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My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Bill Malchisky  February 15 2011 12:00:00 PM
One of the highlights of the event was to see 500 Florida based college students at the OGS during LS11. A lot of people have covered this facet of the event, so I will tell my piece from a different perspective.

Upon going to the Product Showcase floor early on Monday, I noticed the students had broken into groups of four to eight and were walking around the floor, trying to take it all in. Pretty much every group I saw had the same look: overwhelming. Most have never been to a top tradeshow before and Lotusphere is a great way to start. Heck, I think we have ruined them for all other tech events as a result, but I digress... the point is they were not really sure what they were looking at on the floor. So, I introduced myself to a group which included an advisor and asked what they thought. "Wow..." The conversation from me started similar in most cases with my including, "I'll bet you have never heard of most of these companies." None of the had...which is to be expected--they are Lotus business partners and if they are not being taught about Lotus products in school...well, you get the point.

What they found useful is some logistics and a plan to attack the floor in the limited time they had amongst a full-day. Definitely told them all to hit the IBM sector in the back corner, "anything with a yellow stripe on the banner is an IBM product. There you will be able to touch the tools and products mentioned during the demos this morning, and it will make a bit more sense." They all liked that. Additionally, they loved the opportunity to be there, see the event, and think more about where they wanted to go with their degree. Several showed-up with suits and resumes in-hand. They had a plan. For me total, I took time away from the show to talk to about five groups of six...so approximately 30 students. I really enjoyed the experience and it brought me back to my college tutoring days, where I helped kids learn, as a part-time job. Not exactly the same thing here, but when you make a connection on an intellectual connection with an individual that really appreciates it, it feels good.

Where IBM Went Wrong, In My Humble Opinion...
One consistent theme across all groups to whom I spoke was their absolute devotion, admiration, and heartfelt respect for GBS. That's Group Business Software, and not IBM. No one had anything to say about IBM--neither good nor bad, just nothing...as at that point, IBM was not on their RADAR; I suspect that could have changed later with the afternoon meetings with IBMers, to be fair. Let's face it though, Group did a great job and they should be commended. Plain and simple. They did what IBM was unwilling to do and Group got the glory.

Many in the business partner and customer community have been asking, dare I say begging and even pleading, with IBM to get the young IT people interested in Lotus Notes as developers by working with places of higher learning. This approach has most definitely worked for Microsoft over the years. But, IBM has passively refused. If you recall the famed Lotus Knows IdeaJam campaign, certainly in the top most promoted ideas was to get young people involved. Nothing ever came from that feedback in the education arena...instead, IBM just grabbed some low hanging fruit so they would feel good internally. That is my perception, for the record.

What should have occurred is that the students should have been singing the praises of IBM all morning and wanting to work as an intern at IBM, rather than an intern with Group. Again, I am not trivializing Group's effort here, just that IBM had a golden opportunity to make a difference, build loyalty from future prospects who could recommend IBM Collaborative software solutions and IBM instead chose to ignore the opportunity. What I found most interesting is that IBM gets the students on-site was a success; several IBM managers retweeted the happy #LS11 tweets submitted by college kids, which spoke highly of the experience. So, management sees this day as a good thing. For Lotusphere2012 it is rumored to have 1000 students to be on-premises, but no word how that will play out as of yet.

An Opportunity for IBM: Making Lotusphere a Lot Stronger
As a wise Wall Street client once told me, "Come to the table with solutions (otherwise your criticism is just spiteful)." I do see the opportunity. From Lotusphere97 to Lotusphere2001 tens of thousands of attendees, IBMers, business partners and their staff, plus press attended Lotusphere annually. The numbers in the Wednesday park those years equated over 15k, as memory serves. Quite an event overall, from my perspective. So, how can IBM get 15K attendees back at Lotusphere? Play50! If the NFL (National Football League) can get kids to play the whole game or 60 minutes with their Play60 campaign to help keep them in-shape and interested in physical activity, IBM should endorse a Play50 effort and have science and business school students from colleges in all 50 states attend Lotusphere2012. Run the gambit and stop soft shoeing this factor. Make a difference, build some loyalty, get people excited about the brand. This is an easy way to acquire some free advertising and really motivate people behind the brand.

