Technical Assistant looks back & forward

In August 2010, Thomas Weigold accepted a new challenge as Technical Assistant (TA) to Zurich Lab director Matthias Kaiserswerth.

Thomas was previously a member of the BlueZ Business Computing team and was keen to get broader exposure to areas and people across IBM.

As his term of office draws to an end, Thomas took a few moments to share some of the insights and experience he has gained in this special role.

Thomas, what motivated you to serve a term as Technical Assistant?

Thomas Weigold. Actually, I didn’t apply for the post, I was approached. I had been in the BlueZ group for more than 10 years and was ready for a new opportunity. It’s clear that this position grooms you for many different potential roles within the company, and I can really say that it broadens your horizons greatly.

As a TA you’re much more directly involved in strategy. You become familiar with all the major processes such as the Accomplishment cycle, budget planning, head count, awards, etc. You’re also involved in developing the technical strategy: the Big Bets, the Grand Challenges, the GTO.

So that’s the most interesting part of the job: first contributing to creating the strategy, then helping to get it implemented. As a researcher you don't usually see the big picture.

What is the biggest misconception about this role?

TW. (Laughs) Some people seem to think it entails sitting in Matthias’ office all day, getting calls from him at all hours of the day and night, traveling with him and, oh, I don’t know, carrying his briefcase or something. That’s not at all what’s it’s like to be a TA. I have two small children at home and wouldn’t have been able to serve in this role if it were like that.

Of course, as a member of Matthias’ team, I attend many of his meetings, but certainly not all of them. I work with our team to organize all the necessary events, particularly the technical aspects.

For example, the TA is typically responsible for creating a technical agenda for a given event because this requires an understanding of the research and technology projects we have here at this Lab.

Then our very competent assistants actually do most of the administrative work of contacting the participants and organizing the event.

What did you find most rewarding about being a TA?

TW. Being relevant to the company. You’re really at the source of information and strategy, and therefore can make a difference. The networking opportunities and visibility are also a big plus. Not only related to myself personally, but for the Zurich Lab as a whole. It’s important that we in Zurich remain visible within Research and are a part of the processes.

What were some of the highlights?

TW. Highlights in the life of a TA are typically being involved in all the important events hosted by Matthias.

Two major examples are of course the Nanotechnology Center opening with John Kelly and many other VPs visiting the Lab, and the TEC Technologieforum 2011, which attracted 37 CTOs and CIOs of important customers and generated a significant sales pipeline.

Another highlight was the IMT Alps Technical Interconnect event.

Of course, when you organize events, things don’t always go entirely smoothly. I’ll never forget the time our top speaker of an event, Paul Martynenko, was trapped in a plane in Heathrow for several hours due to a snow storm and I had to navigate him to St. Gallen as quickly as possible. He had left home in London early that morning and didn’t arrive in St. Gallen until after 6pm - just after the event had ended! Finally, he joined the event dinner and all turned out well.

Do you have any advice for your successor?

TW. Well, there’s a steep learning curve before you know what you’re doing! My predecessor Andreas Schade helped me a lot, especially at the beginning, and of course I’ll be available to help my successor get started.

Primarily the job is to help Matthias with all his tasks, and he of course has a number of roles, not only director of this Lab. He has roles in IBM Research worldwide, within the IBM corporation outside of Research, as well as some external roles, such as in the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences.

I always described my role as a long-term shadowing. There’s so much to watch and learn.

So I would recommend it as a good career move to anyone interested in doing something different because it gives you insight into so many areas, not only within Research but throughout all of IBM. It’s certainly an opportunity!

What is your next step? Are you going back to research or staying in a strategy-relevant role?

TW. I'm now becoming a manager in the Storage Technologies department, which is something that I had never considered before. Clearly, this opportunity would never have arisen had I not been the TA.

As I said, being a TA means that you’re involved in everything right at the source. So you get the first crack at interesting opportunities that may come along.

Many thanks for this interview, and good luck in your new role.

TW. Thanks, I’m looking forward to it.

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