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About IBM People

From Research to Product Cycles, Sandra Johnson

by Catherine Kovach

When Sandra Johnson Baylor was a junior in high school, she received a letter from Southern University's College of Engineering inviting her to participate in a summer program. According to Baylor, "The only thing I knew about engineering was that I thought it was all about driving a train. Although that type of engineering is an honorable profession, it wasn't what I was interested in doing as a career." What she was interested in was getting out of town for the summer, so she filled out the application, was accepted to the program and was on her way to Southern's campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Always a strong math and science student, Baylor had the summer of her life. The experience at Southern put her skills to tests that stimulated her intellect and truly challenged her. She loved the subject matter and she enjoyed bouncing ideas off of other students and professors. She also was very impressed with the faculty at the program - African American engineers who were smart, talented, concerned and considerate of students. "By the end of the summer I knew that engineering was what I was born to do," she said. "When I arrived home ready to start my senior year in high school, I decided to major in electrical engineering in college."

Baylor returned to Southern the following year as a student and received her bachelor's degree in 1982, her master's degree from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from Rice University, all in electrical engineering. She joined IBM as a researcher at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center and spent 12 years on a variety of topics including studying the memory-reference behavior of parallel programs, the design and performance evaluation of cache coherence protocols and scalable shared-memory systems, the design of the Vesta Parallel File System, the performance evaluation of parallel I/O subsystems, the characterization of parallel I/O workloads, and developing thin-client application frameworks for network-centric computing. She was part of the design team that developed the prototype for the IBM Scalable Parallel Processor (SP2), the base machine for "Deep Blue," IBM's world famous chess machine.

Today, Baylor manages a group that focuses on the efficient integration of DB2 and WebSphere. Located at the Silicon Valley Lab in San Jose, she leads a team of 10 people, five women including herself, that is part of a multi-departmental, global development effort to maximize the exploitation, performance, scalability and usability of DB2 in a WebSphere environment. Her DB2 team works closely with the WebSphere team to develop synergistic solutions to address the issues. "The last year on this project has been a great opportunity," Baylor said. "As much as I loved the challenge of research, I'm learning what it's like to be involved in product cycles."

Being a woman engineer has at times been challenging but always rewarding, she says. "I've had some great mentors like Faye Briggs, who was my Ph.D. thesis advisor at Rice," she said. "He is a Nigerian-American who was instrumental because he was one of the best in the world in computer architecture. He was very encouraging but could be tough at the same time." In addition, Baylor names her mother and an aunt as role models. "My mom encouraged me in everything I've done. Moral support goes a long way."

And now Baylor is encouraging and mentoring women entering the sciences. She meets with a group of 11- to 14-year-old girls on a monthly basis. "The advice I give them is simple," Baylor says. "Use your minds to the utmost, work hard, and follow your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good at something, and finally, find a good support mechanism to help you traverse life's maze."

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