17 IBM rock star employees that show the company's new direction

IBM Lisa DeLucaLisa DeLucaIBM Super inventor Lisa Seacat DeLuca

It’s easy to think of IBM as a company composed mostly of ageing white guys — despite its stylish CEO Ginni Rometty.

After all, it’s coming up on its 104th birthday in June, and the three-piece-suit culture runs deep in its DNA, with 12 of its 19 senior leaders more or less fitting that profile.

But IBM is going through some major transitional pains right now, getting a lot of attention for shedding older, underperforming business units and laying off thousands of workers.

At the same time, IBM says it’s still hiring like crazy, refreshing its workforce with people in the hot new “strategic” areas it has staked its future on, like cloud and security.

So we asked IBM to point out some of its rising stars, the people who represent its future. Here they are.

Super inventor: Lisa Seacat DeLuca

Lisa DeLuca

Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a mobile software engineer and IBM Master Inventor. At 32, she is IBM's most prolific woman inventor with 370 patent applications.

She began by dreaming up patent ideas in the evening after work, when her husband was pulling long hours working on his PhD.

She's been at IBM for 10 years, starting as a college intern. 'We were exposed to IBM executives and treated like rock stars. I knew I had to work at IBM after that experience,' she says.

Today, she helps to provide technical direction for IBM's Commerce unit that sells sales, marketing and customer service products.

She's a major tinkerer. She once created a pendant necklace that lights up every time a specific Twitter hashtag is mentioned.

And she wrote a children's book teaching kids how to count to ten in binary, funded through Kickstarter.

The real Pied Piper: Vinith Misra

Vinith Misra works as a researcher at the company's huge San Jose, Calif. facility.

But in his spare time, he's a technical consultant for the fictional startup 'Pied Piper' on Season 2 of HBO's hit comedy 'Silicon Valley,' 'doing everything from designing fake algorithms to producing mathematical models for jokes,' he tells Business Insider.

'I joined the research team in IBM's Watson Group last September, after finishing my PhD and spending some time in startup-land,' he told us. 'People tend to associate startups with freedom and large corporations with straitjackets, but it's actually the other way around when you're talking about IBM's research labs.'

For instance, he's taught Watson how to be a better reader and 'analysed the personalities of Lord of the Rings characters for Reddit.'

Dark net prowler: Etay Maor

Etay Maor

Etay Maor landed at IBM when the company bought his former employer in 2013, Israeli security firm Trusteer, for a reported $US800+ million.

At IBM he specialises in cyber crime, watching active hack attacks and helping corporations defend against them.

He also studies how different malicious groups use the internet and their own off-the-grid version of it known as the 'dark net.'

'To catch cyberattacks in real time we need to understand how organised criminals groups operate these days,' he explains. 'The day of the lone wolf hacker in a basement are long gone -- we are dealing with highly sophisticated groups.'

Redesigning email: Katie Parsons

Katie Parsons

Last month, IBM launched Verse, a smarter email and calendar system and one of the first projects to come out of IBM's $US100 million design innovation challenge.

Katie Parsons is a key designer on the Verse team. Her claim to fame is the calendar bar that indicates when you're busy and when you're free (a popular feature), but she helped with the general design and user feedback testing.

She came to IBM after four years in the advertising industry. 'The IBM Design team has been my oasis!' she says.

Putting tech on display: Bill Grady

Bill Grady

Bill Grady is a second-generation IBMer. 'My parents met at IBM sales school,' he tells us.

At IBM, he works as a lead industrial designer of server and storage products, holding 9 US patents 'that helped make technology easier for people to use,' he says.

Internally, he's known as the guy that helped design the 6,600-square-foot IBM THINK Exhibit at Disney World, which lets people immerse themselves in new-age tech, and he helped launch a similar exhibit at the Museum of Science + Industry in Chicago.

He also co-authored IBM's study on how millennials will influence the workplace, published earlier this year, which shredded several myths about younger workers.

'For example, it isn't true they job hop more than others,' he told Business Insider.

IBM's version of the Peace Corps: Steven Pearson

Steven Pearson

With nearly 390,000 employees, IBM has a huge volunteer corp, where it sends experts all over the world to do pro-bono consulting projects, modelled after the Peace Corps.

And it's Steven Pearson's day job to manage some of those efforts. That also means he volunteers a lot himself. For instance, he and a team of 13 IBMers from 9 countries recently did a project in Angola, where they helped the African nation improve their hospital tech, among other tasks.

