Rosalind Radcliffe: Hard Work and Clear Goals Pay Off

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IBM Distinguished Engineer Rosalind Radcliffe’s career in IT has been guided by her own passion for computers and her ability to show others that she can tackle any project. Born to parents who were both teachers, it’s easy to see how a love of learning rubbed off on her. Neither of her parents had specialized in the sciences, but Radcliffe discovered computer science on her own, beginning in high school. Even after deciding to attend college at the University of Florida, she still hadn’t decided on a degree path until she took some computer courses.

“To me, these classes were easy and fun,” says Radcliffe. “I ended up with a computer degree because programming came naturally to me. The logic made sense.” From her perspective, the rigorous program left many of her fellow students running for the door. Radcliffe says that even though she doesn’t recall any of her professors really encouraging her work, “I got through it and ended up at IBM.”

Be Determined

For women who work in IT, it shouldn’t be about whether the role is perceived to be for males or females, says Radcliffe. If you have the skills and want to do the job, it shouldn’t matter if the role was previously filled by a man. “I’ve worked in many areas where I was the only female, or the only technical female,” she explains. “I’ve been the only female technical leader in many areas. I worked hard to prove I can do each job.”

Radcliffe says that naysayers throughout her career cautioned her against moving into other areas of expertise, warned her not to take on too much, or told her to get more experience. “But I never listened to any of it,” she says. “While it may seem that women have to work twice as hard in IT as men to gain recognition, that is not always the case.”

Radcliffe adds that as long as you’re willing to work hard at what you love to do and do the right thing for your business or client, you’ll succeed. “You have to do the work, there is no fast path,” she explains. “You can get lucky at times, too; to be in the right place to work on the right project.” Radcliffe says that she’s been lucky to work during the early days of the modern user interface, which gave her a chance to drive standardization, and the early days of SOA to help define the industry standard for management. At other times, she did not feel so lucky when she came in to solve major problems with clients.

Some of Radcliffe’s early career goals were to become a senior technical staff member and later to become a distinguished engineer at IBM. Even after reaching these milestones, she is still looking forward to the day when she becomes an IBM Fellow.  

Beyond career goals, Radcliffe set goals for her own work, such as making it possible to use open source tools exactly the same way for a DevOps pipeline that are available on the distributed side for z/OS.  “We have a large number of customers that have moved, but we have more to go,” she adds.

Radcliffe advises, “Don't expect anyone to be looking out for your career. You have to make sure people know what you want.” And she cautions, “You also need to be clear about your goals. It can take time, but if you don't let people know what you want, you will never get it.”

Work Can Augment Mentoring

For more than 30 years, Radcliffe has helped customers understand how to optimize their technology, improve their own daily satisfaction with their systems, and remove the obstacles to making work fun. “Every client is different, and it is important to help each one move forward in their own way,” she says. “It can be as small as solving a technical problem, or something larger that provides strategic help for the business. These efforts, no matter how small, can help each client transition to updated ways of working, enabling them to have a modern pipeline and deliver business value faster and at a higher quality.”

Radcliffe also takes the time to help others find their own passions and encourages them to take the leap and learn new things. “I would recommend people look for others doing things they want to do; most people are willing to be a mentor,” she says. Long-time SHARE event attendee Jerry Edgington says that he had asked a number of questions at a session when Radcliffe took note. She explains that Edgington had been attending SHARE events for a long time but had not expressed an interest in volunteering. Radcliffe encouraged him to do it. “Being a volunteer gives you so much back that I thought he could learn from it and have an even better experience with SHARE,” she says.

“Most people want to help grow the community at large,” Radcliffe says. “I always want to see people grow and develop, and anyone willing to try, I want to help.” SHARE provides a forum for that kind of growth through its technical education and groups, as well as its networking events. Radcliffe says, “Everyone should mentor. Just keep an eye out for people you think are doing good things and help make sure they get what they need.

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