By Robert Rosen, SHARE Past President
Five decades of service with one organization is a milestone. Looking back over my 50 years as a SHARE volunteer, I hope that my history provides other members with a snapshot of where the organization has been and where it is going — a first-hand look at history. While there have been ups and downs, things that (at the time) seemed earth-shattering, I am to this day reminded of a piece of advice I received from SHARE Past President John Hogan; words that applied not only to SHARE, but to life. He said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff — and, ultimately, it’s all small stuff.”
Coming to my first SHARE conference was a fluke. The woman who usually went was pregnant and her due date was near the date of the meeting, so I got to go instead. It was in Denver, Colorado, in February/March 1970. My first thought was, “Who would schedule a meeting in the Rockies in the middle of winter?” We’ll all probably freeze to death. Turns out: It was warmer in Denver than in Maryland.
Back then, SHARE’s schedule was different. Sunday through Tuesday were closed sessions, and general presentation sessions didn’t start until Wednesday. So, general attendees only came for three days. What stood out to me?
- The sheer number of sessions held. (Every time slot had at least two, if not more, sessions I wanted to attend.)
- The open bar at SCIDS, and people taking advantage of it from 6:00 p.m. to midnight. (SCIDS is what we now refer to as evening “receptions.”)
- There were very few women at the meeting.
- The registration fee of $25 ($168 today).
- Most of the men wore coats and ties.
Even then, SHARE was driven by volunteers; and, before the end of the meeting I was a committee chairman in the computer graphics project — my first volunteer ribbon.
Computer graphics was a burgeoning new field at the time and the project’s work was groundbreaking. Our computer graphics glossary became an ANSI standard. We had direct interaction with the IBM developers working on graphics hardware and software. It was so exhilarating to be in at the beginning of a new technology. No one would have guessed that the crude “Space Invaders” running on a 2250 would lead to the video game industry we have today, or that the films we showed at the Graphics Film Festival would become the CGI movies we see today.
As the ‘70s continued, I moved up within SHARE to project manager and, eventually, was appointed as deputy division manager, then division manager, by John Hogan and Ed Haskell. (Divisions are what we call Programs today.)
I was asked to run for the Board of Directors in 1980. I lost, but was appointed by Bettye Odneal and became director of divisions. During this time, SHARE made significant technical contributions (e.g., the LSRAD report, Future Workflow Management report, Language Futures report, etc.) and endured turmoil (IBM planning to drop VM/370, Object Only Code). After my term on the Board, I went back to the divisions and worked on issues of interest to engineers. I even chaired the Engineering and Scientific Workstation Environment Task Force. IBM said the report from that task force gave them marching orders for reduced instruction set computer (RISC) and workstation development for years.
Meanwhile, attendance kept climbing, peaking at almost 6,000 attendees at SHARE San Francisco, when SHARE took over a large number of hotels and ran buses throughout the city. Also in the ‘80s, another significant change came to SHARE: The launch of the SHARE Technology Exchange, breaking the organization’s tradition of no press and no vendors.
It was, and is, the people who make SHARE experiences great. Not only have I learned from the people of SHARE, but I’ve also made many life-long friends. My favorite story from this decade, however, has nothing to do with computers:
Our travel budgets at work were smaller and smaller, and justifying SHARE was harder and harder. My boss would constantly ask, “What are we getting out of going to SHARE?” Then, SHARE came through with an answer to that question.
We had an IBM copier (for those of you too young to remember, IBM had a copier division to compete with Xerox). It was always broken. There was a tech working on it at least once a week. One day, my boss comes in and says, “You say SHARE is valuable and helps you deal with IBM. So, what can you do about our copier?”
SHARE, of course, had nothing to do with the IBM copier division. So, I called SHARE’s IBM Liaison Bill Stewart and asked, “I know you don’t do copiers, but is there anyone who can help?” Bill replied, “Let me see.”
The next day, I got a call from the vice president of IBM copiers, and the following day, a copier engineer from the factory arrived and totally rebuilt the machine. I think the only original parts left were the outer covers. The copier worked flawlessly after that, and I never had a “travel to SHARE” issue again.
The ‘90s were very productive for SHARE. Much of the work related to OS/390 (reviews, suggestions, requirements, etc.) consumed SHARE. And, as a volunteer, I continued supporting and showing how IBM systems could be used in the engineering world.
One meeting stood out to me during this decade because SHARE overlapped with the Jack the Rapper music conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Picture the button-down software folks interacting with the hip-hop crowd. The tone was set as I was checking into the hotel at 3:00 a.m. due to flight delays. The man in front of me was complaining that his credit card was denied for his ongoing suite party. He said, “I have a Black AMEX with unlimited credit!” The clerk said, “Yes, sir, and you have exceeded it.” It made the SHARE planning meeting that week anticlimactic.
The ‘90s also found me back on the Board of Directors (this time recruited by Anne Caluori). SHARE continued to provide value to its members, and, when GUIDE closed up, some of their activities and many of their members moved to SHARE.
As the 2000s began, SHARE realized it was missing out on an important segment of the IBM community. The rise of RISC-based computing within IBM opened the door for Unix™ and Unix-like systems (e.g., AIX). SHARE started an effort called UserBlue to attract people working in those areas. SHARE also recognized that enterprise computing encompassed more than just the mainframe so project efforts started in the PC and distributed computing arenas as well.
I continued rising in the ranks and eventually became SHARE president as SHARE was celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Right off the bat, I was thrown a curveball: Our longtime SHARE executive moved onto another position and our longtime IBM liaison retired. So, we had a new president, a new executive, and a new IBM liaison. It certainly made my first few months exciting. On top of that, because 50 years is a significant anniversary, the press focused some attention on SHARE being the oldest, continuous computer user group, and I was asked to do a bunch of interviews. Coming from a work environment of military secrecy (I’d tell you where but then I’d have to…well you know), this was a major change for me. SHARE came through again by offering press training and editing for written comments.
Looking ahead, it became clear that the average age of SHARE attendees was growing. Where were the new mainframe technologists? How do we support them like we were supported coming up through the 360/370/390/Z systems?
The answer came from the volunteers: zNextGen. zNextGen became the go-to place for new mainframe technologists by providing resources to expedite their professional development and skills. Founded during my term, all I had to do was say “go” and they took off.
But, the big challenge during my presidency was financial. Attendance was dropping, a lot less money was coming in, yet we were still operating like we had thousands of attendees. At the rate we were going, SHARE would have been out of business in three years. The challenge was to save money but not impact the attendee experience. Thanks to the hard work of the Board, the volunteers, and SHARE Headquarters, we changed many things, cut our expenses drastically, and put SHARE back on a firm financial footing. Meanwhile, SHARE events still offered great experiences for participants.
SHARE continued on its successful path, offering great sessions. I continued my work at SHARE, offering advice, consultation, serving on several nominating committees, and helping run elections. This was also the decade when the past presidents came together to offer advice and support as a group: “The Purple Sages”.
Into the Future
I’m frequently asked why I continue to go to SHARE and volunteer. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, I get to see friends from around the world I wouldn’t normally get to see. Yes, I still learn things at sessions. But, the primary reason is to pay it forward. Throughout my time at SHARE, I learned both technical and soft skills that helped me in my career. In fact, I can point to many promotions I received that might not have happened if not for things I learned at SHARE and the contacts I made there. It’s only fair to pay back in kind.
SHARE is 65 years old now, and I look forward to it successfully continuing for decades to come.
Editor’s Note: For more on SHARE’s history, click here. If you’re interested in volunteering, find out how to get involved.