Stay Uncomfortable

Starting your career at a large company like IBM can be a daunting yet exciting experience. As a college hire, you will be introduced into areas of business, consulting, and technology where you may not have had any prior experience or may not know you have the experience.

Run with those challenges. Seek out new, interesting and unfamiliar opportunities. In this blog Don shares experiences that have led to growth, while stepping out of the comfort zone.

By Don Fenhagen


One of the greatest pieces of advice I received from a now retired IBM Executive was to “stay uncomfortable”. Staying comfortable is easy, but if you become comfortable in your job, it is likely the case that you are not learning and should move on your own or someone else will move you.

I started with IBM as a college hire in 2004. Throughout my career, I’ve been thankful for the numerous experiences and people that put me in new situations where I, in turn, gained many new skills. An exciting career involves passion for the impacts your work has on your client, society, and provides a platform for continuous learning in stimulating ways.

Now, as a Partner for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) business at IBM, my dream job at IBM, I know that each day’s work is challenging, ever changing, and essential to America’s safety.

When I joined the company, it was not long after 9/11 and I was passionate about helping IBM build a business focused on Ports and Port Security, which I got to help on. I then moved on and worked in a myriad of industries for several years before coming back to the business that got me excited about IBM in the first place as a college hire, DHS.

With a willingness to push yourself to stay uncomfortable, the sky is the limit for IBMers, no matter your age.
I obtained my first of several patents at 29 working with brilliant people and good friends in IBM Research like Arun Hampapur, which would not have been possible without pushing the envelope, taking risks, and getting out of my comfort zone. I meet new people, tried new things, took risks with clients, and walked into the unknown.

You may find yourself in a neat position at IBM, witnessing global initiatives coming together.
In my case, IBM Smarter Planet initiative had just kicked off. I was leading a Smarter Water business for IBM Global Business Services, and IBM Research had some “First of a Kind” (FOAK) money for a new Predictive Analytics project… if we could find the right client.

After taking some chances and pitching ideas with Arun Hampapur from IBM Research (my favorite part of IBM), we landed on a client with an innovative CEO to take a risk. We would attempt to change the water industry by predicting pipe failures and water usage. This project helped shape many of IBM’s predictive analytics assets available on the market today and helped shape thinking at water utilities around the globe. This is the power of IBM coming together with our clients to solve tough problems.

I am fortunate to be at a company that allows me to challenge the status quo and innovate every single day. IBM is one of the world’s greatest brands, which clients know and respect. By working at IBM, I am surrounded by some of the smartest people on the planet. Everyday IBM is advancing society and pushing the envelope to drive our clients into the future.

I recently enjoyed sharing my IBM journey in January during IBM’s Executive Breakfast Series talks, which happen once a month at IBM’s Washington, D.C. office. I’ve stayed at IBM for my entire 14-year career because of the supportive community, opportunities for professional growth, and the numerous opportunities that allow me to stay uncomfortable.

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