In this episode of iTalk With Tuohy, IBMer Sarah Mackenzie talks about the inner workings of IBM i development.
Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. My guest today is another Fresh Face but this time it's not one the usual Fresh Faces that are out there. By the way if you're not familiar with it, there has been this thing that IBM have been running for the last few years called Fresh Faces, where they highlight people who are newish in the industry. The great thing of course is that there are also Fresh Faces within IBM, and especially within the development labs in IBM. So my guest today is one of those, and it is Sarah Mackenzie from the development labs in Rochester. Hello, Sarah.
Sarah Mackenzie: Paul.
Paul: This I like about you, Sarah: It's short and to the point. You also have one of the shortest titles that I've ever seen from anybody who works at IBM. Your title just says "IBM software engineer," or is it just "IBM engineer" [laughs]?
Sarah: Give me the title. I'll make it longer for you.
Paul: Okay. You work on that for me, please. So Sarah maybe just to start off, do you want to tell—just tell us what is it that you do. Well first of all, how long have you been working for IBM?
Sarah: I've been with IBM for eight years. I just had my eight-year anniversary a week ago.
Paul: Oh well my condolences—or my congratulations, I should say. So—so do you want to tell us a little bit about what it is you do, Sarah?
Sarah: Yeah, I'm a developer working on the database. I actually started out working in DDL, so anything like, you know, creating, delete set so when you add new functionality to that, that's where I started. And then I moved into query—so anything where we made enhancements with how you query the database. Then I've kind of been moving around since then, working on different enhancements for the database—
Sarah: So like for projects that I've worked on, I've worked on things like temporal tables, RCAC [row and column access control], adding things for multiple event triggers, Db2 Mirror [IBM Db2 Mirror for i], things like that.
Paul: Okay. So you've run a little bit of a gamut in there so you have. Of all of those things Sarah, do you have a favorite? Is there one of the things that you've worked on that you've gone "you know yeah, that's the one? That's the one I really liked."
Sarah: So, probably Db2 Mirror because I worked on that from the very, very beginning when we—when it was just a concept, all the way through, you know, writing the design for the DBL portion of it, developing it, coding it, testing it, you know, all of that. I got to see it from the very, very beginning all the way through to the end, which has been really, really cool to see how we take a project, you know, from just a concept all the way through.
Sarah: Plus it was very challenging—so it was really interesting to see how we could take something very challenging and get it to work.
Paul: Yeah so just to clarify this—and again this is more for some of the people listening in, Sarah—so—so the team you work with is Scott Forstie's group?
Sarah: Yeah, yup, yup. He is our BA.
Paul: Okay. So Sarah I—I have to relate this story to people I think because we've met in person a few times at conferences over the last two or three years, and I think the first time that I saw you speak was at a Common Europe conference—
Paul: And I think maybe in Belgium, but I'm sorry I can't—can't be sure. But I do remember being quite impressed by seeing this young person standing up speaking very confidently, and the projector went on you; there was a glitch. I don't know if you remember this—
Sarah: I do remember that.
Paul: And you actually managed to keep going like, no problem, while they fix the issue and you managed to keep talking and everything like that. I remember saying to my—you know, I was quite impressed by this. I was saying, you know, to see somebody with that confidence and that. It was only until I think the next time we met and I got into conversation I found out why you were that confident about things. So do you want to tell people what it is you did before you joined IBM?
Sarah: I was actually a high school teacher. I taught mathematics and computer science. Before I taught high school in the United States, I actually taught elementary school and middle school English in Japan so I kind of did a little bit career pivot, but yeah, I started out as a high school teacher.
Paul: Okay well you see that explains the confidence. I think anybody who can handle a roomful of high school kids—yeah a projector giving out in the middle of a presentation, that's nothing. But—
Sarah: Yeah and you know a presentation is a lot like a lesson plan. So I really, you know—taking that skill and doing a presentation is very, very similar.
Paul: Yeah. So—so—so tell me Sarah, I mean, how come? How do you go from being a high school teacher to being a developer in IBM? What—I mean what gave rise to that?
