Pivoting to an IBM i Career: Don't Blend In, Stand Out
By Charlie Guarino / April 3, 2023
Rochelle Petty on starting a new career in IT, the IBM i community and professional mentorship, and making time for family while working from home
Charlie Guarino: Hi everybody. This is Charlie Guarino. Welcome to yet another edition of TechTalk SMB. Today I am meeting with Rochelle Petty. Rochelle works in the role of application support and development at Everbrite, a company located in Greenfield, Wisconsin, and her platform is primarily—or exclusively, I should say—IBM i. Rochelle, I am so happy to be with you again. So great to see you.
Rochelle Petty: So am I, Charlie. I’m really excited about being here.
Charlie: That’s great. Thanks for joining me. Rochelle, I have to just share with everybody why you’re here or why I decided to ask you to do this podcast with me. Just about a year ago we were both at COMMON at POWERUp in New Orleans, and during opening session, they brought you up to the front of the whole conference. You spoke for about 10 minutes or so—I forget how long it was—but it doesn’t matter. You know one of the things they say about speaking is you don’t remember the words, you remember the message, and your message truly moved me. What it was about was how you transitioned from one career into the career of IT and I’d like—if you wouldn’t mind, could you just speak to that a little bit and just share with our audience exactly what that is, you know, your former life and your new life in IT?
Rochelle: Sure. Well, I have a career of 12 years in banking and I ended that career to become a stay at home mom. I was a stay at home mom for a couple of years and I had an opportunity to get free education from Gateway Technical College here in Racine, Wisconsin, and so I was accepted into the program, and it was a fast track program of 15 months and 70 credits. It was 40 hours a week in class for those 15 months, and I got through it. My class started with 24 people, graduating class was 14, so it was pretty tough but I stuck it out and then I decided to go back and go for my web development degree. Then I picked up a couple of certificates along the way, and one of those certificates was the AS/400 programming analysis. That’s when I started getting introduced to IBM i and made that decision and took the leap to start working on this platform.
Charlie: I want to take a step back because you already said something that captured my attention, and that was you said 40 hours a week for was it? 18 months you said?
Rochelle: It was a 15-month program. Yes, 15 months. So our quarters were trimesters and the classes only lasted about 5 1/2 weeks.
Charlie: You know anybody who, as an adult, goes back to school full-time 40 hours a week for 15 months and graduates and gets through the whole program, that clearly in my view demonstrates their commitment. I mean, how could it not, right?
Rochelle: Yeah, it was high-level commitment. I mean it’s 40 hours a week in class and then you had about another 40 hours in homework, so just keeping up with the pace. It actually made me more organized and more focused and more intentional about how I was going to get through this program and how to absorb the information quickly. That’s what kind of fast-tracked me to keep me motivated through my journey.
Charlie: What initially motivated you? You know here you are—you have this career. You said you mentioned you took a couple of years off to raise your children, but then you decided to go full on board, full-time to school. What was it about IT that gravitated you towards that?
Rochelle: I think I already possessed the skills to do that and the aptitude to code. It was difficult to understand some of the methodology behind it, but once I caught on it was easy to grasp. For me, it was—I like playing video games. I’ve always been kind of a techie person. I like to take things apart and put them back together. I was always very good at like understanding processes and like workflows, I already had those skills in place, so it just kind of married together. I actually feel like I should have been doing this all my life, like as soon as I started working. I should have went for IT.
Charlie: You know something that a lot of people don’t think about when they go to work, you should bring your whole self, and what I mean by that is you don’t just bring your technical skills, you bring all of your skills, whatever they happen to be. And that includes your ability to manage people, to lead, all the soft skills that go with it. So you mention you like video games, and you mentioned workflows, taking things apart and putting them back together, things like that. So how do you think all your prior work experience or any skills have contributed to your success in IT right now?
Rochelle: I would say in my adult life, once I started into the banking industry, all of those skills that I’ve learned along the way are a huge help to me now. I think it was more on a building level, like I started at low level and I just built my way. And so being in this environment is not foreign to me, and especially working behind the scenes and building these software applications for our users to use. I’ve been on the opposite side, so I understand why they use them and why it’s important, and some of that thought process that goes into it. It helps me get through my day to day work and thought process on projects.
