A member of the GSE UK leadership team for the last few years, Anji Stephens became UK technical co-ordinator in 2021.
We all follow different paths in life: mine has taken me around the world, from my first love CICS to security. For me, IBM technology and the mainframe in particular were a passport to two decades of globe-trotting and new experiences. Today, I’m based in the beautiful Wye Valley on the edge of the Forest of Dean in the west of England, and working as a senior security consultant for BMC Mainframe Services by RSM Partners. I’m also something of a “newbie” in GSE terms compared to some, having got involved about eight years ago.
An IT mainframe consultant with more than 25 years’ experience, I’ve spent most of my working life outside the UK, and working for banking and finance, fashion, government, oil and gas, and other sectors. By way of an introduction in my new role as the GSE UK technical co-ordinator, I thought it might be interesting to describe my journey thus far, sharing some thoughts and experiences.
I studied for a degree in Computer Science at Kingston. We didn’t have an IT department at my traditional girls’ school but I’d always been good at maths. I could see which way the wind was blowing in terms of IT and computing. I could see it was the future and I wanted to be part of it. So I took a chance – I wasn’t sure what to expect – but was hooked from the first day. From college, I went straight into IBM at Hursley, in the CICS development team. I stayed for six years and loved it. Of course, there weren’t many other women working there in the mid-80s. It was an exciting time, particularly as I was working on the restructure of CICS.
I also loved travelling and had visited the Far East on holiday. I’d always wanted to go to Japan, and was offered a contract in Tokyo out of the blue by a US-based multinational banking and financial services company. It was a huge decision for me to leave IBM, and a risk, but I seized this opportunity. I joined as a Systems Programmer, totally different to my CICS developer role at IBM. And initially at least, this was to be the only time I really experienced problems as a woman in IT. I felt I had to work extra hard as “the girl from Hursley” to prove myself, and not to my Japanese colleagues but to the British men I worked with. This settled down after a couple of weeks, and the team was great. What should have been a six-month contract stretched into nearly three years.
During this time, my manager said he wanted me to work on security, about which I had little or no experience. I was flown to New York to the bank’s Treasury Department and sat with somebody in security. That was my first taste. After the Tokyo contract finished, I’d been back in the UK for two weeks when my manager called to offer me a year’s post in New York, doing a mixture of CICS and security. After that, I worked for IBM in Malaysia as an independent consultant. Interestingly, I found far more women working in IT in Malaysia at that time compared to elsewhere. This contract was followed by a European project to upgrade an Italian data centre on the Adriatic coast, two minutes from the beach, in the fashion industry. I learned a great deal as it was only a two-strong team looking after all aspects of the mainframe.
Then it was back to Malaysia, for IBM and its partners, then to Germany followed by the Netherlands. After that, we were in Luxembourg and then Switzerland, for a multinational investment bank and financial services company, plus a year in the UK and then Belgium for another bank. We finally settled in the UK in 2014 when I started working as a mainframe security specialist (RACF) for a large UK bank. Coming home after work every night was a real novelty.
My first GSE UK conference was in 2012, when I was with UBS in London, and I’ve been part of the organization ever since. I’ve been involved in so many different cultures and met so many people, I can see the benefits that membership of GSE can bring to someone in our industry and their employers, wherever you are in the world and whatever your current level of experience.
It’s all about education and networking; sharing knowledge so we can do what we do even better.
As the new technical co-ordinator, I’m keen to make sure we build on what’s working well while focusing on the areas for improvement. I’m also looking forward to engaging with the chairs of the various GSE UK working groups. Perhaps we need to revisit the areas covered and see if there are any more topics we might add?
Part of my mission is to encourage more people to join GSE or, at the very least, to attend our annual conference, which will return in 2021 bigger and better than ever. The Women in IT stream is of course an important thread running throughout, and I’m also passionate about bringing younger people into the industry, working to increase diversity – and opportunities for all.
Anji Stephens is technical co-ordinator for GSE UK. Currently a senior security consultant with BMC Mainframe Services, her specialities include Security/RACF and CICS. All views expressed are her own and not necessarily those of BMC Mainframe Services or GSE.