IBM is not known for being cool.At a party thrown by IBM a couple weeks ago in San Francisco to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday this year, what stuck out most wasn’t the video demonstration of 100 years of innovation (IBM invented the barcode!) or the great appetizers or the free-flowing wine.
It was the grey hair.
That’s no knock against IBM — the company has some very smart people doing some weird and fascinating things, like Keith Dierkz, the director of the company’s Global Rail Innovation centre, who spends his working days studying traffic and how to improve it.
Still, in Silicon Valley, where the cool kids work at Google and Facebook and Twitter and the startup of the week, IBM stands out as a bastion of … let’s call it maturity.
Which is why the IBM computer Watson’s victory on Jeopardy last night is so amazing. Yes, it’s a great feat for artificial intelligence — Google can’t recognise natural language queries. But as FINS reports today, Watson is accomplishing something even more important: it’s making college kids want to work for IBM again.
IBM coordinated the computer’s Jeopardy appearance with 58 visits to college campuses, and more than 10,000 students sat down to watch the show at parties.
Now, college students who never even considered IBM as a place to work have put it top on their list, and a lot of students are reaching out to the Watson team directly. They’re realising that IBM has a huge patent portfolio and impressive budget for pure research, and they want to be part of it. Yes, IBM still makes most of its money selling mainframe computers and consulting services. But the company has a long legacy of innovation as well.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, IBM has also been on a roll financially: the company laid out an ambitious set of five-year earnings targets in May, and so far it’s been right on track. Moreover, the stock price in the last year has outpaced nearly every other large-cap tech company — including Google — with the exception of Apple.
Now take a look at some of the cool things IBM has done over the last 100 years: