As the world stopped and many events were pushed into the virtual environment, enterprises and professionals wondered how those changes would affect business relationships. Recent Yale research has found that, during the pandemic, personal and professional networks shrank by about 16%. And, many of the connections that were lost were among the weakest networking links. Experts have thought that even weak connections can inspire creativity and innovation, but MIT research has shown that our stronger connections are those that foster teamwork and effective problem solving. SHARE Virtual 2021 Best of the Best Session winner Reg Harbeck, chief strategist with Mainframe Analytics Ltd., offers advice on how SHARE members and mainframers can socialize and become part of the rich culture that has evolved over the last 60 years.
Congratulations to All Session Winners from SHARE Virtual 2021!
The following winners are recognized for their presentations during the SHARE Virtual Experience 2021 event. Best session winners are the top-rated sessions from session evaluations.
Best of the Best
- “Avoid Unconscious Bias to Become a Better Professional” with Misty Decker, mainframe modernization product marketing director at Micro Focus
- “How to Socialize Like a Mainframer” with Reg Harbeck, chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics Ltd.
- “How to Start or Improve Mainframe DevOps Using Open Source on Z?” with IBA Group's Yuliya Varonina, product delivery manager; Ilya Abnitski, DevOps engineer; and Valiantsin Studzenichnik, quality assurance engineer
- “z/VM Highlights From Developers and Customers – Part 2 of 2” with Bill Bitner, senior software engineer at IBM; John Franciscovich, senior software engineer at IBM; Daniel P Martin, senior software engineer at Rocket Software; Rick Barlow, senior z/VM specialist at Velocity Software
- “System Recovery Boost: Hitting the Turbo Button on z/OS” with Scott Chapman, chief information officer and director of software design and development at Enterprise Performance Strategies Inc.
- “What Is Site Reliability Engineering and Why Does It Matter to Mainframe?” with Michael DuBois, senior manager of product management at Broadcom, and Guilherme Cartier, zAutomation specialist at IBM Corp.
- “JES2 Component Enhancements for z/OS V2R5” with Tom Wasik, JES chief product owner at IBM Corp.
- “Top 5 (and More...) Reasons Customers Modernize with Zowe's API Mediation Layer” with Broadcom's Rose Sakach, DevOps product manager, and Michal Supak, product manager
Mainframe Culture Is Embedded in Its History
The first thing new mainframers have to be made aware of is that the whole mainframe technological platform was born from the culture that created it, says Harbeck. "The two have taken a journey of profound responsibility, integration, and optimization that predates even the announcement on April 7, 1964, of the IBM System/360," he enthuses. "Now, unlike any other IT platform, the IBM Z is integrated from top to bottom and side to side. It is designed for the ages and the operating system is designed and utterly integrated with the hardware in a perpetual feedback loop of progress, and the middleware and applications, as well as peripheral hardware, are part of that optimized configuration."
Additionally, Harbeck says, "a major part of mainframe culture, even the ecosystem itself, is the SHARE user group — the world’s first computer user group, founded nine years before the announcement of IBM System/360, which had massive input into defining what business computing needed to be — and continues to have that input." While the System/360 was intended to respond to 360 degrees of computing needs, he says, it was invariably the business-results type of requirements that drove its ongoing evolution.
However, he warns that while the mainframe is superior to other platforms for enterprises, "it can become a disaster" in the hands of amateurs. "But a properly formed mainframer is much more than a technologist," he explains. "Each mainframer is a culture keeper, with an eye perpetually on the ball of responsible business functionality."