His favourite part of the trip was a day at the University of Agostinho Neto, showing off 'cloud, analytics and mobile technology' to 'hundreds of students,' he told Business Insider.

Using light to make computers faster, cheaper: Jessie Rosenberg

Jessie Rosenberg

Jessie Rosenberg is a tech wunderkind who graduated from Bryn Mawr at 17 and finished her PhD in physics by 23.

She could have done anything or worked anywhere. She went to IBM's famed research labs so she could invent a new kind of computer chip that manipulates electricity and light to make computers faster and cheaper while consuming less power (a field known as silicon photonics).

'I knew that I wanted to have a direct impact on technologies that would make their way into products and out into the world, to make a difference in everyday life,' she told Business Insider.

She chose IBM because its one of the few companies that where she could 'develop a technology from scientific proof of concept all the way through to manufacturable reality,' she said.

Inventing a new type of computer: Jerry Chow

Jerry Chow

There an astonishing new form of computing called quantum computing being developed, and IBM researcher Jerry Chow is one of the people giving birth to it.

Quantum computing taps into strange world of the smallest particles, where the rules of ordinary reality are different. Its basic part, the quantum bit (or Qubits) can be a 1 (activate) or a 0 (not activated) and both states simultaneously, 'a little 0 and a little 1 at the same time,' Chow told us.

Eventually, these computers will be mind-bogglingly powerful, once people like Chow figure out how to make them stable.

'A quantum computer is unlikely to be in your house replacing your laptop or tablet,' he says, 'It works best solving certain parts of problems which are just too difficult for regular computers.'

For instance, it could calculate all the possible interactions between atoms in a chemical molecule. making it great for drug testing.

The business of weather: James Cipriani

James Cipriani

Weather can be serious business.

James Cipriani works on IBM's supercomputer cloud service called Deep Thunder that predicts the weather, not just for your city, but for your neighbourhood (called hyper-local weather forecasting).

It's a service hired by businesses whose livelihoods rely on the weather, from airlines to sports tournaments.

'Weather is tied into almost everything,' he tells Business Insider. 'In the end, it is not necessarily about the weather, it is about the impact of the weather.'

Making tech more accessible for everyone: Susann Keohane

Susann Keohane

Susann Keohane is an IBM Master inventor with more than 125 patents and 300 patent applications to her name.

'I normally don't have to look far for a patent idea. The ideas often spring from things I notice about everyday life and work,' she says.

For instance, she patented invented a system that lets you revise an email you've sent before the recipient reads it. 'Honestly, who couldn't use this technology at one time or another?' she tells us.

For her day job, she makes tech more accessible for the phyiscally impaired, helping write standards for the Internet on that and volunteering for an organisation called Knowbility.

'I relish the idea that the technologies I help develop can make the world a better place,' she tells us.

Keohane is on the fast-track to big future at the company, too. She's part of IBM's Academy of Technology (AoT), a society of tech thought leaders, and she's in the Technical Women Pipeline (TWP) program where she was paired with a mentor. Hers is John Kelly, a bigwig senior VP in IBM's massive research organisation.

Using maths to cure infectious disease: Simone Bianco

IBM Simone Bianco

Simone Bianco landed at IBM Research about a year ago after working with world famous microbiologist Raul Andino at the University of California San Francisco.

Bianco's specialty is 'using mathematics and physics to predict the evolution of infectious disease,' he explains. He's also working with chocolate maker Mars on ways to make our food supply safer.

He agrees with Bill Gates' dire warnings that the world is not well prepared to stop a dangerous epidemic.

'We are in a dangerous situation. While humans are getting better at fending off a number of infectious diseases, many diseases with large impact on the world population, like malaria or HIV, are still actively circulating,' he tells us.

But Biano recently cracked one piece of the code on how viruses mutate, and his work will hopefully help give humans the upper hand.

A new form of plastic: Jamie Garcia

Jamie Garcia

IBM Researcher Jamie Garcia invented a new kind of super hard plastic, the first new plastic to be created in 30 years.

Her discovery was the result of a total accident.

She was new to plastic research (in geek speak: polymer research) and she messed up an experiment. (She sent us a very technical explanation of what she did wrong. Here's a version.) She wound up with a substance that was so hard, she had to break the flask to get at it, but at the time neither she nor her boss really knew what it was.

