Wael AbouChakra, 44, who goes by the name Al Chakra in the United States, is a senior development manager and a master inventor at IBM. Now based in North Carolina, he grew up in a mountain town in Lebanon. He spoke recently at the BCS IT International Conference in Abu Dhabi.
What do you have to do as a master inventor?
Master inventor is one of the two cool titles I got at IBM. It is an honorary title and besides having a healthy portfolio of inventions, I have to mentor people in innovation. The other title is "technical top gun".
How did you become a master inventor?
I was born in Beirut and when I was very young my parents moved to Aammatour. I joined school early, at three years. Seventeen, I was looking for colleges in Lebanon but that was the time of civil war in Lebanon. My parents decided to send me to the United States for studies. I came alone with US$500 [Dh1,836] in my pocket and continued my education. I spoke no English as my education was in French but with hard work I was able to survive the first few years, which are critical for any immigrant.
What is the connection between innovation and inventions?
Innovation is a lifestyle. It is about questioning things. Inventions, on the other hand, are one-time events. It is the result of that lifestyle.
Can you give an example of one of your inventions at IBM?
I have around 150, between inventions and those that have patent pending. A few years ago, IBM had a challenge to make [Ireland's] Galway Bay, one of the busiest bays in the world, more efficient by detecting pollution among other things. We know that mussels are one of the best detectors of pollution. So, we put thousands of mussels in water and sound sensors nearby and when they went 'clat, clat, clat' we knew there was pollution in the water. We collaborated with nature and made a natural sensor. We are also celebrating 50 years of the mainframe. You hear about entering the cloud computing world, but we at IBM has been doing cloud for 41 years; zAware [a mainframe monitor for IBM's zEnterprise EC12 mainframe server] for analytics is another marvel.
What skills does one need to become an inventor?
Start thinking differently. For instance, you start driving down the road and something does not mesh with the environment, ask why? Read your environment, read the people and do not accept the status quo.
Collaboration. When I collaborate, I create some of the best friends because we have together searched inside our souls. You also need oral skills. Sometimes you have to convince IBM to invest $500,000 in a project. You have to articulate the value of the idea. The board comes up with questions and you have to debate with them sometimes. So, you need debating skills.