Mainframe Trailblazers Pt 2

This month at Planet Mainframe the focus is on Talent and Training, so here at Trivia Challenge we’re testing (and hopefully expanding) your knowledge of a few mainframe trailblazers. 

Today we’re looking at the life of Thomas J. Watson Jr., the transformational CEO of IBM who brought the mainframe to the world. Born just before the outbreak of the First World War, Watson’s life spanned much of the 20th century, and he played a central role in the massive technological change that the century saw play out. 

The stories of Watson’s tenure at IBM  – from his tense relationship with his father, IBM chairman and CEO Thomas Watson Sr., to the battles he fought to move IBM towards electronic computing – have become the stuff of myth. In his decades at the helm, he transformed IBM from a company built on a foundation of mechanically sorted punch cards into (in IBM’s words)  “a divisionalized and professionally-managed high technology enterprise.” 

Take our quiz and see how much you know about this mainframe pioneer’s career!

1. Growing up, Watson was often angry and depressed. According to biographer Ralph Watson McElvenny, “He played with fire, shot animals in the nearby swamps and pilfered things from neighbors’ houses.” Neighbors referred to him as:


2. After graduating from university, Watson joined IBM as:


3. Watson later admitted to journalists that the one career he would have liked to follow was:


4. The father-son relationship between Watsons Sr. and Jr. could best be described as


5. Though, according to Watson, his father did not like to share the limelight with his son, he nevertheless succeeded his father as CEO in:


6. Watson “bet the farm” on the creation of the world’s first fully integrated and compatible mainframe computer (which made a cameo in an episode of Madmen). That computer was:


7. When Watson first took over as CEO, IBM employed 72,500 people worldwide and produced $892 million in revenue. When he resigned as board chairman 15 years later, IBM had grown to more than 270,000 employees and a revenue of:


8. Among his other achievements at IBM, for which of these was Watson responsible?


9. Watson served as US ambassador to this country from 1979 to 1981:


Sonja Soderlund is an Oregon-based B2B freelance writer. Whether writing about mainframe computers, educational technology, or sustainable retail, she strives to bring clarity to complex issues. Connect with her at or LinkedIn.

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