Tuesday, July 15, 2014

MC grad among top 0.1 percent of IBM employees

MC Alum Donald “Chuck” Laing with patents and awards received from IBM
By Rebecca Bell
Dean of Community Relations & Special Events

He has four patents, has co-authored numerous IBM technical field manuals, travels the globe lecturing on success and, twice during the past 9 years, he has been named among IBM’s best employees—an honor given to only 0.1 percent of IBM’s 430,000 employees throughout the world. Donald “Chuck” Laing credits a great deal of his accomplishments to Midland College (MC).

Laing confesses to being a terrible student in high school. He grew up in Kitimat, British Columbia, just south of Juneau, Alaska. Laing describes it as a company town, where everyone, including his father, worked for Alcan, a Canadian mining company.

Laing explained, “I worked at Alcan for two summers. It was dangerous work, but it did give me the desire to do something with my life. So, I started thinking about college, but I didn’t pass the entrance exams. I did, however, attend Utah Technical College and found that I had an aptitude for electronics. To my amazement, I made straight A’s and received a certificate in electronics!”

After technical school, Laing lived in various U.S. cities repairing UNIX computer hardware for an automobile dealer support company. It was during this time that he met his wife Holly in Lubbock at a church event. Chuck and Holly claim that landing in Midland was a wonderful blessing, and although Chuck has had numerous job offers to move, he and Holly have chosen to remain in Midland because of its quality of life and family-friendly atmosphere. Laing took his first class at MC when he was 34, and in 1997, after 2 ½ years, he graduated with high honors and received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Science. However, it wasn’t without a major obstacle.

“I discovered that I still lacked one class to graduate, but I was determined to finish that semester,” explained Laing. So, I went to the division dean, who at the time was Nancy Hart. We discussed my options, and I offered a solution. I told her I would conduct a research project in order to fulfill the additional credits that I needed to graduate. I researched computer science curriculum at every college and university in Texas and compared MC’s curriculum to other schools. There were various standards that were being evaluated, and MC ranked #3!”

Ever since then, Laing’s career has been marked with vision and resourcefulness. After graduating from MC, he obtained employment with a company that outsourced to IBM for contracted computer services for Texaco. After 9 months, he was hired by IBM as a UNIX System Administrator. During this time he also taught part-time at MC for 6 ½ years. When IBM closed their Midland office in 2001, Laing was offered a position in another city, but he told them that he preferred to stay in Midland. IBM didn’t get to be the stellar company that they are by overlooking talented, skilled employees, so they agreed to let Laing remain in Midland, but he would have to work out of his home.

“Working from home was an adjustment,” said Laing. “My first office was in my kitchen, and I probably gained 40 pounds! Thankfully, I overcame that adjustment period, and now my office is a decommissioned wet bar right next to the living room. Sometimes, when I’m on a conference call, I have to tell the kids to be quiet, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having the opportunity to be at home with my family, and when I’m not traveling, it’s great to have the flexibility to participate in day-to-day family activities.”

Not long after Laing set up his home office, IBM sent him to San Jose, California, to assist as a writer on a technical manual, one of IBM’s Redbooks. This was the first of many such projects in which Laing would serve on teams with global experts from around the world developing instructions for laymen to implement IBM-operated computer systems.

Laing explained, “The first time I was asked to work on a book was right after 9/11, and it was difficult for some people to travel to the United States, so I think that’s why I was chosen. The manual received a 5-star rating, and IBM kept inviting me back to work on additional manuals.”

Since October 2012, Laing has been a senior technical staff member for IBM, and his responsibilities are primarily consulting. During his tenure at IBM, he has developed four patents, including one tool patent and three process patents for developing new methods of streamlining work. Twice he has received the “Best of IBM” award, once in 2005 and again this past May. The award includes an all-expense-paid trip for the employee and spouse. In 2005, Holly and Chuck traveled to San Francisco, and this past May, they were IBM’s guests on the resort island of Mauritius off the southeast coast of Africa.

Laing recalled, “Right before the 2005 award, I accidentally deleted 2 terabytes of data while performing migration from an old, failing computer to a new one. I was working for one of IBM’s major clients, and it was in the evening. I immediately called the client and confessed. Needless to say, I was really surprised when I won the award that year, but IBM upholds the values of integrity and honesty. I actually learned from that mistake and have put that experience to good use when working for other clients.”

Another attribute that IBM holds high is family, and Chuck Laing believes that family always comes first. Laing stated that IBM has asked him to move at least three times and offered him lucrative positions with each move, but he has always turned down the offers.

“My life is in Midland, and it means a lot to Holly and me to be able to raise our children here,” said Laing.

Holly and Chuck have been married for 22 years and have seven children (five girls and two boys) ranging in age from 10 to 31. They also have four grandchildren, and one on the way. Three of the Laing children were special needs adoptions, and thanks to the loving environment provided by Holly and Chuck, all three children are now doing quite well.

Laing proudly points to a luggage tag handmade by his youngest daughter Sydney and said, “This means more to me than any award or patent.” In his spare time, Laing enjoys working on home improvement projects and said that his latest project was remodeling a bathroom, in which he installed tile and a jet tub. Three or four nights a week, Laing leads a volunteer group with his church performing services for the elderly, and he enjoys Boy Scout activities with his 17-year-old son, Cedar. Laing has served as an assistant scout master for several years and has served on many Eagle Scout Review Boards. When giving motivational speeches at IBM conferences, Laing is quick to point out the importance of family. He also credits the secret of his success to education.

“I squeezed every last ounce out of my MC associate degree,” stated Laing. “We are definitely an MC family, and I’m a strong advocate for MC. My son Scott attended MC and is now employed in the oil industry. My daughter Ashley is currently attending MC, and my son-in-law Brian Adams works for MC as an Assistant PC/Network technician. My daughter Emery just finished her first year at Early College High School at Midland College.”

Laing continued, “MC gave me the fundamental knowledge that has driven my career. When someone tells me they’ve run into a brick wall, my response is ‘brick walls are meant to keep away mediocrity.’ College helped me find innovative, creative ways to overcome those walls.”