Rosalind Radcliffe, IBM

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon: 

I first met Rosalind Radcliffe during the early days of the pandemic. We were both invited guests on a technical panel called DevOps Unbound. Our topic? Exploring the reality of DevOps and compliance. Following usual protocol, the moderator shared the names of the other panelists. Time for a little Googling.

Rosalind’s experience in education pops off the page at you: an IBM distinguished engineer recently elevated and celebrated as a prestigious IBM fellow. Much of her focus appeared to be on z/OS. z/OS is a 64-bit operating system for IBM z/Architecture mainframes. It’s been around since the early 2000’s. Being on a panel with Rosalind discussing and debating DevOps was going to be interesting. 

Our panel discussion was meaty diving into the fallacy that you can buy agile and do DevOps. Where Rosalind and I found we were squarely aligned is on the core challenge: the real meaning of modernization and the curse of buzzwords.

[00:01:03] Rosalind Radcliffe:  

Modernization is a continuous improvement process because we have to keep changing because the line of code you wrote yesterday is now legacy. Take your choice. I think that there are a couple of problems with modernization and one is culture, one is modernization means “today”. It gets tied too much to a tech, a way of working instead of modernization really should be… how do I deliver the business value the most effectively, efficiently, total cost of ownership. How do I deliver this value to bring business drivers?

 It really is this idea of continuous improvement is the right answer and we can’t say I need to modernize and then I’ll be done.

There is no done. There is continuous improvement.  

[00:02:04] Trac Bannon: 

You are listening to Real Technologists. I’m your host, Trac Bannon, coming to you from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Each week we choose a unique guest behind leading Edge Tech innovation to explore their genuine stories, their true journeys. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s being driven by diverse perspectives and experiences of real humans.

You’re in the right spot to hear about the real technologists reshaping our world. Stay tuned for stories that will give you something to noodle on.

As I scrolled through Rosalind’s background to get a sense of her journey, I was surprised to find IBM is her first and only employer. She has spent 3 decades learning, innovating, and perhaps most importantly, sharing and mentoring. Pretty incredible when you consider Rosalind was a high school dropout… sort of. She is the daughter of educators who, curiously, seemed to move as frequently as military families. Her father was an English professor of medieval studies. She was born in North Carolina then moved multiple times between Rome, Wisconsin, France, Florida, and England. Wherever they moved, her mother would find a local job teaching, as well.

So how is it that Rosalind did not graduate from High School? It turns out that she was always in an accelerated learning program. In the early 80’s, she finished her first two years of high school in Wisconsin, when her father got an opportunity to teach in England under the employ of Florida State University. The local Florida school did not have advanced curricula. So the school district offered to have her take university courses though the timing didn’t work. 

[00:03:50] Rosalind Radcliffe:  

I went to school in Wisconsin for two years and then my dad was moving to Florida to teach at the University of Florida via England for a year.

They sent me to the university and the university said, “would you like to show up in August?” I said, no, I’m going to England for a year, so let me go to England for a year and I’ll come back and then I’ll go to the university. And so technically I’m a high school dropout.

[00:04:13] Trac Bannon: 

Rosalind didn’t have that formal high school graduation experience, though she dove into her undergraduate work once she returned from England. With tuition benefits for children of professors, her choice was limited: Florida State University. Her program, however, was her choice: Computer Science, a major she picked because it was easy for her. Through those accelerated high school classes, Rosalind had found she had a natural aptitude for math. 

[00:04:41] Rosalind Radcliffe:  

We had what they called the Superior Ability Program, the SAP program.

We did get advanced classes and they were trying to figure out what to do with us because, what do you do with these kids who just don’t quite fit and we didn’t quite fit and so we got to do… play with the computers.

We learned and we were playing and it was easy. When I went to college, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. Computers were just easy, not that anybody ever appreciated my saying that because the classes people didn’t think were easy. 

Computers were easy, so I actually went into computer science because it was easy.

It came naturally. It was something to do and it ended up working out very well for me.

