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Andrii Vasylchenko | Published June 10, 2019
Ever wonder about what the various mainframe job roles are? Not sure whom to ask? Well, look no further — this new video series brings in professionals to tell you all about their mainframe jobs, what brought them to mainframes, what they love about it, and more!
Our first guest is Janay Johnson, a Support Engineer at IBM!
What is a Support Engineer?
Janay: A Support Engineer is pretty much a person who takes in customer issues. We’re in charge of guiding the customer to a solution.
How did you come to be a Support Engineer in the mainframe space?
Janay: I can tell you that when I finished school, I didn’t know that a Support Engineer was something that I could be. But after four internships at IBM, I was definitely looking to be brought on full-time and the Support Engineer role was open, so I spoke to my manager about it.
I love solving problems so it kind of seemed like a natural fit for me coming out of school. Yeah! I had four summer internships and like two or three co-ops, which is like a summer internship. And, then it extends into the school year where I can work and get paid while I’m at school, which was great.
What do you like most about your job?
Janay: I would say my favorite part about my job is the fact that I get to solve a different problem every day. And a lot of times, it’s multiple problems in a day, that vary from severity level. So, I could come in and not know what I’m gonna be doing that day. Which, I think, is pretty cool because I’m kind of a person who likes to have some excitement in her day. I think doing mundane things like day in and day out I get bored easily. I really like that I can walk in the door and not necessarily know what I’ll be working on. It’s pretty cool.
What skills do you need to become a mainframe Support Engineer?
Janay: I think that communication would be number one. In my case, when I became a Support Engineer, I came from a development background. So, the way that developers communicate and Support Engineers communicate is a little bit different. But, day in and day out you’re gonna have to lean on your team because not one Support Engineer will know everything about everything.
You have to be able to communicate what the customer is seeing like the issues and try to debug it and work with your team to get an answer if you don’t know that answer.
So, definitely it’s communication.
What are the differences between various levels of support in IBM?
Janay: Level 1 is typically like the first line of interaction that a customer has with IBM support if they open an issue with us. Level 1 is basically like a router for a problem, so they basically interface with the customer. They might find out some preliminary information like what product the customer is having a trouble with, or collect some preliminary doc like logs. Then from there, they put it onto a queue for level 2 to pick up. When I get in to work, I’m taking a look at the queues of calls that have already been sorted for me.
Level 2 then comes in. They look at the queue, they select the problem they want to work on, and then from there we run most of the diagnostics. We could either talk to the customer, collect more information like logs, dumps, traces, things like that. And hopefully we can answer the customer’s question or solve their issue at level 2.
Level 3 usually comes in if there’s like a bug in the code or something that needs to be changed with our product. Level 3 is basically like a developer. So, I would contact level 3 with something like “Hey, we’ve gathered some documentation. This customer is having a problem that we need to change on our end.” Level 3 will take it and then most likely make some change to our code. That’s how we separate out the three different levels.
Can you walk us through the support process when the customer reaches out with a problem?
Janay: Sure. If I’m a customer and I want to reach out to IBM Support, basically what happens is: I write up the problem I’m having, I give as many details in a description that I can, and then I try to categorize my problem by severity from 1 to 4. Severity 1 is a hot problem like my system is down, I need IBM to call me in the next 30 minutes. So, I dictate how big my problem is. From then, as a customer I submit an electronic ticket, and IBM is notified, and we come in the picture.
How often do you receive multiple requests about the same problem?
Janay: I just got finished having something like this. When it comes down to receiving multiple requests for a problem, I wouldn’t say it happens extremely often. Sometimes two different customers using the same product might hit the same kind of issue. They both open a case at the same time. I don’t think it happens super often, but we do have a reservoir of problems. I think, customers will always have similar issues that they did maybe two years ago just because that’s the nature of the way people are.
Does the Support Engineer have the ability to remotely diagnose a customer mainframe?
Janay: Yes, I think, that’s a big part of our job. Support Engineers end up collecting a lot of documentation that have to do with a customer’s specific mainframe or their specific network. A lot of that might take the form of, like, dumps.
If the customer hits an error, which we call an event, where their program (if they’re running like a TCP/IP program) completely stops, then we’re going to collect information that comes from their specific mainframe.
What would you say to inspire someone else to become a Support Engineer?
Janay: I would say, if you’re somebody who likes to do something exciting in regards to solving problems, if you love digging deep and doing research, then being a Support Engineer is something you should definitely check out.
You won’t work on anything that’s exactly the same, which is pretty cool. You really get an awesome aspect of collaboration between you and your teammates and maybe people from across the world who have expertise in a problem that you’re working on.
Some people might think you’re stuck at your desk or by your phone doing some mundane tasks, but that’s really not the case. It’s a pretty dynamic job.
Do you ever use the skills or methodologies of a Support Engineer in your daily life?
Janay: Since I’ve started my job role as a Support Engineer, I think, I ask a lot more effective questions just throughout my whole life. In school, I didn’t necessarily ask a lot of questions. I just studied and got things done. In other areas of my life, I just would throw myself out there and try to maneuver.
But now that I’m a Support Engineer, I find that I ask really effective questions across my entire life, which is important.
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