When Linda Lyding speaks with young women interested in STEM careers, she offers one key piece of advice.
“You have to find your voice,” says Lyding, a Bonita Springs resident. “You cannot be anyone’s echo. There’s a lot to be said about innovation and collaboration as a team sport, but it’s also important for you as an individual to be recognized for what you bring to the table.”
Throughout her career, Lyding hasn’t been afraid to speak up. In fact, she credits that ability with kickstarting her trajectory at IBM. She joined IBM in a tech-support role after Eastman Kodak—where she previously worked for 10 years—opted to outsource some of its IT functions to IBM. When asked early on by an IBM vice president what her career aspirations were, Lyding didn’t hold back.
I told him that I really wanted to jump into something else that was maybe more business or contract-oriented,” she recalls. “I’d grown up on the tech side of things, but I really wanted to go do something that would help IBM bring the next customer in.”
She soon landed an interview for that type of role. “I’ve always been a bit outspoken, which can sometimes get you in trouble,” says Lyding. “But sometimes it’s good to be a bit of a self-promoter.”
By the time she retired in 2017 after 29 years at IBM, she was a global vice president for the company’s network services business. She held several senior manager and director roles over the years and approached each job with passion and enthusiasm.
“I got up every single day and looked at that day as my next adventure,” she says. “You could have crushing defeats, but those were just bumps in the road on the adventure.”
As she became a manager then executive with teams of people working under her, Lyding practiced a philosophy of respect and support. “Don’t let anyone take credit for your work, but at the same time make sure you give credit to others as well,” she says. “You want the people who work for you and with you to be even more successful than you. I believe it’s incumbent on us that as we have success, we’re also moving the next generation forward.”
She treated everyone as individuals, especially when dealing with employees who found themselves in the wrong positions. “If you’ve got someone who isn’t going to make it, don’t string them along,” she says.
“If it’s not going to work out, you really have to have such a gentle touch to be able to preserve their dignity and help them find their way.”
Lyding realized that everyone had their own story—including her. She often got asked about the fact that she only had an associate of applied science degree.
“Every time I went for a new position, I was always told that without a higher degree I wouldn’t be competitive,” she says. “I have all the respect in the world for people who pursue undergraduate and master’s degrees and beyond, but each person has to be valued for their capabilities, insights and attributes they bring to a company that will make everyone more successful. It’s never just one element.”
Lyding benefited from strong mentors over the years, and she’s now helping to guide local students and tech businesses in her role as vice president of the board of directors of the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership.
She sees tremendous opportunities in Southwest Florida for companies and individuals interested in technology endeavors and has been impressed by the students and entrepreneurs she’s already encountered in the area.
“I think the partnership has given me back more than I’m giving it,” she says. “I sit there and say, ‘Oh my gosh, these kids are amazing.’ When I see someone in fourth grade come in with a storyboard and talk to me about their business plan, I am blown away.”