2021 Engineering and Computer Science convocation speaker Bob Lord ’85 is IBM’s Senior Vice President, Worldwide Ecosystems.
He is focused on ensuring the success of IBM customers, partners and developers using the company’s hybrid cloud and AI software as well as The Weather Company, which is an IBM business.
At the center of Bob’s work is a commitment to the open source community. He is responsible for IBM’s participation and leadership in dozens of open source communities; contribution and donation of open source code; and overall industry advocacy. A prime example is Call for Code, which Bob launched in 2018 to give developers and problem solvers access to IBM tools and technologies as a means to solve global, societal challenges. Since launch, over 400,000 developers and problem solvers from over 179 nations have built solutions for an immediate and lasting impact in society.
We asked Bob five questions about his experience at Syracuse and advice for current undergrads:
How did you know Syracuse University was the best place for your undergraduate degree?
From the moment I stepped on campus nearly four decades ago, I knew Syracuse was the place for me.
Without question it was the perfect undergraduate environment because it provided so many opportunities for me to discover what I was most passionate about. I wasn’t pigeonholed into one area of study at the tender age of 18, but rather was encouraged to take advantage of the many options available at SU. And without that breadth of exposure, who knows… maybe instead of speaking to new graduates of the College of Engineering and Computer Science this past weekend I might have become a dentist or criminal defense lawyer, which I explored as a freshman. SU helped me realize what I wanted to become, but more importantly allowed me to decide what I didn’t want to do.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time on campus as a student?
There are so many great memories. I’ll start at the beginning: move-in day my freshman year. My dad dropped me at Kimmel Hall alone for the first time in my life. But just as that reality began to set in, my new roommate arrived, followed by a slew of other new students. I quickly realized I was surrounded by people who were going through the same thing as me. That was the day I began to build some of the most enduring friendships of my life… friendships that remain strong to this day and I will be eternally grateful for.
It was also the day that I was first introduced to a population that was much more diverse than my Catholic neighborhood in Northern New Jersey. It was the beginning of my understanding of the power of diversity and inclusion. The more I learned from others, the more critical my thinking became and the more I grew as a human being.
How did your Syracuse experience help you in the early stages of your career?
I credit Syracuse for getting my career started. I was fortunate to be accepted into the engineering co-op program, so in the summers I would work at General Motors as a shift supervisor and engineer. Being immersed in that setting had a powerful effect on me. It validated that I was absolutely on the right career path, exposed me to a high-performance workplace, and gave me the relevant experience and confidence I needed to ultimately land a full-time position as an industrial engineer at Corning Glass Works.
I had countless experiences as an undergrad that equipped me to succeed in my first job and that I draw upon to this day. For instance, thanks to the rigorous and challenging course load that had me in Bird Library so much, I developed the skill of managing massive volumes of work, prioritizing what required immediate attention and developing a systematic approach to completing assignments.
What are some of the lasting influences Syracuse University has had on you?
That’s easy. I met my wife of 29 years, Robin, at Syracuse. Talk about a lasting influence! Both of my daughters also went to SU, and in fact my youngest graduated this weekend with a dual degree from the Falk and Whitman schools. I suppose you could say orange runs through the Lord family and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I also attribute much of my development as a person and as a leader to what I learned during my formative years at Syracuse. It’s where the seeds of what I now refer to as a “growth mindset” were planted – something I strive to embrace in both my personal and professional life. It can be summarized by three core tenets:
First, be a problem solver, not a problem explainer. The world doesn’t need more people to talk about the problems we’re faced with; we need people who will take action. This was ingrained in me at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, where we were presented with problems and held accountable to finding solutions. And it’s why I’m so passionate now about initiatives like Call for Code.
Second, learn it all, don’t know it all. At Syracuse, I got a healthy dose of humility early on, and it became quickly apparent that I had SO much to learn. Once I accepted that, I experienced exponential growth, and I’ve committed myself to being a perpetual student to learn all that I can.
Third, be open and transparent. Some of the best development of my life has come from constructive criticism. It’s something I was no stranger to at Syracuse and I’ve found that accepting feedback as helpful guidance has gotten me a lot further than being defensive and viewing it as an attack. On the flipside, as a manager I take care to provide candid feedback to those around me so they may also grow.
What advice would you give to current engineering and computer science students?
I cannot emphasize enough to current students that they have a golden opportunity. They have the ability to take advantage of all this world-class institution has to offer, from renowned educators and facilities, to innovative programs and activities, and an array of courses and experiences. Seize that opportunity!
Go beyond your comfort zone, keep an open mind, and challenge yourself. Take electives that force you to learn something completely different and trigger another part of your brain. Explore ways you can get exposure to the industry’s best and brightest, like through the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars. Join clubs and pursue activities that pique your interest or that you’re even just mildly curious about because it may ignite a passion you didn’t know existed.
All of these things will contribute to the quest I encourage you all to pursue: to find your purpose, and to begin charting a path to develop skills you can apply in service of that purpose.
This is perhaps the only time in your life you’ll be able to partake in such a wide range of experiences in a condensed period of time. Don’t let it pass you by. Trust me, you’ll find yourself frequently drawing upon those experiences for years to come.