Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Dr. Fiorenza Albert-Howard: Noted Computing and Engineering Pioneer, Groundbreaking Author, International Executive, Business and Technology Thought Leader
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Dr. Fiorenza Albert-Howard.
Dr. Albert-Howard has contributed both nationally and internationally to the computing and engineering fields. Fiorenza is the recipient of numerous accolades and awards including three from the IEEE and a fourth for her writing. She has authored several groundbreaking books in computing including best-sellers plus publication of articles in technical journals.
Just a small sampling of Dr. Albert-Howard's significant societal roles include senior leadership, board, and committee positions within: CIPS (Industry Canada chartered, Canada's Association of IT Professionals), the IEEE (Engineering Society, Engineering Management Society, Computer Society, Communication Society), SWE (Society of Women Engineers), CFUW (Canadian Federation of University Women), NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada), APEG BC (Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC), ITC (International Training in Communications), ...
Dr. Albert-Howard has also demonstrated major contributions while working at: F.A-H.C.T.S. - "F. Albert-Howard, Computing, Telecommunications & Systems", (Founder and owner of the respected consulting firm providing expertise in the computing and telecommunication fields); British Columbia Gas, (consultant in charge of the Strategic Telecommunications Short and Long Range Planning); University of British Columbia,(Director - Networking and Communications); British Columbia Telephone Company, (Technical Services, Manager, Network Support); British Columbia Telephone Company, Data Resource Management, (Manager, Data Base Administration); Continental Airlines, Data Systems Management, (Manager, Operating Systems); Hughes Aircraft Company (HAC), Radar Systems Group, (Section Head, Systems Software and Technical Support); Southern California Edison Company, (Systems Analyst, Technical Coordinator, Senior Rate Engineer); and First National Bank of Arizona, (Technical Planning Analyst and Quality Assurance Coordinator).
Dr. Albert-Howard's educational background encompasses a Ph.D., MBA, and BSc from the University of Roma Italy and post-graduate courses in Technical Communication in Engineering and Boolean Logic from Arizona State University. Fiorenza broke new ground when obtaining her degrees and is a recognized IT pioneer in Europe. Fiorenza also holds the only government legislated Information Systems Professional designation (I.S.P.) from CIPS, Canada's Association of IT Professionals, and was an early proponent of professionalism in IT.
Fluent in English and Italian with competency in French, Spanish, and German, Fiorenza continues to have a major impact both nationally and internationally.
The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
Opening Comment: : Fiorenza, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in and do this interview. You have a long and remarkable history of success with deep insights that provide value to our audience. Thank you!
A: I want to thank you for the invitation, even if I do not think of myself an individual who's history can keep people interested for a long time.
Q1: Your history is just so remarkable and varied. How did you beat the mainframe in Chess?
A: I was 14 years old and the only kid at the International Fiera di Milano, trying to entertain myself while my father was working for his company. I discovered the IBM section where the latest computer was playing chess with the spectators - and winning most of the time. I do not play chess, but I started noticing the way the computer was responding to the moves made by the human players, and after a while I figured out what moves it did not like, but were sure winners for the human. So the last day I sat in front of it and, using the computer moves against itself, I managed to beat it. That is how I received an offer from IBM to study with them and became one of their first Italian experts.
Q2: Which three experiences most shaped your life and work?
A: There cannot be only three as life is a continuous experience. Possibly I can recollect that I come from a family of achieving women. My great-grand mother was founder of the Italian nurses group for the Red Cross, for the WW1, and went to the university to take a degree at 74. My grandmother was a published and well known writer in the mid 1900. My mother, an architect, was supportive of my desire to become an engineer and a scientist. And my first manager, also a woman, became the top expert in her field, (even in Italy), especially in those times when women had a tough time in advancing in a men's world.
Certainly what also brought me to where I am today, has been the decision to leave Italy, come to the USA, where I was sure I could find a job even though I did not speak English and was only able to read IBM manuals. I found a job in less than a month as an expert of computer performance analysis and improvement. I then started to learn to speak English, completing cross-word puzzles in the newspapers, and going back to the university to listen to classes I had already taken in Italian.