[00:05:21] Trac Bannon: 

According to Scientific American, only 18-20% of computer science and 22% of engineering undergraduate degrees in the US go to women. Those are statistics for 2022. 

How odd. 

Originally, computing was seen as a female occupation. Some call out that programming was seen as low-skill, clerical occupation, similar to telephone operators and typists. 

The early programmers on machines, such as the ENIAC, were mostly women, an example being the six women who designed the public demonstrations and prepared ENIAC for its public debut.

Computer science was the fastest-growing college major and STEM discipline among women from the 1970s until the 1980s. In 1984, when Rosalind was attending Florida State, 37% of computer science undergraduate students were female. It has shrunk to less than 20%. How is it that the industry has flipped? 

[00:06:25] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

Well, I think too many people are pushing people. Too many schools are pushing females away from this area. I didn’t have that problem because this area didn’t exist. When I went to college, it didn’t exist, so they couldn’t tell me I wasn’t good in computers because no one was good in computers. 

When later 80’s and all the computers were coming out and people were buying them for their boys, and it just became an assumed man’s field.

It has nothing to do with being white or male. it has to do with the way you think. And usually it’s mathematics, but it could be music, it could be any of those traits. 

I always push back, but I more recently, I’ve started to push back in a different way when the comments are said about guys have always been doing this. I’m like, no, the first programmers were all women. Men didn’t want this field. It wasn’t until this field started making money that men jumped into the field. So no, you can’t say that women don’t know how to do it. We invented it. We created it. We were all the first programmers. So let’s think about this more carefully.

[00:07:45] Trac Bannon: 

IBM is a champion of diversity, one of the key reasons that Rosalind has stayed for over 35 years. She began interviewing when she was an undergrad. Her plan was to marry after graduation and she doubled down on the interviewing efforts. She interviewed with many companies and consultancies before getting offers from IBM. 

[00:08:05] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

There were some of the consulting companies that were not interested because you forget to take off your ring when you’re in interview, they’ll just knock you out cuz they’re not interested.

So there were, you know, a lot of challenges, but I had the opportunity to interview with IBM and actually got two options at IBM, two different software organizations.

[00:08:25] Trac Bannon: 

Rosalind is very articulate and she can stitch together advanced concepts at the right level for the different audiences that she engages with. This comes from years of practice. She is, by her own admission, a bit of an introvert. She calls out her involvement with conferences as a primary contributor to her ability to communicate and relate with people. 

She started speaking publicly on behalf of IBM in 1989 though that first experience was a doozy including crashed computers and needing to use overhead transparency called foils.

[00:09:01] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

But really early on in my career, I did something crazy. I tried to demo a system that was really early beta and whatever. Back when we had the luggable, we didn’t have portable computers, so we had a luggable and I’d put on a new version of OS2 and whatever. And so we’re demoing this in front of 500 people, I don’t know, very large room.

My executives sitting in the room, all sorts of people, it crashes. So we have to go back to foils. Because you remember we had foils back then, so we had the foils and we put foils on while I rebooted the machine while I’m talking. And it came back up and I had skipped through a screen and so I showed the screen on the reboot and made the whole room laugh.

And I figured after that, if I can survive an OS2 crash in the middle of a 500 person session or whatever, I can survive anything. There’s nothing worse. So I’m done. So after that, I just didn’t worry about it and I was lucky that was early on in my career and I just don’t worry anymore. 


[00:09:58] Trac Bannon: 

That luggable Rosalind mentioned was a beasty transportable personal computer. The CPU, floppy drives, and monitor were in one large case weighing in at around 30 pounds. The removable keyboard served as a lid when closed and protected the monitor. These were part of the first waves of IBM’s now legendary PCs.

In the early parts of her IBM career, IBM was transitioning from being a hardware company to a blended family with hardware and software. While software had existed, it was not considered core, that is until IBM established a new concept group at Cary Labs in North Carolina. Big changes were happening with IBM, they used the new concept group to remove policy and process obstacles for developers including tossing out the IBM Red book. The Red book had come to symbolize an attitude of smothering central control combined with corporate socialism. 

