Twenty-three years ago, when Teresa Hamid joined multinational technology provider IBM as a product developer, she struck everyone around her as a promising and ambitious talent. Now, people working in IBM offices around the world know the VP and CTO as the one to turn to when they’re in need of advice, guidance, or just a listening ear.
“My high school guidance counselor was actually the one who introduced me to computer programming and engineering,” Hamid recalls. “I liked the idea of working with computers—there was always something new.”
Hamid’s early experience in technology secured her a position as a programmer for a large insurance company when she was just sixteen years old. “I was so excited about that job,” she says with a laugh. “It was a tremendous opportunity to take what I had learned and apply it in a real business.”
As Hamid has continued in her career, working full-time for that insurance company for a brief period before accepting her first position at IBM, that sense of excitement has not abated. Her career journey has mirrored the progression of emerging technologies, she explains, allowing her to remain immersed in the most dynamic side of a fast-paced industry.
As an IBM fellow, VP and the CTO of cognitive process and transformation in IBM Services, Hamid is responsible for bringing leading-edge technologies together in order to drive innovation across businesses as well as product lines. “You do have to continuously challenge yourself,” she says of the work. “You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and have a natural curiosity about what comes next and how we can do things differently.”
A Quiet Voice Can Pierce the Noise
Today, Teresa Hamid is widely acknowledged as an influential leader and voice for change. But those around her have not always recognized the power of her particular voice. “In the past I’ve been told, ‘You don’t speak very loudly; you’re too humble.’ But that is the way I was brought up,” Hamid notes. “My belief system is entirely based on my heritage, and in that system, there is a level of respect that you always need to remember.”
As a leader Hamid has recognized the importance of balancing a belief system while maintaining confidence in expressing opinions and recommendations. By having a voice at the table, she makes sure she shares things of value instead of echoing others.
“You can speak up with respect and confidence while providing impact,” she says. Hamid also encourages others to speak and to be confident in their views. “I may not speak up all the time, but when I do I make sure its impactful.”
Hamid has certainly not allowed herself to become too comfortable in any one place. She’s moved from IBM’s software lab to IBM Services, while engaging with IBM Research, leading the North America analytics center, and now leading business platforms for the cognitive enterprise. She even completed a stint in Cairo, Egypt, as the software lab’s chief architect.
“There’s just a wealth of opportunity here,” Hamid enthuses. “What’s kept me at IBM is knowing that there’s always another area to expand into, always another opportunity—and always, no matter the area, a great deal of energy and passion about the work.”
And these days, that energy and passion are more important than ever, Hamid notes. As CTO, she always makes it her goal to “create a moment of delight” for the individuals that have to engage with data, analytics, AI, automation, cloud, and other complex systems. Whether that individual is a business operator or an end customer, the experience is always the focus.
But in the face of COVID-19, Hamid notes, even her high-performing teams needed to step it up. “Across the nation, and across the world, businesses are looking at new ways of working,” she says. “Working virtually is changing the way we work altogether, and IBM Services’ global delivery maintained service level agreements and mobilized teams within ten days of the market being disrupted by COVID-19.”
“But we still need to accelerate and amplify our efforts,” Hamid continues. “How can we be faster? Better? I really enjoy working with clients to answer those questions and provide solutions that enable them to realize their strategy.”
That ambitious, client-centered mentality aligns perfectly with the company’s new strategy, recently announced by IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. “Our new CEO recently shared a public letter in which he stated that our goal is to be ‘the most trusted technology partner of the twenty-first century,’” Hamid says. “The role of AI, data, and the cloud—combined with the ability to continuously provide this level of trusted engagement with our clients—is needed now more than ever.”
That unparalleled support for all clients has earned IBM an indisputable reputation as a leader in the technology industry. But if Hamid has learned anything in her more than two decades at the company, it is that that support extends inward as well as outward.
“I’ve always had great mentors at IBM, great managers who have been willing to help me continue growing and building my career while having a family,” Hamid says. “And having that open communication with managers really helped me find a balance over the years. Because of that tremendous support system, I have been able to enjoy my time with my children and take advantage of opportunities IBM has offered.”
Hamid has paid that forward, helping other women to navigate the organization and plan for any life changes that come their way. But sometimes, she notes, mentorship is far simpler than helping someone figure out the “recipe” for their personal and professional success.
“Sometimes, being a mentor just means listening,” Hamid says. “Mentees need to know that they can trust you and speak to you about things. Maybe it’s a conversation they can’t have with their manager—but it is certainly one they can and should have with their mentor.”