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From Military to Mainframe

Working as a z/OS* systems programmer on an infrastructure team is not quite the role Torrie McLaughlin once envisioned for her career.

But both the job and the journey that led her to it are rewarding. “I get a big kick out of knowing that the system I work on every day is the backbone of the entire company, and really of our entire global financial market,” she says. “I also work well with defined tasks and processes, so my personality fits the mainframe environment.”

“Have thick skin. Take every piece of advice, good or bad, and learn from it.”

—Torrie McLaughlin

After serving the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2013, she applied for Robert Morris University. During the admissions process, she attended a group discussion led by the school’s IT department head. He talked about the IBM Academic Initiative and current job market for mainframe systems programmers.

With no coding or computer knowledge, McLaughlin was immediately intrigued. “My biggest concern as a single mother was a good salary and job stability,” the mother of two recalls. “I had to take a programming class anyway, so I gave COBOL a shot.”

She ended the course with a C—a grade that upset her enough to register for an advanced COBOL class just to prove she could do better. McLaughlin’s final grade for that class was an A. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in information systems and a master’s degree in business intelligence with a concentration in enterprise systems. Among her several awards, McLauglin received IBM System z* and z/OS Fundamentals Mastery Certification and honorable mention in part three of the 2014 Master the Mainframe contest, which she participated in for the training value.

“I didn’t expect to do as well as I did,” she notes. “But you can only get so much out of a classroom environment. I am also a glutton for punishment and fairly competitive.” At the time, she was also taking CICS* and DB2* courses.

McLaughlin was able to intern with her current team before being subsequently hired, and working her way up to her current position, which includes testing and deployment of product upgrades, and maintenance for mainframe software tools.

“Working with mainframe systems requires patience, dedication and attention to detail,” she says. “After being in the military, my work ethic and expectations of myself are different from the average college graduate. I wouldn’t say I learn any faster than others, but I take the time to research and fully understand what I am doing; I don’t expect immediate gratification.”

The virtue of patience has been particularly advantageous for McLaughlin’s transition from one male-dominated industry to another. “Have thick skin. Take every piece of advice, good or bad, and learn from it,” she advises other women. “Make yourself proud first, and others will follow.”