Runs the regularly scheduled meeting with his design team.
And later shoots the breeze with the lunchtime crowd -- always around the same table in the cafeteria -- before heading back to his desk to write some computer code.
Alone in his office, he peers quizzically into data flying across the monitor.
He reaches for a nearby binder, leafs through a few pages, taps on a few more keys, and then nods his head in satisfaction.
These routines are unremarkable in themselves, but they throw some light on the long, prominent career of Vern Watts, the IBM Distinguished Engineer and chief architect of the database management software IMS, who for 52 years has been striding into work with a store of optimism and commitment that comes from deep within in his soul.
Watts, who is now semi-retired but continues to do emeritus work three days a week, says the spirit of discovery is what keeps him going when everyone else has given up,
and keeps him up when everyone else has gone to bed.
And his story reads like a fable, with the moral being: A man who has an inventive spirit and a healthy dose of can-do ingenuity can avoid getting into a deep rut or locked into a dead-end job.
"I think about my job in the car on the way home," he says.
"I dream about it at night . . . I find it totally consuming and fascinating."
Most employees at the lab probably know Watts' face, though they may not know his name. And when recent recruits -- some only dimly aware of his shining track record here -- drift into his office or run into him in the hall . . .
. . . they're often struck by his positive outlook that's integral to his general well being.
"When people find out what year I started working here,” Watts says, “apart from comment -- 'but I wasn't even born yet! -- what impresses them most is that I'm still interested in my work, I'm still creative and I have no problem keeping up with them."
Born in Southern Illinois, Watts graduated from the University of Washington in St. Louis as a math major before getting drafted into the army and stationed in Seattle. During his last month of service, he stopped by the local IBM branch office to apply for a job.
On January 15, 1956, Watts arrived for his first day of work as a programmer in the Seattle Service Bureau.
Eisenhower was in the White House. Elvis was all over the radio. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were the talk of Tinseltown.
Meanwhile, the young Vern Watts began to stamp out the patterns of a long and productive career at IBM.
Watts' entrance into the company coincided with IBM's breakthrough years in computing. And his resume serves as a kind of voyage into the early days of computer and data management technology.
It begins with him writing code and application programs for one of the earliest ancestors of the personal computer -- the 650 magnetic drum memory machine -- which was five feet tall and weighed over a ton.
He helped test and support one of the first operating systems -- the 1410 data processing system.
He was called on when the Poughkeepsie lab was looking for a few extra hands to run and test the System 360, one of the first general-purpose, one-size-fits-all mainframe computers.
He played a leading role in crafting the prototype edition of IMS (Information Management System), the first commercially available database management system,
And he played a leading role in crafting the prototype edition of IMS (Information Management System), the first commercially available database management system, which spawned the DB2 information management family of products.
During those early years, it had fallen mainly to the engineers working below the decks to make the first decisions about new products. On weekends, Watts would often be home with his head buried in a thick textbook. By Monday morning, he was the leading expert on the subject.
"One of the problems with being early in the programming business is that there was nobody around with more experience than you,” Watts says. “And a fairly simple program was still complex, because you didn't have any system support. You had to do everything yourself."
Shortly after Watts was hired into IBM, Tom Watson Jr., who had recently taken over the company from his father, was encouraging employees to be "wild ducks" -- meaning, self-starters who weren't just part of the uniform mass.
This made a deep impression on the young engineer. "From the beginning,” he says, “I wanted to make some kind of difference."
His got his chance with IMS, which he helped dream up and develop in 1966 while serving as the operating systems expert for IBM's Aerospace District.
The dogged precision that had been drilled into Watts during his first years at IBM stood him in good stead as he lead a cadre of programmers on engineering the design of this new hierarchical database management system in which processing and control functions were performed at several levels by computers.
After a bumpy experience trying to sell the idea to the East Coast labs, the team approached the Western Region for funding. The response they got was "find us a customer." North American Aviation was signed on, and IMS took off from there, becoming the premier transaction and database management system for businesses.
Today, more than 90 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies use IMS to process over 50 million transactions a day and manage over 15 billion gigabytes of critical business data.
IBM presented Watts with an Outstanding Technical Achievement Award for his work.
And in the eyes of IBM clients, Watts is a star. "I can't believe it's Vern Watts," clients have been known to say, as they approach the engineer with outstretched hands.
Meanwhile, over at the Silicon Valley Lab Watts is one of the quite legends who inhabits the halls here . . .
. . .attacking the routine and humdrum with adventure, inquiry and innovation.
<ul><li>Words: Chris Luongo </li></ul><ul><li> Artwork: Jane Harris </li></ul>