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Zarina Stanford

Zarina Stanford, IBM’s vice president of marketing, Power Systems, finds a perfect medium where business and technology blend seamlessly.

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Zarina Stanford’s path to an ITrelated career began with her first post-college job. After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism, she landed a technical writing and sales support role in the telecom industry. With the convergence of the telecom and IT industries, Stanford found she was intrigued and energized by technology in her early career and hasn’t looked back since. As IBM vice president of marketing, Power Systems*, Stanford finds a perfect medium where business and technology blend seamlessly.

Q. How did your IT-related career come about?

A. My first job right after college was as a technical and proposal writer. I never thought that this first job in my career would immediately get into technology, but that’s how it happened. Before joining IBM, I spent 15 years in the telecommunications field selling technology and solutions in the roles of sales engineer and architect. I learned on the job, as IS/IT degrees were not prominent at that time. My journalism background taught me the inquisitive skills needed to learn in-depth concepts like pulse code modulation, time division multiplexing and eventually IPbased telephony.

Q. What do you like most about a technology-related career?

A. First I’d say the notion of continuous improvement and progress. We have all witnessed technology having the steepest curves in advancement; for example, Watson, a computer system leveraging technology similar to what a human would do. That’s progress, that’s innovation and technology is at the center of it.

The second thing that excites me about technology is it’s cognitive, logical and easily understood thinking. It’s very rational.

Third, we can’t do without technology. We live in a world of technologies–the way we communicate; the way we process things. It is also at the heart of IBM’s vision for a Smarter Planet*.

Q. What challenges have you encountered being a woman in your chosen field?

A. You know, that’s a really good question. The only real challenge I’ve personally experienced as a woman in this field is being a minority member. Let’s accept the reality that there are more males than females in the technology field—less so today than it was a few years back. What it takes is to be competent and confident on the subject.

I remember when I first graduated, I was writing technical proposals describing modulations. I didn’t know anything about modulation but when the engineers sat me down, I was able to quickly absorb that concept. It is just simple math and science.

We need to beat the general notion that girls don’t want to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a self-fulfilling prophecy if we let that notion continue.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on why girls have that notion?

A. This is a strong philosophical debate. I personally believe that it’s not because of how they’re wired. It’s during the first formative years. We give dolls to the baby girls and give airplanes to the boys. A doll is a distinctive departure from an airplane or car. Therefore as parents, mentors and advisors, we—in particular women in technology—need to extend ourselves and serve as role models to encourage the exposure of STEM education and of diversity.

Q. What advice would you give to girls considering IT-related careers?

A. I would tell them two things: First, think of what is possible; second, understand what’s underneath what’s possible, using analytic skills and reasoning skills. That, to me, is not just a school program; it’s not just a school discipline; it’s a life skill.

Evelyn Hoover is executive editor of IBM Systems Magazine. Evelyn can be reached at

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