IBM developers were being empowered to create software building blocks, essentially applying decoupled and modular design patterns to software.

[00:11:07] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

So it was a great opportunity to meet people and to be at the beginning of IBM really deciding software was something that was going to matter, which obviously it did. 

[00:11:19] Trac Bannon: 

IBM provided opportunities and support throughout her career including giving her options to reinvent and shift within a business line. Rosalind stayed with the SOA management group for nearly 20 years continually learning and growing. She rose through the ranks becoming an STSM, a senior technical staff member, while driving the SOA management strategy and defining the IBM Tivoli Composite Application manager product. She credits this part of her journey with teaching her the importance of breaking down cultural barriers and silos. 

[00:11:54] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

Early on, I know I had some managers that were really very supportive. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten where I, where what I managed to do, I got a lot of opportunities. I got the opportunities to speak in front of clients. I got a lot of opportunities to do extra things, which actually helps out in the end. It helps your career. But I don’t think of them and as mentors or as sponsors.

If we look at the SOA strategy and all the work we did around SOA and my building up the SOA management strategy and all that. All of that was actually also trying to break down silos. Because when we had services, we had to get the ops people working together with the app teams to manage these services or else we wouldn’t have a hope.

[00:12:46] Trac Bannon: 

The theme of breaking down silos is etched in each step of Rosalind’s journey including joining the Rational Team Concert Group, RTC, and taking on the role of Chief Architect for IBM’s Jazz platform on z/OS.

Jazz was the newly visioned and engineered platform to replace the Rational tools used to manage software development lifecycle. IBM had purchased Rational Software Group in 2003. Rational had created software development methodology and tools called the Rational Unified Process, or RUP. Invent the screw, sell the screwdriver. RUP was an improvement over waterfall because it broke down large projects into smaller iterative segments. 

The tools and the process was centered on collaboration and getting people to work together… to help them adopt new ways of thinking… new ways of working… 

[00:13:38] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

Because I was in and around RTC with the Z side and then we brought in Git, but I still had RTC. Fundamentally, RTC was a really good integration and a lot of good foundational ideas with it, and really a transformation to help people working in new ways. The true change in trying to integrate the developer tester, all business, all of those people before DevOps, trying to get all these people actually working together was a really good thing. 

It’s really hard to get organizations to change though, so the DevOps term and the hype around it got enough high level C levels to actually talk about it enough maybe to help. You look at many organizations, most C levels say they should do DevOps. 

[00:14:25] Trac Bannon: 

Over the past decade, Rosalind has continued to drive the “DevOps-ing” of z/OS with her special focus on continuous integration principles and yes, on culture change. In 2021, she was named the CTO for IBM’s CIO shop.  Her focus turned inward to drive IBM’s global adoption of continuous improvement and of DevSecOps by IBM itself. She doubled down on growing technical talent, both in IBM and in industry. IBM and the world are listening. 

[00:14:58] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

Yeah, it really is this idea of continuous improvement is the right answer. And we can’t say, I need to modernize and then I’ll be done.

There is no done. There is continuous improvement and is soon as companies recognize that, which is the problem, because companies aren’t… When people recognize that this really is not an end state, it is a direction, and when they start thinking about what’s the best thing for my business and tech buzzwords are… I mean, I love DevOps, but it’s got so many problems because it’s not DevOps, it’s BizDevsSec QAops, or whatever you wanna call it.

And I have a challenge. IBM is a really large company and I want to help make it a showcase for Hybrid Cloud and really make it a showcase that we can talk about and take those things. I mean, IBM is huge. If we can do this in IBM, you can do it anywhere. 

[00:16:01] Trac Bannon: 

Rosalind is helping IBM to drink their own transformation champagne. 

The pandemic lockdowns provided an unusual opportunity for her. She was no longer traveling. She spoke at virtual conferences and on virtual panels like the one where we met. 

We learn through our own experiences and through the stories of what others have done… often it’s both. Rosalind needed to be able to tell the stories without having to go see everybody in the world.

