My Last 15 Years
I was an instructor for the last 15 of my 30 IBM years because, after so many different jobs, I had finally found my real vocation - without any formal training provided for it, unlike the case for Systems Engineers and Sales Representatives.
IBM istruction operated in 2 areas: Education and Training, the former more 'philosophical' for our large-system customers, the latter more 'practical' for our smaller customers, where I happened to end up.
I started in 1983 in via Rombon, with the non-thrilling assignment of developing courses on products (ADI, ADRS) theoretically aimed at end-user information and written in APL, a powerful but complex programming language originally conceived for scientific uses - with no 'verbs' but odd single-character symbols - that had become the language of choice for our internal statistics.
Layout of an APL keyboard, with its weird characters
Fortunately in 1984 my then manager summoned me to say that IBM Italia was about to put on the market a strange new thing called PC, and that we needed to prepare some courses to support it.
Similar situations became a routine experience for me in the following years .
Thus I started developing a first course on DOS (Disk Operating System), followed by courses on Lotus 1-2-3, Framework, the Assistant Series , etc. etc.
1987 marked the arrival of newer and more powerful HW e SW, the IBM Personal System/2 and its operating system OS/2 (Operating System/2).
The startup logos of OS/2 versions 1.00 (for the IBM PC) and 2.00 (for the IBM PS/2)
IBM Training Center in Milan, via Rombon
In 1988 IBM opens its new Milan Education Centre at the Bicocca location (viale F. Testi 250), and who would they select to show an IBM Instructor in action for their promotional brochure?
In the photo below at left: a class in session: on the participants' screens, my OS/2 Fundamentals course.
IBM Training Center in Milan, viale Fulvio Testi 250
Istructor in class - A break area
In the photo above at right: a break area at the Centre. On the wall monitors at right, two Basic programs that I developed scroll the lists of:
- Courses of the week
- Incoming messages for course participants
For several years these programs were distributed to other IBM locations in Italy where they could be of use, even after
the HW they ran on - IBM PCs with floppy-disk drives only - had become totally obsolete and hard to find.
Being an istructor entailed:
- Developing new courses from scratch or heavily adapting existing US courses
- Delivering my courses at IBM or customers' locations, in Italy and also abroad where possible (last case in 1997: a bank in Nicosia, Cyprus)
After my first courses on the newly arrived IBM PC (covering DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, Framework, Assistant Series, etc.), the most significant courses I developed and delivered were:
- OS200 (2 days): Introduction to OS/2
- OS220 (4,5 gg): OS/2 Fundamentals
- OS250 (4.5 days): OS/2 Kernel Programming (in Cobol and C)
- OS800 (4.5 days): LAN/Warp Server - Installation and Management
- OS880 (4.5 days): LAN/Warp Server Optimisation
All 4.5-day course had the following structure:
- Morning: theory and demonstrations
- Afternoon: class exercises
The IBM Personal System/2 (PS/2) and OS/2 Warp, version 3 of OS/2 released in 1994
Developing OS880 was VERY laborious and took me several months.
I had to try and understand the meaning of the myriad parameters contained in the various configuration files involved, and their possible effect on the performance of a LAN (Local Area Network).
A sudden intuition helped me considerably: after all, the dynamics of a LAN could not be much different from that of any other distribution system featuring a service supplier and its end users, like for instance an aqueduct.
I was on the right track, but only at the beginning of a long road.
The classroom where I usually delivered my courses was equipped with 12 PS/2s for students and one for the instructor on a Token Ring LAN: I turned it into a test center whenever it was not otherwise occupied .
A page from course WS82, the TTT (Teach The Teachers) of PS76,
the international version in English of my Italian course OS880,
with a missed spelling error in the page title.
In March-May, 1997 I had another 2-month US residency, this time in Austin, TX to produce the "OS/2 Warp Server Performance" course, the international version of my OS880 course.
