As a kid I was fascinated by anything related to technology. Studying at a multi-disciplinary engineering school like Arts et Métiers opened so many horizons, I was interested in robotics, aerospace, civil engineering, manufacturing, …, it was so hard to narrow down on a specialty. I eventually got a Master’s degree in software engineering and artificial intelligence and have worked in the software industry for 27 years. A few years in Research & Development but most of these years in consulting, advising hundreds of clients building sophisticated and very valuable decision support systems. From a 7-people start-up, ILOG, to 850 employees when we got acquired by IBM in 2008. I’m now one of IBM’s CTOs, providing technical leadership to our services business in the Smarter Process segment (Business Process and Decision Management).
2.···· What do you do every day at work? How does being a Gadz’Arts help you in your everyday tasks and team management?
The first half of my role is client-facing with activities such as: assisting our customers and implementation teams throughout projects and programs, helping organizations setting up Centers of Excellence, managing the resolution of potential escalations when incidents occur, interacting with business partners to grow our implementation ecosystem. The rest of the day –or night…– I focus on making our services organization more scalable and efficient, especially through Service Engineering initiatives, the way to capture, formalize, industrialize and deploy best practices.
IT is inherently virtual and that’s its biggest strength in the sense it can create value very fast. But it’s also a major danger as the immaterial aspect leads to not taking failures seriously. Most IT projects are still either not delivering up to the client’s expectations or running over time or over budget. If we were to build tires, cars or planes with the same low quality of most IT projects today, the world would be a mess! We are not many Gadz’Arts in this industry but our pragmatism is essential to keeping an eye on the final product and the engineering and quality management techniques needed to ensure usability and value to the end user.
3.····· How did you come to the US- why and when? How is your work life different than in France?
I was leading our worldwide Professional Services business from our headquarters in France and, when the Internet bubble was getting so hot in 1998 I moved to the Silicon Valley to get closer to the North American opportunity as well as step up for my US Director who had left the company to join another start-up (he would eventually come back after the bubble burst…). The move was supposed to be for 2 years, I’m still here 16 years later, a classic pattern in the Valley…
What a like the most in the way we do business in the US is the constructive collaboration at work. The main goal is to create value, as a group, and your individual and continuous contribution is mainly your work contract, as opposed to the apparent job security provided by a rigid labor law elsewhere. The second big difference in my opinion is the market-driven thinking; in the US, it’s a lot about “How may I help you?” and they/we do mean it. It’s not just true from a services standpoint, but also how products, start-ups and new business models are designed and created. And, of course, the optimism and passion of entrepreneurs and the acceptance of failure in the path to success. Although I also like the realism and cartesianism in France, these three aspects provide a much more positive and energizing work climate overall.
I’ve traveled to 46 countries so far, with significant work experience in most of them, and I’m still amazed at the uniqueness of Silicon Valley when you combine a perfect weather with the unmatched business environment, technical leadership and international diversity.
4.······ What is the best advice someone ever gave you? Why?
“Even if you think you know something, check it again!” I was working with the author of a programming language which, even after 10 years of daily practice, was still programming in his language with its reference manual on his lap. In other words, it’s ok to double check to be right, or to admit we don’t know something. In France, I was always stunned that people tend to ask questions which they know the answers to. In the US, it’s much more accepted to ask genuine questions. Besides, you can’t beat books or the Internet for the volume of knowledge and facts. As Einstein said, it is more important to teach our minds to think than learning all facts readily available in books (except if you want to compete against IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy of course!).
5.······ What is one favorite way to spend your free time (hobbies, weekend activities)?
I’m particularly public about one of my hobbies which I even call a second job: ultra marathon running. I blog about it (http://fartherfaster.blogspot.com) to share this passion of running outdoor, racing several marathons at once and discovering on foot places I travel to, around the world. Speaking of advice and hobby, my recommendation to the next generation is that they get of course passionate in their work, but that they also nurture a second passion beyond their day to day job (sport, hobby, volunteering, …). Sounds easy for multi-tasking millenials, but it actually requires focus, persistence and discipline to maintain a sustainable work-life balance, or work-life integration as we say at IBM!
Thank you again for sharing your experience and thoughts on life in the USA for Gadz'Arts! AFAM is grateful for your support.