Keith - Lead Mainframe Application Support Analyst

Keith, on a long-term career in technical support

Keith, Lead Mainframe Application Support Analyst, has worked at Experian since 1989. He shares his career history and tells us what new starters can expect today.

What was your path to Experian?

I started at Experian in 1989 as a Trainee Programmer, and I've been through various roles within the company – Programming Analyst, Operational Readiness on the technical side, and finally moved into the Application Support team. I’m now the Lead Mainframe Application Support Analyst.

What's made you stay at Experian so long?

The variety of work. I've actually enjoyed it. I did leave for a year at one point about five, six years ago. I was offered a job back in Experian in the application support area, which I didn't think twice about.

What does a typical day look like?

Mainframe Application Support handles incidents and requests from clients. We find out what the issue is and resolve it as quickly as possible. We look at whether we’ll have to extract information from the mainframe or the journal information. And then maybe interrogate any databases and investigate what’s gone wrong with it, or what clients need to do to get it to work correctly.

It involves a lot of problem-solving, but a lot of it follows the same pattern. A lot of the error messages are quite self-explanatory, so they point you in the right direction straight away. And then it's just working out the minor issues that the client's got.

Sometimes I have to liaise with other teams to get them to make changes to some of the data to allow the clients to get the correct data back.

It can be very demanding. You don't always know what issues are going to arrive each day. There are some days when you think it’s going to be reasonably straightforward, just a few issues to fix. Then an urgent issue can come up, and everybody has to jump in and try and get things fixed as quickly as possible for the client. That variety and the challenge stops it from getting boring.

What are the working hours like?

As we are an operational team we have to cover between 8am and 6pm. But obviously anyone that comes in early won't be here until 6pm. And then we do have times when we’re on call as well. That's mostly done by the off-shore teams, and then we provide cover. You get paid for that and get time off the next day as well.

If it's a major incident, you try to get it fixed in the time limits and sometimes you'll need to get other people to help you out with the other issues you've got to enable this to happen. We have an on-shore team and an off-shore team so we can spread the work between us. We've had occasions where people have been in until late at night getting things fixed. But the incident management process manages this so that appropriate SME’s are working on the issue at the right times. I've worked late, and the management team have worked late and over weekends to get things fixed for clients because that's the nature of the job. But because we've got that robust management processes in place they try and make it not happen as much as they can.

What are the key skills and traits needed to be successful in Experian?

Thinking outside the box. Sometimes it's not just about fixing the issue at the time; it's about looking beyond the issue and working out if it could happen again to another client – is there something we can fix before it happens again. And as well as fixing the issues, we then look at anything that's repeated, and we then look at doing some analysis on the coding. So you need a few analytical skills to set it right. And it probably helps to be able to stay calm in a crisis.

You’ve got a lot of knowledge and experience, so presumably, that’s helpful?

In some ways, yes – a lot of experience is a bonus. But it does mean you then get a team that’s quite advanced in years. So about 2-3 years ago we decided to get some trainees, people who had never seen the mainframe before and train them up from scratch. So, yes there is a certain amount of experience needed, but we've also worked out that with the right training and the right documentation, we can train people to do the work just as well.

What does the career progression look like?

From a trainee role, you could become an Analyst then work up the Support team ranks to become a Senior or a Tech Lead. Once they’ve got to Tech Lead level in Application Support, they could look to move to other support teams. If they had a programming background, they could go down that route. If not they’re more likely to go down the Analyst path, so analysing the code rather than creating it. What they'll learn in the Support Function is the structure of the application life cycle. So that also leads quite nicely to Business Analyst and Senior Analyst roles within the delivery areas, where you build the system to ensure it functions correctly.

There’s courses as part of the induction, then opportunities to get involved in further training through your manager. We sometimes spend time with the off-shore team in India to lead classroom sessions about the Experian support process.

The training opportunities are great; there are always aspects of IT that we need to keep up with. At the moment Experian is developing the new bureau database with the ExPin databases – it’s not something I’ve worked on extensively, so we're having training on that.

What’s your team like?

We're a very close-knit team because of the nature of the work we do - we’re handling live data, and we’re in our own high-security area - so because of that, we help each other a lot. You always know that if there's something you're struggling with, you can turn to one of your colleagues and get some guidance straight away.

We've got all our own cooking facilities, plus a PlayStation and a dartboard. We're not just tied to the screens all day! If we need to reach out to other teams, we can go down to see them. But the good part about being in high-security is that if we do have incidents that we need to work on quite intensely, we don't get the disturbances that some of the other teams can get.

Do you get involved in the social side?

There's the Heart of Experian Charity Fund – a couple of members of the team are involved in organising some of the social aspects. We also get three days a year to do some volunteering. And we have nights out, sometimes just our team and sometimes with the larger area team. There are other support teams over in Lambert House and Sir John Peace, so we're split over several sites, but our manager gets as many people together as possible on a regular basis.

What about the benefits?

The Share Save has always been good for money saving. Plus there’s the pension, discounted cinema tickets, shopping, other day outs, vouchers – the whole benefits package.

What makes Experian a great place to work?

The variety of work, and the chance to work in different areas and different teams. Plus it’s an evolving business – we’re still growing. And there are some very good people here. It's a very friendly, very open place to work.

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