Plaque commemorating my Austin residency - The IBM Research Lab, Austin, Texas
The Difficult 1990s
In the early 1990s, the IBM Corporation faced a difficult period of declining earnings and consequent decline of its shares at the NYSE. Board representatives of various pension funds with thick IBM portfolios were tired of seeing lowering share values and dividends, and forced the then CEO to resign and be replaced. After 3 months of unsuccessful searches in IT areas, the choice fell on Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., then CEO of an American Express division.
The 'Gerstner therapy' rejuvenated IBM - he later wrote a book entitled "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?" on his 10 yeas at the helm of IBM.
Gerstner also took a number of steps to curtail expenses, which included leaving leased premises and moving personnel to owned facilities.
This meant for us instructors moving to offices located in Novedrate, 25 Km NW of Milan, while our classes were still delivered in town - in premises refurbished for the purpose in our via Tolmezzo location, once IBM Italy's first production site.
In my opinion, another reason for IBM's creeping decline is to be found earlier: in the 1980s we started to sell rather than rent our equipment, as a result of our customers' deteriorating payments - our contract conditions then specified 30-day bank drafts.
IBM Education Center, Novedrate (CO)
The rental solution had permitted IBM for decades to know in advance what its future cash flow might be with very good approximation, and to formulate its plans accordingly - something not as possible in the volatile world of sales.
Other Work Locations
In addition to the already mentioned locations in Italy and abroad, I had the opportunity of working elsewhere during my 30 years with IBM.
Some Roman locations where our local Education & Training activities were hosted over time.
IBM offices, via Nazionale - BNL building, piazzale dell'Agricoltura, EUR - Former Alitalia building, piazzale Pastore, EUR - Via Lamaro, Cinecittà
Departmental budget permitting, I would preferably be staying at the Hotel Forum, an old-style 4-star hotel with a splendid view over Rome's Fori Imperiali from its top-floor restaurant.
Hotel Forum, via Tor de' Conti - View from the restaurant terrace
I also conducted classes at our Palermo Branch Office, and at the premises of bank customers in Parma, Padua, Vicenza, Genua, Lucca, Naples, Maglie.
- London: TTT course on PC, 1984
- London: Framework course, 1986
- Croydon: PASF course, 1987
- London: OS/2 Fundamentals, 1991
- Greenford: OS/2 seminar, 1994
- Bracknell: Warp Server seminar, 1996
IBM UK, Greenford
- Copenhagen: Meeting, European Publications Center, Kastrup, 1971
- Copenhagen: Meetings, European Publications Center, Kastrup, 1976
- Copenhagen: Interview for possibile assignment to CASC (Competition Analysis Support Center) , 1983
Copenhagen's Rådhus (Town Hall)
- Estepona, Costa del Sol: IBM Italy's and IBM Belgium's 100% Clubs, 1972
The Costa del Sol at Estepona
- Montpellier: Meeting, 1976
IBM Executive Briefing Center, Montpellier
- Munich: Seminar, 1978
- Berlin: 100% Club, 1980
- Calw: OS/2 certification seminar, 1994
Calw's Marktplatz (Market Square)
- Montreaux: OS/2 Symposium, 1988
Montreux's Convention Center
- Vienna: OS/2 Symposium, 1989
House of World Culture
a.k.a. the Pregnant Oyster
The 'Spanish assignment' was probably my most curious IBM duty ever.
In 1972 IBM Italy was managing both their and IBM Belgium's 100% Club - the traditional annual 5-day-long convention for Sales Representatives achieving or exceeding their quotas, and other meritorious personnel of the year, including Systems Engineers and Customer Engineers - in hotels on Spain's Costa del Sol near Marbella.
The IBM 100% Club pin
Given that Belgians were going to arrive in the second week, a call went out for English-fluent personnel to help, and I was 'volunteered' by our Translations Department. I had no idea what this entailed, and discovered on arriving at Estepona that I was to interface/assist the management of the Atalaya Park beach hotel in their dealings with the IBM clients, from check-in onwards.
