Nicole Fagen on SHARE and Women in IT
Reg Harbeck sits down with Nicole Fagen of Broadcom to discuss her journey in the mainframe space, as well as her involvement with SHARE and Women in IT.
By Reg Harbeck06/01/2021
Reg Harbeck: Hi, this is Reg Harbeck and today I'm here with my colleague and friend Nicole Fagen, who is really deeply involved in the whole mainframe ecosystem including SHARE and including Women in IT. Well Nicole, tell us. How did you end on the mainframe, at SHARE and all these other really interesting places you've been involved in?
Nicole Fagen: Reg, thank you for having me here today. You know it really starts in the younger years, your formative years and that sets your direction for where you might possibly go when you grow up and you become an adult. I was very fortunate that I grew in the timeframe when women-in-sports was new. Now initially, I played on all my brother's teams and I'm sure you can imagine he loved that. He loved having his little sister around all the time and that's where it really started to occur to me that we can do anything that we want to do. If we work hard, we can compete in just about anything and sports continued to be that space that gave me a place to compete, to thrive, to grow, to learn different skills around teaming. From figure skating, I competed all the way through juniors—
Nicole: And then with basketball, I was a high school basketball all star, totally loved playing that game and I played in university as well.
Nicole: And then again in university, I continued running cross country and track and field and I became the first team All American at Saint Lawrence University so—
Nicole: Being able to complete and to thrive and to be challenged all the time and not being afraid to put oneself out there, that's where it all started. Now, St. Lawrence, if any of you have ever heard of that school, it's a liberal arts school. About ten miles down the road is another school called Clarkson and that's where I went to do my graduate work, where I studied math and physics. So, again, back then pretty much dominated by men, but I wasn't afraid, you know, through the sports and the engagements there, it was just another domain for me, another challenge.
Reg: Now again, your first degree, then, your bachelors was in?
Nicole: My undergraduate was math, physics and sociology—
Reg: Oh wow, that's an interesting combination.
Nicole: And then grad school was applied mathematics.
Reg: OK and so you have a master's in applied mathematics?
Nicole: I do.
Reg: That's awesome. Now then at what point did you decide to apply those mathematics to computing and especially to mainframe computing?
Nicole: Well, at Clarkson, they have career days like a lot of campuses have career days and IBM was a big recruiter at Clarkson, so sure enough, they were on campus and some recent hires that had just graduated from Clarkson were there and they came, they met with me and they're like hey, you want to come and interview. My dad had always worked at IBM in Burlington, so I knew a lot about IBM. He would come home and tell me stories about what happened there and so I was really curious, and obviously did the interview, and things worked out for me, and I spent 13 years at IBM in Poughkeepsie.
Reg: Cool. I mean that's the center of all mainframe on Earth. That is a really formative place. That'll turn a piece of coal into a diamond that's for sure and of course they were starting with a piece of coal in your case or a piece, Nicole, maybe, but that said, you obviously continued with that, that very focused and goal oriented approach throughout your career and it has brought you forward in a lot of different ways. At what point did SHARE become part of that?
Nicole: I started attending SHARE, actually, within six months of joining IBM—
Nicole: And it was just amazing to see hundreds of people all talking about technology, talking about the mainframe. You would get these stats right from the specific customers on what really runs on their mainframe and what business applications they're running on their mainframe and what the mainframe means to their business and I'm sure that you're well aware of the stats even today are astronomical that 70% of the Fortune 500 companies are running on the mainframe, 96 of 100 top banks, that you have 29 billion ATM transactions that are running annually, all the credit card transactions, it's just huge and again, customers were so willing to share this is the work that's running on the mainframe. This is what it means to our company and then you can extrapolate that to what it means to the world economy, so I was privileged to attend SHARE right straight away. I have attended too many to count.
Reg: My first SHARE was '98. How about you?
Nicole: My first SHARE was '99. That's when I—
Reg: Oh okay.
Nicole: That's the year I hired on.
