere marketing, IBM

Growing up, Sandy Carter dreamed of being a doctor or veterinarian. When she started college, she pursued a medical career. But one day during her sophomore year at Duke University, that ambition was stopped cold. “It turns out that I’m allergic to anesthetic,” Carter says.

With the help of a sympathetic professor, Carter was introduced to a professor in the computer-science department who was using computers rather than animals to test cosmetic ingredients. A new path opened up for her. “I fell in love with technology and the power that it brought to the medical field,” Carter says. “I felt really empowered that IT has so much potential to help different customers in different ways.”

That feeling of empowerment served Carter well the following summer when she applied twice for an internship at IBM and was turned down both times. Determined to work at IBM, Carter applied a third time, but handled her application a bit differently. This time she wrote it like a Pascal computer program: If you want a great person, then do this. She sent it to the head of HR, who realized she had the kind of creativity that would make a difference and hired her.

For her internship, Carter was charged with training the HR department about computers. “At the time, many people didn’t know how to use PCs, even at IBM, as they were trained on 3270s and all this green-screen stuff,” Carter says. Her mission was to train the department in an innovative way, as the HR employees weren’t technologists. She succeeded.

After graduating from Duke in 1985, Carter explored her options, including pursuing computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and applying to the business schools at Stanford and Harvard universities and the University of Pennsylvania. During Carter’s interview at Harvard, two professors won her over. They believed thier program would not only let her increase her knowledge of technology, but also teach her how to manage the development of it, communicate it and use it in the general public.

Carter’s early medical aspirations were motivated by her desire to help people. She realized during her college years that she has the gift of understanding technology and being able to explain it to those unfamiliar with it. Carter wanted to use that gift, “to help build a smarter planet, to translate the work of the technologists who speak geek, and to explain the power of technology to my mom and dad.” By all accounts, Carter has succeeded, not only for her parents but for many, many others.

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