Maria Boonie, vice president of offering management for IBM Z ® and LinuxONE at IBM, loves to tinker, just like her father, an engineer at United Technologies. Her family, which includes three brothers, often spent time together taking things apart and putting them back together. Figuring out how things worked or how to repair them became part of her mindset, from fixing cars to landscaping projects where Boonie and her brothers used physics to move large objects. Unlike today where we can search for things on the Internet, Boonie learned at a young age to rely on her own ability to figure things out, or to ask “Mr. Knowledge” — her dad.
It is this foundation of familial support that encouraged Boonie to seek out a career in computers. Her high school guidance counselor encouraged her to look at the University of Connecticut, but her choice to attend there was actually influenced by family history. Boonie’s grandfather was once a professor there before he passed away when her father was 16. When she applied and was accepted, her grandmother welcomed her into her father’s childhood home. “My grandmother was an amazing woman with a college education, who raised a family on her own at a time when that was not the norm. She worked two jobs at the same time,” she explains. “Family continues to be an important part of my career network and mentoring journey.”
“I have a little saying in life, that God only gives you what you can deal with, what you can really handle, and he knows I'm a wimp. So he's made my life really easy,” Boonie jokes. “I've been very fortunate with role models and a family that's so supportive.”
Keep Focused with Design Thinking
This sense of family carried over into the family-like atmosphere at an IBM facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where Boonie began her career as a Transaction Processing Facility software engineer after college. The technical leaders and business leaders were very supportive, she says, giving her growth assignments and learning opportunities. Within a year, Boonie was making her first client visit and tasked with helping them navigate issues with a legacy component that she had tinkered with during her new-hire education.
“I remember the advice I was given before that meeting: ‘Listen, answer what you know, and agree to come back with answers on what you don’t know,’” she says. “I also remember being very nervous. But it was a great experience and that advice has stayed with me throughout my career.”
Boonie also explains that when she worked second and third shifts, she had to figure a lot of things out on her own, especially on pre-GA machines. “When there are issues during those shifts, you don’t waste time. You seek out help from the more experienced individual on the shift when you can,” she says. “You want to keep the big picture in mind and not get lost in the minutiae. Ask yourself: Why are you working on this function or feature? How will the client use it?”
Be True to You
1. Work with and listen to clients in a collaborative way.
2. Never stop learning (figure it out).
3. Understand the client value of what you’re delivering (design thinking; start with the why).
Growing up with three brothers, a family supportive of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, and being a bit competitive all helped shape how Boonie saw career opportunities. She never considered whether job opportunities were “traditionally male.” But when Boonie moved from assembler programmer to her first hardware role on the z900, she did notice that there were fewer women in hardware. “I don't know if they felt it. But I did,” she explains. “In the software world, you would see more women than in the hardware area; even today, I think that's true.”
Boonie never let any uneasiness stop her, and she soon came to realize what a talented team she had to work with. “I really enjoyed working with the team. To this day, they are a strong part of my network,” Boonie adds. “The most important thing is just to be courageous and not get too stuck in your own head; that’s when you doubt yourself. Otherwise, you can bring yourself down. You have to be confident and have that growth mindset.” As her brothers advised her, she says, “Stay grounded.”
Boonie says it was a “privilege to lead the z900 GA2 program, which was a significant technology transformation for the IBM Z family.” Confidence in her skills in electrical engineering, as well as her MBA from UConn, allowed Boonie to leverage her knowledge to recommend how best to optimize the value of the technology.
In her current role as vice president of offering management for IBM Z and LinuxONE and senior location executive for three IBM facilities in the Hudson Valley, Boonie not only has to ensure that in setting strategy, hardware and software development work with sales, marketing, and other groups, but she also must ensure there are detailed directions and priorities set for each department. Overseeing day-to-day operations at three facilities and making sure employees are engaged can be a lot to juggle, but Boonie says she works with some passionate and intelligent people who want to make a difference in the world.
Mentoring Teaches You, Too
It’s this passion that drives Boonie’s interactions with new hires and colleagues. She says that if you can pull the best out of them and show them that what they do is important to the business, they are willing to work harder. “More importantly,” she says, “they'll be excited, and it will be fun.”
Career Success from Day One
Network: Expand your network and stay connected to people in a way that is natural for you.
Learn: Never stop learning - especially when technology is changing and moving so quickly. Share your knowledge with others.
Have fun: Be passionate about what you are doing. You may think you can "fake it," but if you are not passionate about your role, it will show.
Mentoring, Boonie explains, is not a one-way street. “While I enjoy traditional mentoring relationships, one of my favorite relationships is reverse mentoring,” she says. “In this case, an IBM new hire is assigned an executive as a mentee. I have found these extremely valuable to keep me grounded.” They help me to understand the needs of a newer generation and provide validation of initiatives that are better aligned with the motivators of this generation.” Mentoring enables both partners to learn from one another and gain a global perspective, Boonie adds. “I’ve always found that volunteering can be a great way to help you expand your network, and that definitely proved to be true for me at SHARE. I’ve met so many talented and inspiring people through the organization.”When advising others about their careers, Boonie explains the biggest key to success is to always be curious. “I was later told that they considered me for the new area because ‘you don’t like to fail’ and they knew I would learn quickly and do what it took to be successful. You need to understand the entire stack or solution that the client needs to derive value for their business,” she says. “Beyond learning, you need to expand your network and have fun.” Many new hires at IBM have told her they are impressed with her passion for the job, even after a long career. Boonie attributes that to loving what she does.