Charlie: All right. That’s great, but you know anybody who is considering a career switch, and I think from any career to any new career, along the way certainly there are going to be potential challenges that you might face, things you need to overcome. Is there anything that you would be willing to talk about, any challenges you had or maybe one of the biggest challenges going into IT?
Rochelle: Well, I mean just the word itself: information technology. You know it’s very intimidating. You don’t know what to expect, and I think that was the hugest part of taking this leap is that I didn’t know what this environment was going to be like. But I’m not the type of person to really let things hold me back. If I’m very curious and passionate about it, I push forward, and I think the biggest help through this process to get to where I’m at right now is that I was willing to just step out there and fail if need be. I wasn’t afraid of that process, and throughout the process there has always been somebody along the way that saw my drive and wanted to help, or I made friendships with or networked with people, and you kind of form these bonds where you can rely on each other.
Charlie: You know it’s funny you mention that because I think in my own personal career, Rochelle, there have been certain people that I can identify and I still give them credit to this very day who have really given me advice—sage advice, professional advice, whatever—or just enough motivation to keep going forward. I know mentorship, having a mentor, we talked about that and I know that’s important to you. Are there any particular people or types of people that you’ve had as mentors who have really made a profound impact on your career in IT?
Rochelle: Yeah, definitely. The people that I work with on a day to day basis and my direct boss is a huge mentor to me. He’s very intelligent and he is the architect and engineer of Everbrite. We’re a very small team; it’s just the three of us. We support about 1200 people in the company and his name is Steve Johnson-Evers, very brilliant man and I appreciate all of the time that he pours into me. And then the second person is Marina Schwenk, which a lot of people in our community know her very well. She’s done a lot in the community.
Charlie: What do you think makes somebody a good mentor?
Rochelle: Someone that can allow you to say things wrong, you know, and have that space where you can communicate and feel comfortable to say the wrong thing and then that person can help you and guide you to the right answers. It’s somebody that you can talk to freely that will give you good advice.
Charlie: Honestly, Rochelle, I don’t think you’re that far off yourself from mentoring somebody else and for all you know, you may have already done that for some people without even being aware of it.
Rochelle: I really hope so. That is my goal. I am really at a place where I want to help the next person coming out of school so that they won’t have such a bumpy ride like I had, and that they can see all of the different resources that are around them and available so that they’ll be great at their job.
Charlie: Yeah, but we all know that sometimes people have to go down the bumpy road just to experience it so they can appreciate, you know, the better times and really recognize that they’re in a good space.
Rochelle: Absolutely. I think that’s why I’m here, because I worked so hard at getting through those rough patches and finding the resources.
Charlie: So you’re in IT right now. How do you think IT aligns with your life? I know a lot of people in IT, it really just defines them. I’m in IT, and they say that with such zeal. I’m in IT. It kind of defines their whole life, personal and professional life. Do you think you’re part of that? Are you in that subset of people?
Rochelle: Yes and no, because I am a working mom. I have two children and a mother that I take care of, so I have like, two separate lives. I have people that I support and have to love on every day, and then I have a passion for my day to day job, you know my work. And in order for me to be successful, I believe that I have to immerse myself into what I’m doing, and especially on this platform. In order for me to be successful at what I’m doing, I have to immerse myself into this community and be involved.
Charlie: That’s funny you say that, because I know so many people in IT, they struggle. One of the biggest struggles is not even keeping up technically, but just keeping their life—you know, that work/life balance is such a difficult thing to achieve because IT can be very consuming at times, as I’m sure you have experienced.
Rochelle: Oh yeah. I have to fight—like, cutting it off. Working from home, it’s like you have access to work all day, so I do have to manage my time. I have to tell myself these are the times that you have to cut off because you have things that need to get done or either just you need time off to spend with your family. I’ve had instances where I have meetings that I need to be at, but I have home responsibilities, so you have to make allowances for those kinds of things. I try to balance it as best as I can.
