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Solving client challenges by thinking differently

Dyllan Rafail

Test specialist

IBM Client Innovation Center

A creative problem-solver always seeking new challenges, Dyllan Rafail is highly valued by both teammates and clients. But as a person with autism, for whom communication basics like small talk and eye contact can be challenging, he might never have been hired under traditional employment models. Dyllan joined IBM five years ago as part of the first group of neurodivergent employees brought into IBM’s IGNITE Quality and Test program.

Your job title is test specialist — what does that mean?

I work in quality assurance in the Client Innovation Center in Lansing, Michigan, which is part of IBM Consulting. We use the IGNITE Quality and Test platform, an end-to-end testing suite that uses optimization, automation and AI analytics to make sure the client’s systems are all running correctly.

I spend most of my time developing automated solutions that reduce the amount of manual testing they need to do on the computer systems that run their business. The client is a retail grocery chain, so the work focuses on point-of-sale (POS) systems and the peripherals.

How would you describe your creative mindset?

I’m big on saving time. I don’t want to do these tedious, time-consuming validations in a spreadsheet when I can write software that goes out, pulls all the information, puts it where it needs to be and cross-checks it itself in a fraction of the time it takes to do it manually.

The other part of it is I get a huge serotonin boost when I solve a challenging problem, and I can ride that for days.

How does your autism figure into that mindset?

It’s about diversity of thought. It’s not that I have an advantage because I’m on the autism spectrum, it’s that brains tackle problems differently, and those differences are crucial. So if I see a problem, I’m going to approach the solution from a different angle than someone else might. If everyone thought exactly the same way, and approached things the same way, we’d never progress as a society.

Can you give me an example of a time-saving innovation you created?

When I started, we would test the barcode scanners by running one item at a time across them. I developed a scanner where we could put multiple barcodes on a single piece of cardboard, and it would create a full transaction record of all these different products and conditions with just one swipe, accelerating the testing process. I also developed a mobile phone scanning device to run multiple scans across multiple phones.

At what point did you know you were good at this?

When they first started flying me to Boston to the client lab, it was just obvious to me that there were a lot of things that weren’t streamlined, or that were being done in a very slow or redundant way. As I started fixing those gaps, I realized I could make a real contribution to this. My 3D printer is a permanent fixture in the lab now, just for how much I use it for cable management, brackets, etc.

How do you challenge yourself to stay creative?

One thing I’m pursuing is finding time to explore machine learning, because I want to incorporate that into a couple of different tools I created.

I’d also like to combine some of the bigger software tools I’ve made and see those integrated with the offerings in IBM’s IGNITE Quality and Test program so there’s kind of a bundled product that IBM could use for other clients.

Companies are working to speed up the way they deploy new apps, but a big part of doing that is testing for defects and errors, and then continuing to test after those apps have been deployed. That’s all really time-consuming, but the tools I’ve developed to automate some of that can save all of our clients a lot of time and money.

Can you tell me about those tools?

The Report Verifier is one of the most important. The earlier version of this I created had a user interface, but the latest one doesn’t need it because it runs in the background and doesn’t notify anyone unless an issue is detected. It takes in all of these different reports, pulling data from the transaction log, and it compiles that end-to-end, from store-day open to store close, cross-checking it, including any online orders that were imported, checking data integrity, making sure the totals hit where they’re supposed to and that the coupons hit the right buckets. If anything is not matching, it will generate a full report and send it.

So what used to take a week is now basically instantaneous.

The other big one I’ve been working on this year is a tool specifically for Windows 10 workstations, which is what the client uses in their stores and offices. I wrote a Java tool that reads, runs and executes test cases from an Excel sheet format, and it has its own command interface. It’s very lightweight. You drop it on the machine, it identifies the machine, knows what’s supposed to be on the machine, checks for it, tries to run everything, takes screen shots, then spits out the results in an Excel sheet.

How do you express your creativity outside of work?

Right now I’m building a home security system that I’ve developed from the ground up, including the hardware. I’ve created CAD models, 3D-printed shells with the circuits in them. They run off my own firmware and software, and it’s all controlled from a custom mobile app.

Why not just buy a home security system?

Building it interests me, and I want to make sure I have complete control over my own security, and not have to wonder about what data is being harvested. The other reason is that a public product for security is available to many people, so criminals are going to try and break it and find its vulnerabilities. With a completely unique system, not only does no one have the opportunity to hack it, there’s no reason to. No one would even know of it unless they tried to rob my house, and it’s not worth putting the effort into hacking a system that controls security for only one house.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Shalini Pahwa – she leads the IGNITE group in Lansing. The dedication, the amount of time she dedicates to making sure the people under her not only have what they need, but that they’re comfortable. I’ve witnessed her many times put herself at a disadvantage in order to put her peers and the people she looks after first. She’s a very dedicated IBMer.

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