Skip to main content

IBMer Karl Schmitz Bridges Art and Computer Security

Karl Schmitz balances his career in computer security with his passion for writing songs and painting.

After witnessing at an early age the potential of artistic careers through his grandfather, a commercial artist, Karl Schmitz found himself drawn toward art. While he took a brief rendezvous from the artistic realm, the 60-year-old Schmitz got back in touch with his artistic calling 15 years ago. Now, he balances his career in computer security with his passion for writing songs and painting.

Schmitz finds the worlds of art and technology have much in common. “If you’re working on computer security, you have to look at software and computers with a different perspective and see how to get code to operate differently. The same thing goes with art. You’re looking for different connections—between shapes or color contrasts, for example—and it all has to do with the way you perceive everything,” says the senior technical staff member at the IBM Z* Center for Secure Engineering.

The Intersection of Art and Technology

Abstract art is most interesting for Schmitz because it carries strong connections to his career. It’s all about portraying something in an unexpected way, and for Schmitz, this concept easily translates into computer security. “Several years ago, some people identified a buffer overflow—where someone took a string that was longer than expected within software—and at first it just looked like a security problem,” Schmitz says. “But after looking at it through a different lens, others discovered that the buffer overflow could also be used to inject code into a system.”

Schmitz makes a point of participating in outside artistic activities. He’s a member and board member of Barrett Art Center, an 80-year-old art gallery in Poughkeepsie, New York. He also participates in regular open mics to perform songs he’s written. These experiences have opened up several opportunities for him—from meeting other artists to discovering the various ways artists can have their work featured.

He draws his inspiration from Jackson Pollack, along with some influential artists in the 1990s. “The huge do it yourself art community in the 1990s made me believe that average people could still express themselves creatively without needing to be professional about it,” he says.

Finding Order

Schmitz’s ability to balance two seemingly unlike worlds makes his perspective both unique and valuable. His artistic viewpoints broaden his creativity in his job, and his desire to look for alternate perspectives contributes to his professional career. “Nothing is more orderly than computer software, but my job is to find out where there isn’t as much order as there should be, and correct it to put order there,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to do in my art, too. I investigate where the line is between order and chaos.”