Charlie: Yeah, I think a lot of us are guilty of sometimes deferring more to IT and sometimes our personal lives don’t get the attention that they deserve. You also mentioned the word immersion, which is an interesting word to me because I think people who are really successful tend to immerse themselves in different things. That’s not suggest that if you don’t immerse yourself you’re not going to be successful, but in this context, how do you stay immersed enough to stay current on what’s important? What kind of research do you do to stay up with the latest trends, for example?
Rochelle: I’m really active with my local user group, WMCPA (Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association), and I’m also active in COMMON user group. So being in those circles and on those different committees where I’m around like-minded people. We all work on the same platform, so there’s different conversations that I’m involved in, and that helps me to stay current. I hear different terms and I can actually talk to someone and get a better understanding through conversation. I think networking is one of the biggest tools that makes you successful, and it is a way of immersing yourself into your work, into this IT world.
Charlie: We talk about giving back to the community at large: speaking at conferences, volunteering your time. But that’s you giving. Do you think that by you giving your time and your skills and your inspiration to other people, do you get anything back from that?
Rochelle: Yes, I definitely get a lot back from it. It’s the energy, the response from others of me being involved. It keeps me motivated to do better, so and it keeps me honest and on my toes.
Charlie: That’s a great response. What a great response. That’s completely authentic and I love it. Thank you for saying it just like that. I know how important this is to you, so I admire you for saying that, by the way. Thank you for sharing that.
Charlie: What do you think—besides speaking out at user groups and volunteering your time—I know that’s such a broad topic but specifically what are some of the most effective ways anybody can give back to the community, to a user group, or to mentor somebody? What are some of the more effective ways they can do that, get started, and how do you identify the needs of what they should be doing?
Rochelle: I would say that if you don’t have a local user group that you can join and have that type of community, I would look within to the people that you work with, your team. Any way that you can give back, to make the next person stronger and in my case, I’m a developer. So I would say the next person that gets hired in our department, I’ll probably have some type of involvement with mentoring that person to get them ready to take my position so that I can move up. I look at things like—it’s easy to give back. It doesn’t have to be grand, it doesn’t have to be announced. You can give back by just working within your team. You’re sharing knowledge, you’re getting to know each other, creating those bonds. And the more you like your job, the better you will perform.
Charlie: That’s a great point and you know I keep using the word community, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping anybody from just helping one person, and that’s giving back as well, isn’t it?
Rochelle: Right, exactly, because that one person can actually share the knowledge that you gave them and share it with others. I had a really interesting conversation with Scott Klement about this. His theory is even if he affects one person, that one person can take that information and spread it to thousands, and every time you present, every time you share information, you’re affecting millions. So I took that to heart. That’s part of my motivation. I want to make my time worth it. I want to be remembered for what I’ve done and leading the way for other people that are just like me.
Charlie: You know I think there are so many people out there who will be able to listen to what you’re saying and just see themselves and completely identify with what you’re describing, especially somebody who is going into IT as a second career.
Rochelle: Yes [laughs].
Charlie: That’s a big deal.
Rochelle: It is, and I take this platform very seriously. I’m an influencer and it’s important to me to spread the right message and allow people to see that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone daily and watch me grow, because you can do this too. Just get involved any way that you feel comfortable with. I encourage people to join into their user groups because you make these connections that will last your whole career.
Charlie: Those are very good words to remember for sure. So even though you’ve only been doing this for a short time, I mean I’ve gotten to know you by seeing you at different conferences and speaking to you and enjoying our conversations for sure, but what are your thoughts as a—I was going to say a newbie, but that’s not really entirely fair. But as a newbie—I guess I mean less than 10 years. How does that sound?
Charlie: What are your thoughts on the IBM i community in general, the people that you’ve been meeting? What’s your overall consensus about what you’ve been seeing and hearing?
Rochelle: What I feel—I think this community is generous. I think the people that come out and speak and share their knowledge, they want to see other people do well. I haven’t really felt any selfishness or anything where you didn’t feel welcomed or they didn’t want to share information. It’s very open. It’s inspiring to be like some of you.
