In this series, we interview members of the CICS development team to find out more about their work and interests. Rachel Jackson is the Manager for CICS Test and Service. With so much going on in these departments the editor had to book some time on Rachel’s busy calendar to find out more.
Editor: Hi Rachel, thanks for taking time to do this interview. Let’s start by finding a bit more about you?
Rachel: Sure! When I joined Hursley in 1990 as a Usability Practioner one of the first products I had to test was CICS ESA V4.1, I am delighted to see that CICS had come a long way since those days. I joined the CICS team in November 2006, having previously spent a number of years in Emerging Technology Services. My role here combines Test, Service and, new for this year, Services. Having had a previous Test Management role in WebSphere MQ I saw this as an opportunity to extend my insight and contribution by looking after a variety of functions. I am finding the Services piece an interesting challenge and have been using it to look for opportunities to help customers gain extended value out of their CICS products by providing them with onsite support and assistance.
Editor: So you settled in CICS Test Management relatively well when you first joined?
Rachel: Test is the area I knew more about when I joined, it took a while to catch up with the latest tools and techniques. In particular, I learnt about the Rational Tooling that my team is using extensively for automating and tracking test material. My team have been developing some sophisticated tooling that will look at modelling system environments with higher degree of automation. With these kinds of innovative initiatives, the testers can dedicate more of their time to what really matters – finding problems before the customers do!
Last year I was very proud to have two CICS Testers receiving an IBM Corporate Awards for their technical achievements, which one of the highest recognitions within IBM. This goes to show just how valuable it is to have innovation in Test.
What are your aims for the Test department?
Our main aim is to have the CICS Testers catch problems as early as possible to avoid costs and pain for our customers. In addition to that, I really encourage the team to put themselves in customers’ shoes as much as possible. For example, we focus on customer scenario-based testing based on our various interactions through technical conferences, CICS Advocacy Program and onsite visits. In addition to that, we are also experimenting with different workloads in high availability. The customers often cannot afford the downtime to reinstall or add new fixes – so why should we!
Editor: Does your team collaborate with other IBM Labs?
Rachel: The large majority of the team is based in Hursley but we also have test teams in other locations such as China. We also collaborate with the Montpellier Lab and tap into their expertise in customer benchmarking service. We also utilise their hardware and some of the technical insights. We have access to a large scale standalone mainframe system that we can use for testing high workload and for proving service fixes.
Editor: Do you have any insights and tips for customers who are using CICS Service?
Rachel: We have the well-established IBM Level 1-2-3 process, which works well. The team aim to turn around customer enquiries as fast as possible and constantly look to shorten the time to relief. Some of the team members have been here for as long as CICS, so they have a wealth of experience. But we also have a number of bright young things who are inspired by working on the mainframe. A big drive in Service is producing Technotes and Redbooks in which they provide hints and tips to avoid problems in the future. We also have Service representatives (as well as Test and Development) to speak at the technical conferences and interact with the customers.
The service team include the whole of the CICS development team in our design of services fixes to ensure quality and consistency. As part of our ongoing actions to improve the service we provide, we look to take information from the problem reports and to feed this information to the test team to help in deciding where to focus their testing.
Editor: You mentioned increasing onsite support and assistance for customers?
Rachel: Yes, for those who are familiar with IBM Software Group Services, the CICS development team are supplementing this offering where a deeper knowledge is needed. We provide assistance including resolving issues, migration and health checks. CICS Users’ time-to-value is greatly reduced as they learn more about CICS from the experts directly. In addition to helping the customers this initiative also feeds the development team with greater insights on what our customer are doing with CICS once it’s out there. I see it as a win-win situation.
Many customers are already taking advantage of CICS On Demand Seminars, they can see this as a follow-on step to further technical assistance. The CICS on demand Seminars (CODS) is a program that presents to customers, at their site, a customized to the customers requirements a technical agenda of CICS TS and CICS tools. Delivering the seminar at the customer location on a one to one basis (IBM to the customer) will hopefully encourage the customer to allow more of their employees to attend, so we can get our messages to a wider audience and skill set (AD Progs, Sys Progs, Architects etc). It is envisaged that the discussion will also be more open than if other customers were present. If you are interested in requesting a CICS on demand Seminar please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will receive a nomination form.
Editor: We still see a shortage of women in IT, do you participate in initiatives which address this concern?
Rachel: I am often asked to go and pitch to female university students who are considering IT as a career. For example, I can testify that you can further your career, move into leadership positions while being able to maintain good work-life balance. During my career in IBM I have been part-time for 7 years whilst my children were growing up. My audience sometimes are surprised that you can enjoy both worlds. Actually another thing that surprises people is that I did not do a Computer Science-related degree; my background is Psychology.
Editor: Wow, that surprises me, too! Does that still help in your day-to-day now?
Rachel: Yes. (Jokingly) I am thinking about buying a couch to put in my office and offer my counselling services to our hard-working CICS people!