Reg: Cool. Cool. So now you've obviously stayed very involved in SHARE, but that's sort of typical for your path. You've got the athletics; you've got the mathematics, the sociology and you mentioned Women in IT. Now tell me about that because that's more than just a thread. That's a whole rope that has been throughout your career and how has that sort of played in with all of that?
Nicole: So, I'm a big believer in supporting others and I truly believe in diversity in that when you have differences of opinion and you have different mindsets, you can solve problems in different ways. So here at Broadcom, we work on again ensuring we have diverse teams. My teams are eclectic and diverse and it allows us to have those neat conversations. So, the same mentality at SHARE. We want that community to be very welcoming and very open and in fact I think that people who have been mainframers like you and I for a long time, we love seeing new mainframers come in.
Reg: Oh yeah.
Nicole: We get reenergized and we're ready to go so I have been a strong advocate for the Women in IT. I do serve as the Broadcom executive sponsor for SHARE—
Nicole: And that's one of the key initiatives where I'm like what are we going to do this time that's new, that’s novel, that's different and it makes everybody feel welcome? It's not just about women. We have a lot of conversations with employers who are trying to figure out how can they diversify their workforce. What are some tips? How do we go about it? What suggestions might we have for them? So the Women in IT has been great and certainly Greg Lotko, our general manager, that is at the top of his initiatives, is Women in IT and diversity. It's at the forefront of our minds. He is a strong advocate as well, so we have that support system.
Reg: Cool. Now there's sort of an interesting little gap there. You said you were at IBM for 13 years. You mentioned you're at Broadcom now, and I believe if I recall correctly Broadcom was the next place you went and you have certainly not sat still since you went to Broadcom. You have been moving and shaking so many different things. Maybe if you can just give a sense of some of the initiates you've been involved in, including, I mean just the redoubling of Broadcom's involvement in SHARE.
Nicole: Oh awesome. So yeah, Broadcom – so, I moved to CA in 2013 and then we were acquired by Broadcom and I have been very fortunate to have had a number of experiences. At Broadcom today, I am leading AI Ops and Automation so we're helping customers expedite their digital transformation - no shocker over the last year that that was an absolute business imperative - and accelerate their AI ops journey and double down on automation, so technology-wise, I'm still in there deep and we're still helping transform the datacenters and loving every minute of it.
Reg: Awesome. Now you obviously have a few roles at SHARE in addition to the executive sponsor. Maybe if you could just give a sense of some of the stuff that you've done at SHARE over the years that's been part of that journey.
Nicole: Certainly. So, the Women in IT which is now a part of the professional development track: again, that's at the top of the list of my initiatives. We obviously have moved from being a sponsor to being a strategic partner at SHARE. We truly believe that being there with the users of the mainframe, being a key part of the community, enabling the community, sponsoring the community is mission-critical, and to be honest, all of our team members thrive on it. We love that engagement. We cherish the time that we have with all of our customers and those conversations are what propel us into: where are we going next? What’s the next challenge we're going to help our customers solve? How are we going to partner together? What's it going to look like? It's just: It’s fun. It's engaging and I think it's mutually beneficial and rewarding.
Reg: Now, as somebody who has really taken seriously that old saying that the best way to predict the future is to make it happen, I'm really interested in your thoughts about the future of the mainframe ecosystem and all the different dimensions that you're working on right now because you've got so many different things happening and they're all so consistent with each other. So how do you not only see the mainframe future but see the mainframe future as a result of the things you plan to do with it?
Nicole: So, I see the mainframe as continuing to be the center point of all the largest enterprises. Why? Because we've invested in it in over 50 years, a lot of companies literally over 50 years. If anything, this past year has shown us how amazing the technology is. The way that companies who are relying on the mainframe have been able to change overnight right? We talked with one of the large pharmaceutical companies and when we first went into the pandemic people went from oh my gosh, I don't want 30 days of my prescription. I want 90 days. I'm changing all my orders. And they had massive spikes and influx of requests coming into their systems without issue, no issues whatsoever. Everything went through seamlessly. There was a large insurance company in Belgium and again when we went through this past year and that expedited digital transformation health care papers used to - you could write them out, you could mail them in, and you could wait for your refund. All of it went online overnight by government orders and so they had to respond. They had to make the applications and the SLAs went from being a week down to being 48 hours, all of it done, no flaws, no hiccups, no nothing and it just shows how much you can do with this technology.