She decided to publish her own book to tell her stories and give more background and context. Rosalind believes that the more stories and context we have, the better chance we have to get closer to right the first time. From her experiences with clients and in leading IBM’s adoption of DevSecOps practices, she pulled together stories about overall software quality in large organizations and in particular, for those new to IBM Z/os. 

The title of her book? Enterprise Bug Busting.

[00:17:00] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

I think the background of having two English teachers basically and in my history has helped me learn to write books and help me learn to do those kinds of things and communicate well.

I wanted to make it easier to share the stories and I wanted it easier to share the information and I wanted it easier for people to read. And so, a book seemed natural.

But I also wanted to get the stories out and so I just wrote, and I would write on weekends or I’d write anytime and I’d come out with stories

[00:17:29] Trac Bannon: 

There is also a very personal reason that Rosalind wanted to publish her own book… 

Rosalind Radcliffe: 

I also wanted a book with my name on it. This is the real reason I wanted my name on it, I’ve got books, I published them, their author – IBM.

 [00:17:50] Trac Bannon: 

Her journey is far from over. Rosalind will continue sharing stories, breaking down silos, defying the odds, and forging her own way. She’ll also inspire those around her as well as the next generation. 

[00:18:03] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

What’s next? Just to grow the next generation. In getting fellow, there were a couple of reasons I wanted it… and one of them was to be that role model for others, to show and demonstrate that it doesn’t matter, you can get there.

I can do it because I have the passion, I have the drive and I wanted to be a role model. I want to use it to help grow the next generation. With my opportunities, I want to share my knowledge, I want to get other people interested in the field and I want to grow the next generation.

[00:18:37] Trac Bannon: 

Rosalind is breaking down more than gender and educational diversity barriers. She is a shining example of the importance of experience and the value that comes with age. This grandmother has traveled the world though raised her family in North Carolina to keep life simple and stable. Given the fit, I’d anticipate we’ll continue to learn from Rosalind and from IBM.

[00:18:59] Rosalind Radcliffe: 

IBM’s been good, but all the industry is not good. So we would acquire a company and I’d end up with a group and they’d be all male. So you’d go through this and IBM’s been really good about diversity and I think it’s really important. It’s diversity of all forms.

It’s not, women, men, it’s diversity of all forms, neurodiverse, disabled, whatever. There’s been all those things. 

Actually having a diverse organization makes us better because in the teams where we’ve had the most diversity, it’s just a better organization. We aren’t the same person. We aren’t cookie cutter people. By having diversity, you actually think about more things. You question more things. It’s just a better organization.

 [00:19:42] Trac Bannon: 

And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Rosalind Radcliffe, for sharing her story. Your insights and experiences are truly inspiring. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with the audience. This podcast is a Sourced Network production and updates are available weekly on your favorite audio streaming platform. Just search for real technologists and consider subscribing. Special thanks to our Executive Producer, Mark Miller, for making this show possible. Our editor and sound engineer, Pokie Huang has done an amazing job bringing this story to life. Thank you both. The music for today’s episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, and we use Descript for spoken text editing and Audacity for the soundscaping. The show distribution platform is provided by Captivate.FM, making it easy for our listeners to find and enjoy the show. That’s all for today, folks. This is Trac Bannon, don’t forget to tune in next week for another intriguing episode of Real Technologists and something new to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

IBM Fellow, CIO DevSecOps CTO.  Rosalind is responsible for driving DevSecOps and application modernization transformation for the IBM CIO office with the goal of making the CIO office the showcase for hybrid cloud. In this role she works across the CIO office and partners with research and development to drive the adoption of common practices and tools.   Ultimately this effort will transform, standardize, and automate the processes, tools, and methodologies we use to make IBM the most secure, agile, efficient and automated Hybrid Cloud engineering organization.

In her prior role she was responsible for bringing open modern toolchains to the z/OS platform and working with clients on their DevOps transformation. She is a frequent speaker at conferences, master inventor, a member of the IBM Academy of Technology, author of Enterprise Bug Busting.