Atalaya Park Hotel, main entrance and partial view of the fronting beach
I was given a thick computer print-out with the list of arrivals and their assigned accomodations - suites for top managers, single rooms for lesser managers, and double rooms for the rest. Also reserved were a number of spares in case of emergencies.
Comes arrival day, I sit at a table in the hall with my print-out, greet the colleagues disgorged at intervals by the busses from Marbella's airport, ask their names, find the relevant entry, tick it off the list and write their room number on a card to hand over to the hotel concierge for their keys.
A Customer Engineer reappears at my desk after a while, saying apologetically that he found the room already occupied by two other people, so I turn to my list of spare rooms and give him another number. Some time later, he is before me again with the same story - probably what had happened was that some buddies decided to share the same room, regardless of their given assignments.
Now, on the IBM totem pole, CEs - our maintenance/repair technicians - occupied the bottom position. I still had some spare rooms available, but decided however to give him the royal treatment and the number of a spare suite, without telling him the details. Whenever I ran into him in the following days, he would grin from ear to ear and offer me drinks .
The Italian event over, it was now the turn of the Belgians.
Our first difficulty was that at the time IBM Belgium was also responsible for the former Belgian Congo - then Zaire - and the hotel had no flag of that country to hoist on one of its entrance poles. A frantic search in nearby cities eventually located one.
The second difficulty was Flemish names: I could not understand what they mumbled when they approached my check-in post, so I would just hand over the list and ask them to look themselves up.
Flag of Zaire
The Belgians and Zaireans were more disciplined than the Italians, and gave me no problems of irregular occupancies.
The Belgian event over, I was complimented for my trouble-free performance and offered a couple of unscheduled days in Madrid in recognition of my services, during which I took the opportunity of visiting its Plaza de toros and watching a corrida - discovering that seats have different prices depending on whether they are in the sun (sol), in the shadow (sombra), or inbetween (sol y sombra).
Madrid's Plaza de toros and corrida
Quarter Century Club
A company tradition was celebrating 25 years of an employee's service with 2 presents: $1,000 and a gift from a catalogue, where in 1994 I chose a superthin Baume & Mercier watch.
Unfortunately it was stolen, along with $800 in cash, during an overnight stay at the Park Central Hotel in Miami Beach while travelling to Austin in 1997: I had neglected to close the luggage in my haste to reach the beach and take a swim in the ocean, and they were gone when I returned refreshed to my room .
Park Central Hotel match-box
From the mid 1990s, IBM Italy was becoming increasingly depressing.
On company management's orders:
- No more salary raises to personnel over 50 y.o.
- Every year, usually in autumn (inspired by falling leaves? ), a new program to encourage voluntary resignations (Italian labour law did not allow 'unjustified' dismissals then)
Such programs included a generous extra sum but, calculating what I would have had to pay in social contributions to qualify for my full pension, my regular answer would obviously be: "Thanks, but no thanks."
In January 1998 my manager called me to illustrate a new such program, curiously 'out of season'. It offered an even more generous extra sum and, more importantly, "mobilità" for my 2 remaining years, which meant 1/3 of my normal income but that heavy social contributions would not be my responsibility. Now my answer was: "Thank you yes, with pleasure!" .
This also in consideration of the fact that my area of expertise (OS/2, LAN Server) was going down the drain commercially, and I had been told that my future would involve teaching Lotus Domino .
In mid February, our Segrate location was jammed with would-be resignees, who were read by a notary the various documents that they would then sign in agreement.
It involved some 600 people, about 5% of IBM Italy's then 12,000 staff. A couple of weeks later, the Corriere della Sera was running help-wanted ads that said "IBM Italy seeks..." .
Obviously with a "training-on-the-job" contract, 3 youngsters at the same cost of 1 resignee . I can therefore correctly state that I was "traded-in", like an old car .