Sarah: So I—I knew that I wanted to teach older kids, so I actually went back to get a graduate degree so I could teach at the college level, and the school that I went to had a partnership with IBM. So we actually had access to mainframes and z/OS and we were—they taught us Assembler and Db2 and things like that. And while I was doing that they said well, you know, we have this Master the Mainframe competition. I don't know if you've ever heard of it but it's a great thing for college kids because you can go out and get on a mainframe and you run through, you know, all these different little projects, and it's a competition. And so they looked at the people who did well in the competition and they said, you know, "would you be interested in coming to work at IBM?" And so I was like, well this isn't really where I thought I was going, but this is a great opportunity for me so I think I want to change where I'm headed. So instead of, you know, staying and you know continuing to teach, I thought this is a really good opportunity and since I got into it, I've just absolutely loved it.
Paul: Were you surprised by how much you liked it?
Sarah: I knew that I liked programming. I was surprised by how much I just really fell in love with the whole, you know, going through the design process and—and—and adding the new functionality to things.
Paul: And—and do you—do you miss the teaching part a lot then as well? I mean it—somewhere in the back of your mind is there a thing going, "oh I don't know, at some stage maybe I would like to go back and teach in college?"
Sarah: I think that I do miss it but I do get to do some of that with, you know, either doing conferences—you know like COMMON or the RPG Summit—and we also do you know some classes on site—you know as well as like little conferences and things like that on site. So I do get to do that. I still get to teach in that way. I also get to do things like when we have new hires come in, help them out. So I still get to kind of exercise that teaching muscle that I have but—
Paul: Yeah—yeah, enough to keep it at bay, anyway [laughs].
Paul: So if I remember correctly, you—you—you—I remember you telling me before that you are from northern Illinois was it?
Sarah: Yeah, the Chicago—west of Chicago.
Paul: Yeah so, and you were a choice as to where to go when you joined IBM.
Sarah: Yeah I was. I was given either a choice of going down south to like, Austin, or coming up—and working in z, or coming up and working in IBM i in Minnesota. And of course I'm going to, you know, choose to be closer to home—plus I thought that the opportunity was better in IBM i.
Paul: Okay. Oh so it wasn't IBM i they were offering you down in Austin then? Hmmm.
Sarah: No, it was z [laughs].
Paul: Oh okay. One of the other things—sorry—that you mentioned just in passing there, Sarah, was that you taught in Japan for a couple of years.
Sarah: Yeah, I taught English in Japan for a couple of years on a little bitty island off of the coast of Kyushu, which is the southern most island. So I taught in ten different elementary schools and five middle schools. So I take a boat to a different school each day and teach on a different island.
Paul: Oh okay. I must admit that Japan is the—it's one of two places let on my bucket list that I've—that I've never been to. With that—
Paul: So I mean would—I mean since you taught there, have you been back or have you any desire to go back?
Sarah: Oh, I absolutely love Japan. I made some really good friends there and yeah I'd love to go back and visit some of my friends that I, you know, met there—and, you know, as well as just travel. I mean there's some amazing places to travel to there.
Paul: Cool. So Sarah the—okay so when you're not working and you're not teaching and that, what do you like to do to get away from it all to relax?
Sarah: Well I'm really big into bowling but you know can't go bowling right now, so I've gotten into gardening lately. I've planted a bunch of, you know, really pretty flowers and then just last weekend I planted a bunch of raspberry bushes, so I'm very excited to see if I get some raspberries this summer.
Paul: Okay. I've got to tell you though: Gardening is still developing. It still counts as work, Sarah [laughs]. It's pretty much what we do as developers, you know. You plant the little seeds and you watch it grow into an application.
Sarah: Pulling all the weeds, find all the little bugs.
Paul: There you go. So—so Sarah, when you're bowling by the way, are you a league bowler or are you just a—for the fun of it?
Sarah: I am—I am a league bowler. Yup, once a week league bowling. I am definitely not the best on the team. My teammates are way better than me, but I bring up the handicap so—
Sarah: I help out in that way.
Paul: Okay so okay well when they start team gardening, you're going to have a head start on them, Sarah [laughs]. Okay so Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and please keep up all the great work that you guys are doing on database, and good luck with the gardening.
Sarah: Oh thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
Paul: Okay. Okay everyone, that's it for this iTalk. Talk to you again soon. Bye for now.