Rodney Smith, vice president of Internet emerging technologies for the IBM software group in Raleigh, is one of five IBM employees named as IBM Fellows on Wednesday.

The selection is considered the firm’s most prestigious technical honor. Over the years, only 175 people have received the honor. Of those, 56 still are employed at IBM.

The selections were announced in Scottsdale, AZ as part of its corporate technical recognition ceremony during which IBM handed out $2.8 million to employees recognized for technical innovation.

Smith was recognized for his efforts in object-oriented programming, visual programming, Java, XML and web services. He also was cited for making “significant contributions” n the development of enterprise Java servers.

But Smith has many other tasks ahead. He is IBM’s “key technical leader” for web services and advanced collaboration human interaction (CHI) clients.

In a Q&A conducted with Smith, which IBM provided to Local Tech Wire, he was asked about his inspiration for innovation.

What do you consider to be the most significant innovations of our time?

I think the advances in medicine, particularly DNA discoveries and
surgical techniques, are truly remarkable. They can perform an angioplasty on a patient and get them back to work in a few days ? whereas 20 years ago it would have been considered a much more dire situation. Another key innovation is the emergence of real-time broadcasting. You feel like you’re on scene, and part of the event, which makes you feel much more emotion about what you’re watching.

What inspires your ability to innovate?

I get a lot of spark from interactions with great leaders, either from the industry or the customer’s side of the business. Collaboration is inspiring.

Do you have any hobbies or interests that might have influenced your career choice?

I used to be very involved in playing music. In music, you learn very
quickly the importance of collaboration. I’m also a voracious reader. I’m constantly trying to expand my knowledge and become an expert at whatever I’m doing.

The theme of 2003 CTRE is “The Character of Excellence.” What do you think is the greatest barrier to excellence in our world today?

Our society has a mentality that failure is always a bad thing. The
truth is that excellence often involves some setback. Success isn’t always about reaching some end point or end position. It’s about having a passion for what you do. It’s a journey as opposed to a goal.

How can we get young people interested in technology careers?

Kids today don’t know life before the Internet and e-mail. They’ve
grown up burning their own CDs. They don’t think about these things as innovations, as things that have been born out of someone’s mind. We have to encourage them to use their imaginations to create the things that are important in their lives.

Other honors

Also recognized as Fellows were:

  • Grady Booch, chief scientist of Rational Software, IBM Software
  • Dr. Donald Chamberlin, researcher, IBM Almaden Research Center.
  • Dr. George Galambos, chief technology officer, IBM Global Services (IGS) in Canada
  • Charles Webb, eServer processor design, IBM Systems Group

Galambos is the first IBM fellow from Canada.