'I realised that I had made a very strong plastic, and set out to figure out its chemical structure. About a year of research later, we were finally able to put all the pieces together,' she told us. 'This was a very exciting moment for me: we had succeeded in making a new strong polymer that could also be recycled!'

It could eventually be used to make recyclable aeroplanes, cars, and a whole range of stuff that will no longer wind up in landfills.

Bringing sci-fi tech to life: Stacy Hobson

Stacy Hobson

You know all those sci-fi movies where people control computers by manipulating hologram projections, or blinking their eyes or saying commands? IBM research scientist Stacy Hobson is inventing that stuff now.

And it gets wilder from there.

'There are even more exciting sci-fi related ideas around mind control. I am not sure if we will get to interactions through mind control but there is current research around implantation of chips in the brain that brings this possibility closer to reality,' she tells us.

She's also working on more here-and-now stuff. For instance she has a patent for some tech that lets apps on your smartphone share data.

A whole new way to teach kids: Will Ehrenfeld

Will Ehernfeld

Will Ehrenfeld runs an interesting program sponsored by IBM to create a whole new system of STEM education.

Based on a flagship school in Brooklyn, the program involes a 6-year course of study called Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH).

'P-TECH is a pioneering education model that combines high school, college and industry to prepare un-screened/untested public school students for careers in the IT industry,' Ehrenfeld tells us.

'It's spread to 27 schools across the U.S. and other companies, including Microsoft, have adopted the same model,' he says.

He was a history teacher teaching a summer social studies class at the P-Tech school when IBM recruited him. 'I'm an outsider to STEM,' he tells us. 'P-TECH is effective in that we demystify maths and science.'

A powerful leader and mentor: Kelly Chambliss

Kelly Chambliss

Kelly Chambliss is the Chief Technology Officer and Strategy Leader of IBM's multi-billion consulting unit, Global Business Services.

She landed at IBM over a decade ago when it bought Pricewaterhouse-Coopers Consulting in 2002 and she worked her way up to a powerful role in the org, leading product management, engineering, and strategy.

But that alone is not what landed her on this list.

She is also hugely active in a program that mentors promising young women at the company, IBM's Network of Emerging Women (NEW) Leaders.

'A few years ago, I encouraged someone that I mentor to move into a role that was clearly outside her comfort zone,' Chambliss told us. 'Two years later, she was offered her 'dream job' within IBM -- a role that would not have otherwise been available to her.'

And she's a mentor for other leadership training programs as well.

In her college years, she attended Virgina Tech on an athletic athletic scholarship to play volleyball.

Now she's writing a book how girls who play team sports can learn a lot about business. 'I believe we learn the most when we take risks and try new things without being constrained by the fear of failure,' she tells us.

Spreading the OpenPower message: Fadi Gebara

Fadi Gebara

One of IBM's hugely important new initiatives is called the OpenPower Foundation. It's an organisation where IBM gives away the designs of the special chip it uses to run its powerful servers to other tech companies that want to build devices and build software based on the chip.

Fadi Gabara is one of the people leading this effort.

The OpenPower Foundation is way to build broader industry support for these chips, which in turn convinces enterprises to buy IBM's OpenPower servers while reducing IBM's development costs. (That's the power of giving things away, open source.)

For instance, Google uses OpenPower chips for the servers it builds for itself.

Gabara runs a team that helps these other tech companies build their OpenPower products.

'I spend most of my day with my team bouncing ideas on how to make our systems better for our clients. We dream up new ways to exploit the POWER system architecture,' he tells us.

The analytics acquisition queen: Inhi Cho Suh

IBM Inhi Cho Suh

One of IBM's most important businesses is its $US17-billion-a-year analytics unit, and Inhi Cho Suh is ont of its star players.

IBM has actually been dominant in the analytics market for decades, but thanks to the 'big data' trend, where any business can affordably store massive amounts of data, analytics is now becoming available to more companies and used for many more things.

It's a huge growth area for IBM.

Suh is a vice president who has helped IBM invest $US24 billion in the unit, including some 30 acquisitions.

'I took a temporary job at IBM in marketing and have been there ever since,' she tells us.

She has a whirlwind job with a crazy travel schedule. The week we talked to her, she spent Monday in South Korea working with Internet of Things researchers, meeting with the government, and opening a new demonstration there; in San Francisco on Wednesday meeting with business partners; and back in New York on Friday to brainstorm future acquisitions.

'It's very exciting and intense,' she told us.

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