Reg: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, that's the other side of the governor of New Jersey complaining about COBOL and all that, but not even saying it right. But that when you take a look in fact that is the workhorse, the power source that actually makes all of this transformation so suddenly happen that you're talking about. Keep going.
Nicole: Absolutely. So, the mainframe has awesome workload size, scale, reliability, all the "ities" that we know about the mainframe remain absolutely true and we know that there's an opportunity to further customize like your experience and my experience as end consumers by leveraging hybrid IT. So, the mainframe has never literally been a closed off black box in a corner although some people might want to refer to it that way. That said, we have worked very diligently to open up the mainframe meaning the APIs and allow for faster integrations, more rapid changing of the applications, updates so that we, you and I as consumers, are having more customized user experiences, more targeted experiences, more compelling, easier to follow, all of that by leveraging the hybrid part of IT and yet we know our transactions are secure. Our data is secure, and our information is secure because we have the trust and the faith and the knowledge of what happens on the mainframe.
Reg: Cool. Now another thread of that that we've already talked about a couple of times, and I want to keep weaving back into this, actually a pair of threads. One is the athleticism, and the other is the Women in IT because those are both really big things for you and they're not as typical as they should be on the mainframe you know. The average mainframer for the past five decades has more often than not been a somewhat endomorphic male such as myself and the mesomorphic approach, having that focus on physical health and physical ability and athletic ability and also just that approach of including the full range of humanity and benefitting from all the value that specifically for example women in IT can bring. That's got to be something you have a vision for really continuing to grow on the mainframe.
Nicole: I do. So, when I'm looking, right, or we're interviewing and we're hiring, there are qualities that I look for. Is it required that somebody be an athlete? No. However, if we're to be straight about it and I'm a big person to leverage stats and data, right? Ernst and Young studies will tell you that to be a successful female, to get towards the executive level and especially into that C suite, 94% of them have played sports and the vast majority of them have played at the collegiate level so there's definitely a tie, Reg, as you're suggesting between being athletic and active and competitive and being able to be successful in the traditionally male-dominated fields if you will. So, I would love to see that continue to grow and as we see the dynamics growing and we are hiring the new hires and I'm watching. One of our largest customers just did a massive hiring. They hired 41 brand new mainframers.
Nicole: Just like that.
Nicole: Within—within three weeks, 41 brand new mainframers and they trained them all—
Nicole: And they were diversified. They're in different geographies and all that to say it's possible. With the diversity, with the drive, with the teaming skills, the possibilities are endless, and I'll bring that back to SHARE right? So at SHARE the zNextGen program has been super successful. I will acknowledge that that came about when I was about two years into the business and I myself was able to capitalize on the relationships and meeting other new mainframers and growing together and to this day, I still talk with a lot of those folks that I met through that program back then.
Reg: Cool. Well, this has been really interesting - and inspirational, really. Is there anything else you'd like to leave us with? You know: either something inspirational or just something that you really want people to be bearing in mind?
Nicole: The teaming and the partnership. I can't understate it. It's the heart of what—it's the heart and the essence of how I operate day in and day out. It is certainly something that Broadcom looks to instill in everybody and it's not just a Broadcom thing. It's across the industry so through that partnership, through the teaming, we have untapped potential still and we have limitless possibilities in front of us as to what the mainframe can do and how we can continue to revolutionize and modern and change the world going forward.
Reg: Well, that was a great way to finish up. Thank you so much Nicole. This has been a fascinating discussion.
Nicole: Awesome. Thank you for having me, Reg.
Reg: My pleasure. So, I'll be back with another podcast next month, but in the meantime ,check out the other content on TechChannel. You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletters, webinars, e-books, solutions directory and more on the subscription page. I'm Reg Harbeck.
Reg Harbeck is a mainframe enthusiast who has worked IT and mainframes for over three decades. He's the chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics ltd.
See more by Reg Harbeck