IBM, please... seriously, consider this. You know it will make a difference with the kids. You saw it work well this year. Think of the interns and co-ops that will apply. The buzz on social sites from a 50 state event would be huge. The blogosphere and tech press will praise you for your efforts to education. The positive fallout will be huge and you'll have lots of that want to give it a go. The one piece you'll also need is a DDE on Mac option, as many kids just have Macs and neither need nor want a Windows VM. But that is for another blog post...see my entry on this as well.

There is a huge opportunity here and IBM should in my humble opinion, grab at the chance to get free marketing in all 50 states from college students attending consistently one of the top IT shows in the nation. You can work this to your advantage and easily return Lotusphere to its rightful place of a technical conference strong-hold...as it should be.

1Paul Hudson  2/15/11 12:36:41 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

To engage with education isn't simply engaging with students. It's investing in education as a whole. That means everything from 'significant' discounts for the IT department to running free curriculum development events for lecturers.

Apple have attacked Education (especially in the US) with good discounts on hardware and software. They also run numerous free events. Microsoft does likewise. Even Oracle are starting to allow Uni's to run certification courses for students.

IBM used to be better. When I was a researcher. I attended events in the UK that were targeted at the education research community. But I've met an IBM rep three times in 10 years and we're suppose to be a reference site. There is little support for UK HE.

Student will go for cool tech. Domino will never be cool. Simple. But neither is .net but most CS staff will ensure that their students have skills in .net because these skills make their students more employable. IBM have to convince CS lecturers that Domino is a good development platform and worth introducing into their curriculum. I just don't see that happening without IBM really engaging with Education.

2Ed Brill  2/15/11 1:09:27 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Bill, you seem to assume IBM had nothing to do with the students being at Lotusphere and want to give the glory to GBS at the expense of IBM. What leads you to the conclusion "They did what IBM was unwilling to do"? Why does IBM have to do it all? What is wrong with GBS taking the initiative and doing something great? What part of IBM's involvement in the effort - from reserved seating, to meetings with IBM executives, to the cost of activities, says to you that GBS did this without IBM?

3Dawn Friedel  2/15/11 1:42:25 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

As one of the organizers of the College Day event at Lotusphere, I can assure you that GBS had support from IBM on this.

We couldn't be more pleased with the excitement this has generated within the Lotus community as well as with the student population. We look forward to working with IBM and the Lotus community to make it bigger and better next year and on into the future!

4Brett H  2/15/11 1:53:53 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

@2 I think Ed, it's because IBM isn't doing that type of outreach themselves (like they said they would).

And perhaps, because IBM should have been doing that type of outreach for years.

Or maybe it's because IBM has very deep pockets, far deeper than, well... anyone else.

Why did it have to take an outsider (a business partner) to actually pull the trigger and do something truly worthwhile to move these ideas forward?

Just some thoughts...

5Patrick Donnelly   2/15/11 2:01:48 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

As a student that attended the event it was mind blowing and i remember speaking to you you were very helpful i wish ibm would try and push the idea in to schools as my fellow classmates and i would love to learn lotus and domino as a added tools in our arsonal and if the opportunity is there again next year we would love to go again

6Brett H  2/15/11 2:10:28 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Yes it's great that IBM provided support on this effort by GBS, but really, shouldn't the fab 500 have been brought there by IBM in the first place?

It seems that if IBM were really interested in connecting with today's young developer community then they should be the ones reaching out to them, not just the BPs. I mean REALLY reaching out, not lip service "Oh yes yes we are going to reach out, we are going to change the way we connect with the colleges and universities around the world uh huh yep..."

To me it seemed like an act of frustration to bring them ("since IBM won't do it, we'll have to do it ourselves, maybe IBM will help if we force the issue?") I have no real idea of the motivation or politics behind GBS bringing those fine students but I can only loudly applaud their effort.

Perhaps IBM will bring a new even larger batch next year, this time as their own guests?

7Jim Casale  2/15/11 2:21:48 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

According to the logic presented in some of the comments it would indicate IBM should do it all...and if you apply that logic...an example - .BP's shouldn't design solutions because IBM should be doing that

Who cares who did it as long as it was done by someone.

8Bill Malchisky  2/15/11 3:14:43 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Great to see an active thread from various points.