Charlie: Right. I think one of the sad things for me, and you might agree perhaps, is that when we go to different conferences, no matter where they happen to be on the planet, there are so many other people who are in this industry and even working on IBM i that are not taking advantage. You know we’re meeting a lot of people who are like minded, but there are so many people out there who simply aren’t aware of what they’re missing.
Charlie: If they were listening right now to this podcast, what could you possibly tell them, to say hey, listen guys, you know this is going on. What would you say to them?
Rochelle: I would encourage them just to show up, just come. I could say so many words, but I can’t convey the feeling of when you’re there and the type of community—I don’t know if this is a good word to use, but like community love. Like, you’re welcomed. You’re brought into this family and everyone wants to get to know you and you’ll get to know them. The next thing you know, you’ll have friends. Not just someone you met in a business atmosphere—you develop friendships. There are so many different benefits to going, but I would just say just come. Try it out.
Charlie: No, I agree with you and as far as what you’re saying about friends, well I could not agree any more with you. I mean what the community has done—I have gotten so many friends, I mean sure, we all have professional contacts in our network—but it’s the friendship. That’s what keeps me coming back.
Rochelle: Yeah, and coming out from the pandemic you know, like life has changed, honestly, and it’s time for us to get back acclimated of going outside and being around people that are doing things that you’re already doing in your professional career.
Charlie: The pandemic has had an interesting effect on some of us, I think, and what I mean by that is I’m not aware of anything else in my lifetime that everybody has experienced. Everybody has gone through the same thing. I think that makes us all relatable to each other because it wasn’t like it only happened in the United States, or Europe, or any other continent. It happened everywhere.
Charlie: I think this is one moment in time, as bad as it was for all of us, I think we’re coming out of it and I think that’s also making other people who may not have been friends more friends, because it’s just we have this shared experience.
Rochelle: Yeah, and I’ve taken on the role within WMCPA as their marketing director. So I’ve been trying to attract people by doing something that’s different, advertising in a different way, showing more color, more action, and that’s another aspect of IT—the things that you can do and develop on the front end. I would encourage everybody just to come out, support your local user groups, get free education—well it’s not free to attend, but get the education from the experts and once you learn it, they can’t take it—
Charlie: One thing I think about education in general is once you have a certain skill, you own that skill and that’s a great thing to have in your tool chest—you know, more skills, going to user groups, learning new skills, things like that.
Rochelle: Yes, I would agree. I was having a conversation at WMCPA’s conference and I was talking to the students. I said being a part of these user groups and taking action and being on boards or in these committees, you’re learning a lot of skills that you can take with you. You can add those things to your resume, that you’ve been a part of these teams and what the different initiatives were and what you executed and how—you know, the outcomes. You can have those types of conversations, you have those skills. There’s benefits to being a part of these user groups. It’s not just going and networking. There’s skill-building things.
Charlie: And one thing you didn’t mention in that entire sentence is technical skills.
Charlie: But no, I take that in a good way because you’re learning leadership skills and skills that are equally as important for anybody’s career, absolutely.
Charlie: All right. I think we may leave it here. Do you have any final message to anybody who may be listening to this and saying wow, I can really see myself. I mean how do they see a path forward for themselves? Give me some words of inspiration, some final words to talk to even just that one person out there who might be on the cusp of taking that step into a second career. What do you tell that person, and going into IT especially?
Rochelle: If you want to go into this career, don’t stand in your own way. Step out on faith and go for what you want and don’t stop. Don’t blend in; stand out.
Charlie: That’s great. What I like about that most is it’s from your heart.
Rochelle: It was. I mean it, every word of it.
Charlie: That’s terrific. Rochelle, it was a true delight chatting with you. Thank you so much for your time, your candor, and your inspiration which you have just given me during this interview as well. So thank you so much for that.
Rochelle: Thank you Charlie for having me. I really appreciate it. This was fun.
Charlie: Yeah, truly my pleasure. Everybody, please check out the TechChannel website as always. There are lots of other good resources on there, podcasts and a lot of good information that’s worth your while. I think you’ll be glad you visited the site. Until then next time everybody, thank you so much. This is Charlie and we’ll see you down the road. Bye now.
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Charlie Guarino // President, Central Park Data Systems
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