How IBM Fellow and Master Inventor Rhonda Childress Learned to Thrive Outside Her Comfort Zone

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Rhonda Childress, Vice President of IBM Global Technology Services (GTS), has earned more than her share of “firsts” over her 25 year IBM career: She was the first woman in IBM Security to become an IBM Fellow as well as the first woman in IBM Services to be named an IBM Master Inventor. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and these days she’s using her influence to help inspire the next generation of women in the security industry. Today, Rhonda joins the podcast to share her remarkable story and remind our listeners of a simple but inconvenient fact: growth and comfort cannot coexist.

Take the Right Risks to Advance Your Career

For Rhonda, having a strong support system helped pave the way for success. In junior high, her father fought for her choice to attend shop class instead of home economics and encouraged her to learn real-world skills. While attending university, Rhonda worked with IBM for two summers, then landed a job with General Motors. She moved on to aerospace company McDonnell Douglas before finally being outsourced back to IBM, where she had “lots of opportunities to take risks” to advance her career.

Over the years, Rhonda has submitted more than 200 patent applications, and today has more than 130 approved patents for inventions related to cybersecurity, the Internet of Things (IoT) and systems management. She was also one of six women inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame this year.

Even so, Rhonda never thought she would be a master inventor or IBM Fellow — but thanks to supportive team members and managers pushing her out of her comfort zone, she took the risk and made history.

Opening Doors for Tomorrow’s Master Inventors

In addition to her day job, Rhonda also volunteers with educational programs such as IBM Cyber Day for Girls. For her, it’s about giving back, providing opportunities for young people from all backgrounds and acting as a role model for their future pursuits. Rhonda puts it simply: “Once you make it, don’t close the door after yourself.”

So what advice does Rhonda have for the next generation?

“Don’t get good at something you don’t like to do,” she said.

To find something both enjoyable and worth doing, Rhonda recommends trying free classes or digging into the wide range of cybersecurity books now being developed for kids and teens. Cybersecurity is a broad and deep field, she emphasizes, so explore everything it has to offer to discover the best fit for you or the young people you are working to mentor and encourage.

Meet Machine learning researcher Irina Nicolae

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Heather Ricciuto

Security Academic Initiative Leader, IBM

Heather Ricciuto is Global Leader of IBM Security’s Academic Initiative, partnering with educational and research...