@2, Ed, let me preface my response with three quick points: (1) In a sea of friends and enemies of IBM, I am most definitely a friend. I love the products on both the hardware (only have IBM servers and laptops since 1997), and software side (started with Lotus in 1993 and love it and am an advocate for the brand), so I want that to be stated and understood for clarity; (2) my blog post is not meant to be an attack against you or or anyone at IBM; (3) as I love the products and offering, I also care--a lot. I definitely would get more sleep if I cared less...so when loyal participants in the community see a trend, building frustration over time, I may choose to speak=up in professional and careful terms, rather than vent behind closed doors with no chance of getting anything accomplished or evolved. I avoid cattiness and am hardly an ASW--not my style. If I upset you, that is neither intended nor implied in the response and I apologize, for the record.

In this blog post, I provided a multi-faceted perception and used that term explicitly and implicitly. Of course IBM did a significant amount of work behind the scenes, but few see and appreciate those efforts. I know to get executive schedules cleared to meet with anyone or any group at LS is hardly a trivial matter, let alone multiple executives, and I did allude to that specific piece in the front body paragraphs. In this sense, I am one of the few partners that is a big advocate of IBM getting known for their unknown contributions--particularly in the Linux space. All of my Linux sessions lead-off with what IBM does to help promote and contribute to Linux and open source projects that few people are aware...for clarity.

To your point, "Why does IBM have to do it all?" in most things that is true and accurate. Partners should assist and do. For major initiatives---like getting IBM involved into education---is unsustainable without the brand owner showing they want to be there. Far too expensive for partners to move that mountain for more than a one-off or making any significant impact outside of their base area/locale. Once momentum is introduced, you will see the partner community get behind and push the effort--as it should be. Localized clinics can and would be introduced on a large scale, if the schools and companies know that IBM really wanted this. Sans the partner involvement, it would be too expensive for IBM and I would understand completely their hesitancy.

Ed, today's message is that IBM has been asked to do something like this for ten years and they have---for whatever reason---refused to do anything in the education space. Again, that is the perception at large. Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft and Linux (the driving force for Linux Torvalds to make his great product derived in his thirst for knowledge in college), all see education and getting young people motivated on a brand as an opportunity.

Behind the scenes, IBM may speak of doing a lot with education or they may feel they are strong here, but the perception in the market place is quite different. The people see very little being done. So, they believe that IBM is doing nothing. Perception begets realty for many and is tough to change.

Group bringing the students is a great thing. IBM coordinating seating, show access, and meetings with management are all good things. At the end of the day, people did see IBM getting involved here, as a whole...primarily Group.

That is my point and where I would like IBM to change things a bit. The community wants IBM to be involved. There are partners all over the country that can help IBM get involved in my Play50 idea...I am not stating IBM needs to cover the cost, but endorse the concept and work with your loyal advocates.

9Wayne MacKirdy  2/15/11 3:30:17 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

This event has inspired us, here in Colorado Springs, to reach out to local institutions of higher learning, and to perhaps start a small internship program ourselves. Small potatoes on the scale, but still something.

10Giulio  2/15/11 7:38:16 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

I see your point in terms of how the "new blood" could have benefited IBM, and the missed opportunity that it was. But we're not thinking about the welfare of the students in this case.

Exposing such young impressionable people to the "abattoir of initiative" (ie IBM) before these kids even had a chance to start working would be too cruel.

Best that GBS look after them in the meantime and nurture their minds. IBM would just smash their will to live in a short space of time.

11Keith Brooks  2/15/11 9:12:22 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Well said Bill.

12Jyotiprakash Mohanty  2/15/11 9:56:02 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

IBM has Academic Initiative but I believe that is not enough as compared to competitors.

Some links to IBM Academic Initiative....

{ Link }

{ Link }

13Sacha Chua  2/16/11 6:46:56 AM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Giulio: Speaking as a recent hire (joined IBM after my MASc, have been with IBM for three years), I can say that IBM isn't necessarily an "abattoir of initiative". I love the inspiring projects that we get to work on and the amazing people we get to work with - colleagues, clients, partners, and others...

When I was in university, I knew a little about IBM - their sponsorship of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, the ubiquitous IBM hardware in the few well-appointed labs (I got my university degree in the Philippines), the company's worldwide presence. When I was in graduate school, I loved reading the IBM Cambridge and IBM Haifa Lab research papers on collaboration and social networking systems. I really appreciated the fact that the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies sponsored my research and allowed me to work with IBM tools. Over time, as I've learned more about the breadth and scope of what IBM invests in, I've become more and more inspired.

