Podcast: Women Executives in Engineering - Karen Beale of IBM

As part of our Women Executives in Engineering series, FY19 SWE President Penny Wirsing interviews Karen Beale of IBM who has attended eXXec, SWE’s executive leadership training program.
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Welcome to Diverse, the podcast of the Society of Women Engineers. SWE supports the advancement of women in engineering and technology. You can find all of our podcasts on SoundCloud, iTunes, and SWE's blog, All Together, at AllTogether.swe.org.

Hi, I’m Penny Wirsing, FY19 President of the Society of Women Engineers, and this is SWE’s Diverse podcast series. Please remember to add this podcast to your iTunes and like or follow us on social media. Visit swe.org for more details.

Joining me now, as part of our Women Executives in Engineering Podcast Series, is Karen Beale. She is a Client Technical Manager serving the Communications Sector at IBM.

Thanks for joining us Karen.

First, tell us about your position at IBM.

(Karen Beale)

Podcast: Women Executives in Engineering - Karen Beale of IBM
Karen Beale

I currently lead the team that provides zSystems technical sales support for Communications, Utilities, Media and Entertainment Clients in the US.  Our team is responsible for Architecting Infrastructure solutions that help clients leverage technology to achieve their business objectives.  I began my career at IBM as an Application Programmer. Over the years, I’ve held many roles including Class Instructor, Systems Engineer, Client Architect, Business Unit Executive and have led Strategic Growth Teams including a team of Cross Brand Cloud Architects. IBM has provided an environment where I’ve merged my passion for helping others with a life of continued learning.

Tell us about your educational background.

I graduated from Spelman College with a degree in Math & Computer Science.  Funny, at that time, I had to go over to the all male school, Morehouse College, to take my Computer Science classes.  At IBM, we are expected to be continuous learners and have mandatory and voluntary education across all disciplines of technology assigned each year.  Most recently I’ve received certifications and technical badges in the areas of blockchain, hybrid cloud computing, advanced coaching and architectural thinking.

Were you always interested in math and computer science?

Since I was a child, I’ve loved solving puzzles. Finding new ways to use hybrid cloud, analytics and other cognitive solutions to solve complex problems is like working a logic problem or jigsaw puzzle.  The required information or pieces are all available, the key is fitting them together in a way that produces something amazing.

You’ve had an interesting career path…starting out in life insurance in Boston. Tell us about that.

After graduating from Spelman College, I accepted a position as an Actuarial Intern with John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, in Boston, Massachusetts. It didn’t take long to realize that sitting in an office, hovering over statistics related to illness and death each day, was NOT a fit for my more social personality. After months of never ending snow and frigid temperatures and admitting that giving my calculator a name was not a good sign, I packed up my things, moved back to Maryland and went to work at IBM as an Application Programmer.

How has the Society of Women Engineers been part of your journey?

Spelman College is an all-women’s college.  There I was nurtured, encouraged and surrounded by a host of amazing women each day.  Since graduating, I’ve been one of the few or at times, the only woman doing what I did. Though many more women have entered STEM fields, even today at most technical conferences, you will find a very small percentage of attendees are women and very few items on the agenda are geared to address the issues women face.  This is especially true as you advance your career and attend more Leadership Oriented Events.  When I attended my first SWE Conference, I actually cried.  I was so excited and encouraged.  Where else would you find sessions like “You’re Not a man in a skirt”, “Millennials Take on Motherhood”, “Beyond Gender Based Leadership” or attend an Executive Roundtable where ALL of the Executives are very transparent women seeking to pay it forward?

And you have attended SWE’s Leadership Training Program “eXXec”. Tell us about your experience with eXXec.

OH, MY GOODNESS!!  From the welcome reception the first night until the day we departed, it was like we were all thirsty travelers in a desert that had just found the oasis.  The facilitators never had to run the initial ice breaker because we all just began to talk and interact like friends who had been reunited rather than strangers who’d just met.  I loved the balance of lecture, group sharing, individual reflection and small group partnering.  The intimacy of the setting and facilitation skills of the instructors created such an environment of safety and transparency.  As Women Leaders in a primarily male dominated field, we all had stories of War and Triumph that provided priceless learning that would not have happened elsewhere.

How about your personal life and achieving work/life balance?

At IBM, we call it work/life Integration.  At times, the balance will vary between the two.   When not enjoying time with my kids or grandson, I can be found knitting, meeting with my book club, taking long walks with my dog or performing in a Ballroom Dancing competition with my husband.  The challenge to learn new steps and perfect our technique keeps us active, engaged and always laughing!

What other advice do you have for young women interested in a career like yours?

Develop a lifestyle of learning and don’t try to do it alone.  Join SWE! There you will find other women who understand the journey you’re on and can help you develop and grow your career while avoiding some of the pitfalls you would not see on your own. Additionally, SWE will provide an opportunity for you to be a part of bringing others forward through mentoring and volunteer programs both locally and nationally.

(Penny)

Karen Beale is a Client Technical Manager serving the Communications sector at IBM. Karen, thank you so much for joining us.

I’m Penny Wirsing, for all of us as SWE, thanks for listening.