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Susan Rice on Her Journey of Perseverance Through the Mainframe

Reg Harbeck talks with Susan Rice about her story of perseverance and her career as a system programmer. Listen to the interview via the orange play button or read the transcript below.

Reg Harbeck: Hi, I'm Reg Harbeck and today I'm here at SHARE in San Jose with Susan Rice, who is the BMC MainView Product Manager and also today was a volunteer spotlight award winner at the volunteer luncheon and has been very active in SHARE, in the mainframe and just a whole range of different things over her career so far. Susan, maybe if you can introduce yourself to us and give us a sense of how you ended up on the mainframe because I understand it's a really fascinating story of perseverance and moving forward.

Susan Rice: Well I've been working in the mainframe for decades and I started because I was disabled in the Air Force and so I needed to find a job where I could sit. So I decided that programming would probably be the way to go.

Reg: Now, I understand that you didn't start programming on the mainframe. You started on various other platforms before making your way to the mainframe. Maybe tell us a bit about that.

Susan: I was an operator on Prime systems which were mid-range strange little boxes that could have multiple real-time systems attached to them via removable drives and so they had consoles for each system that was attached on the drives. It was kind of interesting.

Reg: Now moving forward from Prime, before you got to the mainframe, what are some of the other platforms you got to work on?

Susan: Well from Prime, I moved into a startup that created Network Data Mover and so I was working on the System/36, Series 1; the mainframe; and Apple Lisa and PCjr. It was pretty much back when Ethernet was ether.

Reg: Cool. Now I understand that one of the factors in your moving forward to where you are today has been one of really having to persevere in the face of a lot of different kinds of adversity, not just that you basically had to get walking again when they said you couldn't but that you had to prove that you were more than competent to be a system programmer. Maybe talk about how those two interacted in your journey.

Susan: Well I don't know how to explain it. I ended up moving a lot because I wanted to get into systems. I felt very comfortable reading dumps, which is a strange thing to say, and so I would just move on and I would keep going until I finally did get a job as a system programmer with Haggar pants clothing.

Reg: Cool. So now having proven on the one hand that you were able to walk again and then proving that you were more than able to be a systems programmer, I understand that you continued on forward and took on some additional challenges and at the same time started getting more and more involved with SHARE.

Susan: Yeah so actually about mid-way, I would say after about five to six years of experience, I found that there wasn't a lot of education that was really for my level and so I started going to SHARE. My boss sent me to SHARE the first time and sent me to GUIDE, sent me to both. I started finding that I was able to learn a whole lot and get connections, actually go up and ask people about problems I was having so it was really helpful in getting to the next level of my career.

Reg: I understand you started volunteering pretty soon after you started attending SHARE.

Susan: Yeah. They started a new project called MVS Open and Distributed. I had actually implemented a technology called LANRES, which allowed you to put bus-and-tag cables into the back of a PC and you could get email on the mainframe and stuff like that. That was part of what was in that group so I volunteered as a project officer, did requirements, moved up into scheduling and then took over the project as the project manager.

Reg: So you basically were a MVSO project manager pretty early on in your SHARE career.

Susan: Yeah, well it was a couple of years. It is hard because there is twice a year so you think a year between each one.

Reg: Cool. Now I gather that after Haggar there were a number of other organizations that you worked with. UCCEL you were mentioning to me.

Susan: UCCEL was before Haggar.

Reg: OK, sorry about that.

Susan: So I went from the data communication system center that was NDM to UCCEL and then I went to a number of companies. I was at U.S. Life when I started coming to SHARE.

Reg: OK. Now at a certain point you also moved towards some mainframe performance products, specifically a rather well-known one OMEGAMON and Candle. How did you end up there?

Susan: I was working for a company called The Associates and we were an OMEGAMON customer. I was tired of installing operating systems and so I decided to apply at Candle to actually be on their Sysplex Black Belt team to go around and teach Sysplex, but then they decided not to do that, so I ended up consulting and implementing OMEGAMON all over.

Reg: So, at this point, you had a wide range of experience. You had system programming experience; you'd had programming; you had done ground floor start up and data moving and you are active at SHARE. How long were you the MVSO project manager? Five years? More?

Susan: Probably something like that. It was probably at least five years. When did WAS come out?

Reg: Cool. So given that, at a certain point IBM acquired Candle and you were part of that acquisition and had the opportunity to try a bunch of other things.

Susan: Yeah, I was part of the acquisition and they moved me into a team that didn't have any mainframe so I wasn't very happy there because mainframe is kind of my life and so I moved back to consulting. Then after getting tired of being on the road, I moved into a competitive space, which was just looking at Tivoli products versus their competitors. Then I moved into product management.

Reg: Cool. Then I understand at a certain point you moved to become the manager of another product that did performance as well and joined BMC and got in charge of their MainView product. Tell me about that.

Susan: Yeah, I moved to BMC and right away I took on the MainView portfolio and so I've been working with MainView trying to get it better. I created MainView for Java environments and I'm still doing it.

Reg: Now you are also still really active at SHARE. I understand you've got some new responsibilities over the past few years that are leading up to today when you got the volunteer spotlight award winner for all the stuff that you've been doing. Tell us maybe about some of the other things you've done at SHARE recently.

Susan: I just took over the Integrating Innovative Technologies project, otherwise known at I2T that takes me back to the MVSO roots, which I say is everything on MVS that is not MVS. So it has Apache Spark, machine learning, cloud and all of those kinds of technologies are in that project.

Reg: Now one of the things that you've experienced firsthand—I take a cultural perspective sometimes a bit objectively but sometimes you can't be objective about things like culture because you are directly impacted by it—I understand you've had direct impact with a lot of different aspects of culture over your career. I'm curious about what your thoughts are about both the strengths and the challenges of our culture at SHARE in order to move forward effectively. Maybe getting a new generation in place or making sure we appreciate a wider range of volunteers?

Susan: Yeah, I think that a lot of times people think that SHARE is not willing to take on the new people. I think mostly it’s because people are very shy that are system programmers, not so much that they're closed off to the new generation. It's just that they get a little taken aback that people are coming up and so eager to learn. They're not used to that and I think that for the most part that the people at SHARE, once you get to know them, are very open to helping you in any way that they can. They will take phone calls. They will help you with email. They'll do anything they can to make you successful.

Reg: Now among those areas I understand that there is more and more support for people who are not your traditional system programmer for any number of different reasons. I know you've had a lot of challenges because of the fact that, as a woman in IT, people haven't seen you as being a typical person. You've had to really push back and prove that that in no way made you less. Maybe you could offer some reflections on what that has meant in your career.

Susan: Well one thing as being a woman in IT is you always feel that you always have to be better. You have to make sure that you can do more and better and have less problems than anyone else because they are always looking for that little bit of failure. But once you get that into that step and you prove yourself or you start speaking the technology, people forget that you're a woman and so you can't be afraid to go up and just start talking bits and bytes because as soon as they get into that comfort zone of that technology, they lose track completely of what gender you are.

Reg: So just prove yourself, show the value and be part of what's happening. Now maybe as a closing thought, any other thoughts you have about the future of SHARE or the mainframe or what can or should be the case?

Susan: Well I think that people need to start looking at SHARE as one of the best education experiences, especially for their new people. I mean it's also great education for the senior level people because they get to network and get really into the people who build the technology, but the new people, getting to know these people. I mean there are a lot of one-on-one courses that it’s an inexpensive way to really get a whole lot of education. You can't beat it for helping your career.

Reg: Cool. Well, Susan, this has been outstanding. Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview.

Susan: Thank you.