Still most of all, I can say, the experiences that most shaped my life and work are not tangible experiences, but the examples of women around me, who supported me and urged me to be the best I could be. "Nothing is impossible," I kept telling myself, when first I tried and then I surprised myself when I succeeded.
Q3: What are your favorite pastimes outside of work and why?
A: Reading - my mother taught me to read when I was three and by five I was admitted to second grade, and in that same year I read "Gone with the Wind" (at that age I found it boring). Still, reading is my main pleasure.
Then travel, which I have done extensively, where I like to explore other civilizations, their history, museums, art, traditions, and to meet people.
Naturally with travel I enjoy taking photographs, (probably too many), as a reminder of my travels and the places and people I have met. This I owe to my father who when I was born, as a first gift to the newborn, gave me a camera and taught me how to use it. I still have the camera and it is in working order.
Music - when I was young I played the piano, for my own pleasure, but now music is a continuous background to my life (classical mostly), on my computer, on the radio, TV, etc.
Q4: You have many demanding roles. What are your key priorities for 2007 and 2008?
A: First I want to do a respectable job as the newly elected VP for the CAAS - Canadian Academy for the Advancement of Science, to establish a Strategic Plan for this coming year. I also want to complete the several activities I have with the IEEE Computer Society, (I represent Canada on its Board); and to complete my activities as Vice Chair with the IEEE Technical Field Awards.
In August I am going to Manchester, UK where I will be one of the Canadian delegates of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW).
Q5: As indicated earlier, you have a long history of successes on both the technical and business side. This gives you a unique and rare perspective. If you were advising IT managers and IT professionals, what roadmap(s) would you provide them to support their decisions?
A: I do not have specific roadmaps I can suggest to follow. Every case has its own requirements, critical points and particular events that characterize it. I always suggest doing research - the Internet is a good place to start - and a lot of reading; libraries are a treasure chest where anyone can find the theories and case studies. The university libraries are certainly a good place to spend some time reading.
The IEEE Computer Society Digital Library should be a first place to start. http://www.computer.org/portal/site/csdl/
Q6: Does your advice change for business leaders and how so?
A: Not really. Once you are in management, the rules you have to apply are the same, be it in a scientific or business field, as we all have to deal with personnel and individual problems. Pure research, one individual alone doing work in an isolated environment, is a rarity. What I suggest is to be interested in our fellow human beings and their life, needs and character, because we are not alone in our work whatever this work might be.
Q7: What should businesses know about future trends in the Internet environment and in IT? What are the implications and business opportunities? Why should businesses care?
A: Future trends are approaching the reality to a complete set of e-tools that will drive our lives and our offices and industries. Even in third world countries the electronic age is appearing and driving the needs and desires of men and women. As my daughter says, "I am a rarity" as I do not utilize a cell phone. I want to be able to find some time for myself when I am in a place far from my house and around beautiful nature. I know I would not be able to disconnect it if I had one; I am too close to technology not to feel the need to be driven by it at any step.
Businesses should be ready to exploit new technologies as soon as they are available, or the competition will overtake them before they know it and lose in the race of survival. A simple example is the possibility for a restaurant to be on the web and accept on-line reservations. It is a step ahead of all the similar restaurants that not having a presence on the web lose many reservations.
Companies have to look at other countries where appropriate individuals can do the job for less and with the same results, or better results, both economically and strategically. We live in a world where we cannot limit our view to only our own country; businesses must be able to employ individuals from around the world, be there physically or not, and they must be able to address market strategies everywhere in the world.A good document I suggest to read is found at: http://www.skyrme.com/insights/pap_sps.htm
Q8: Managers are continually looking for insights that will save them time and enable success. What defining problem/solutions can you share from your prior roles?
Q9: I have a unique opportunity to drill into the accumulated wisdom from an accomplished executive. If you could sum up your life experiences with career tips for the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?
Q10: If you were conducting this interview, what three questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
Closing Comment: Fiorenza, you provide a thought provoking perspective on business, technology, and leadership. Thank you for sharing your valuable time and deep insights with our readers.
A: Thanks to you, you made me think about some concepts I have not addressed for quite some time.