This year I attended Lotusphere for the first time. I was floored by this ecosystem that has built so much value around these products and services, and about the appreciative but tough-love relationship business partners and clients have with IBM: glad for things we do well, and unafraid to keep us accountable for things we can do better.

Can IBM do a better job at all sorts of branding and student mindshare things? Yes. I remember a quick analysis using brand tags. Apple and Google are definitely both "cool", while IBM is "big" and "boring". (I agree about "big", but "boring" certainly hasn't been my experience!) I'm always happy to help with the recruiting talks, share my stories of IBM, and mentor people both inside and outside IBM. It's a good company, and one that I feel incredibly lucky to work with.

The B2B nature of our business means people often don't see the difference we work on making, and our clients often prefer it that way - our work gives them a competitive advantage, after all. Maybe social business will bring IBM's work into more people's experiences - but even then, real success is when people associate the improved experience with the companies they work for and work with, not with the underlying platforms. I guess it's up to the stories we tell, the people we enable... and the supercomputers we build to take over the world? =)

(Thoughts are my own and don't represent IBM's official positions or anything like that. =) )

14George Paglia  2/16/11 9:21:41 AM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Some of you may all ready know my personal opinion regarding colleges and the lack of training that exists for Notes/Domino. I'm a very strong advocate for anything that can be done to increase the lack of awareness that the education community has in respect to IBM products.

So why should IBM be at the forefront of this? Please go back and read Ed's blog post about the white paper on using Domino as a RAD (and read the white paper as well): { Link }

Since IBM is offering a best-in-class development tool (I hope we all agree on this), I personally think that it's high time that colleges offer it as trainig. (After all colleges offer Microsoft technology classes, correct? ) These students will be developers and some will one day be development managers. We all hope that they will use the tool that is most appropriate to the job at hand. But how can they if they are unaware?

If IBM wants developers (and their companies) to consider using IBM products, then students need to know that they exist BEFORE they join the workforce. Otherwise the students will simply go their merry way and continue to use and expand upon their limited body of knowledge.

Just to put it in business terms, this is no different then offering Symphony for free. IBM spends lots of money but gets no revenue for Symphony. So why do they continue to offer it? It's seen as a valuable service, it gets sales in front of the customers, and it gives the customers extra revenue which they will hopefully spend on IBM products, just to name a few.

Why go after the college set? They are not going to directly change the bottom line, are they? Go after them because these are the people who will remember IBM products when they get into corporations and who will have the clout to allow IBM sales to come in and talk to their companies. Or has IBM decided that getting more customer face-time is no longer a priority?

As a Notes manager, I would love to be able to interview college students for Domino-related jobs. And as for myself personally, I would love to see my son, who is a software engineering student, learn about what I love to do each and every day. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen before he graduates in the next 2 years............. (I guess I'll have to teach him myself if he's still interested....)

15Scott Hooks  2/16/11 12:15:02 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

I think @13 nailed it with "tough love." That's what a lot of the perceived negativity in the community really is. That said, I really hope that the "</bitching><doing>" spirit catches on in the community. That was GROUP's mantra for Lotusphere and why we spearheaded the GBS College day. We got the ball rolling and then asked for IBM's help rather than just expecting them to take the lead. Obviously, it would not have had any success without their significant support.

16Sacha Chua  2/16/11 1:00:51 PM  My Morning with 30 College Students at LS11 and A Blown Opportunity by IBM

Scott: Precisely! =) I think it's incredible that other companies are investing in this space. IBM's big, but we don't have a monopoly on good ideas. Thanks for taking the initiative.

George: There's always a debate about how closely curricula should follow vendor suggestions. ;) As a former university computer science teacher, I'm glad I taught introductory computer science and operating systems, not .NET or Java, Microsoft Windows administration or Linux administration. Tools are handy, but they're not what computer science is about. Besides, you've got to admit that it can be hard to appreciate the power of something like Notes or Domino unless you're dealing with lots of users and changing business needs.

(... if I had my way, I'd have students cut their teeth on open source software development, and then let them pick up vendor-specific skills on their own, on internships, or at work. But that's me. ;) )

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