Top 5 Elements of Mainframe Culture
- Tacit attitude and culture absorbed through experience, mentoring, and interaction with other active mainframers
- Results-oriented focus of Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability, Scalability, and Security (RAS) ahead of personal glory
- Community (user groups such as SHARE, local user communities, vendor-sponsored user communities and events, and online and social media forums such as IBM_MAIN)
- Intelligence born of hard work and diligence
- An all-business attitude where business value comes first
Mainframers have specific anecdotes and attitudes, but many do not realize that these characteristics are so embedded in the culture that they take them for granted in their approach to professionalism on the mainframe, says Harbeck. Part of that is being results oriented in their work and knowing that arbitrary innovation without purpose has no place on the mainframe. "We’re all pulling together, and even the highest-profile mainframers have their shoulders to the same grindstone as everyone else and speak as peers with each other, not as 'stars,'" he says. Community plays a large role in how mainframers work together, even as many of them are reserved or introverted. "And yet, all these modest folks come together in many ways to support each other, from SHARE and other user groups to online forums like IBM-MAIN, to shared initiatives such as Open Mainframe and cbttape.org," Harbeck explains.
High intelligence is common among mainframers, he says, but it is even more common for them to "insist upon quality, reliable results from all their work, and not allow any other strengths they may have to make them lazy about keeping things functioning at peak, all the time." Finally, mainframers understand that everything on the platform adds business value to their employer and anything outside of that doesn't belong on the mainframe. "Like the IBM System/360 and its successors, the mainframe and its users have always been about supporting the most effective approach to doing business according to all the rules of integrity, best practices, and results," Harbeck says.
Socialize and SHARE Your Experiences
For new mainframers, Harbeck recommends taking the plunge and attending a reception at a SHARE event (like at the recent SHARE Dallas 2022). Feel free to be a wallflower because most of those in attendance are naturally reserved. "In fact, as you look around the room, while you may be younger than most people there, you will start to notice how similar everyone is to yourself," he says. "These are deep, results-oriented nerds who rarely spend much time choosing their wardrobes (with notable exceptions) and could be mistaken for being deeply ordinary people if you saw them on the street." Harbeck adds, "Absorb the interaction, and if someone comes up to you to talk, feel free to assume they can be trusted (as long as they don't start asking you for corporate secrets)."
- Find out what organization they work for and where.
- Ask about their job role.
- How much experience do they have in the mainframe world?
- How many SHARE events have they attended?
- What do they do in their non-work life?
While at sessions during SHARE events, approach the presenter with your questions after they finish presenting; through this segue, newbies can get to know the presenter and other session attendees. "Discover that you already fit in. SHARE is made of people just like you," Harbeck says. "Look for opportunities to volunteer and present. If you're new to the mainframe, consider connecting with the zNextGen project. And definitely go out to the project dinners, as well as the receptions and other social events. And connect with people you meet on LinkedIn and other social media."
Harbeck also says that it is common to use IBM hardware model numbers and operating system and other software release numbers when talking to peers, and he notes that many commiserate about the challenges of dealing with the varied commercial interests in the ecosystem. There are "secret" words that some insiders use that are like "secret handshakes," - the technical terms for such “insider jargon” is “shibboleths.” When properly used in a sentence, mainframers will find they are now an insider. As newbies to the ecosystem get their feet wet, they will be introduced to all kinds of cultural activities, including the SHARE songbook and the interactions of members during in-person events (e.g. SCIDS, commonly known as the SHARE reception) and online.
The main thing to remember as a new mainframer is that both your perspective and others' experience are central and valid parts of the ecosystem, Harbeck explains. This means not only using anecdotes and shibboleths to discuss mainframe-unique circumstances, but also SHAREing experiences, insights, challenges, suggested solutions, and more to develop trust.
SHAREing Culture with a New Generation
The future of mainframe culture is highly dependent upon bringing new mainframers into the fold, particularly as many experts in the field are at or near retirement. Through apprenticeship and mentorship models, new entrants into the mainframe gain full-time access to experienced mainframers and are immersed in the culture. "Organizations need to hire new mainframers with as much lead time as possible to allow experienced mainframers to share their knowledge," Harbeck explains.
"We also need to be capturing knowledge, experience, anecdotes, 'business rules,' and everything else that qualifies as culture and shared knowledge/understanding, and retaining it and serving it up to newcomers with full energy and effort," he recommends. "That includes everything from interviews of experienced mainframers (e.g., TechTalk Enterprise podcasts) and presentations about the culture such as How to Socialize Like a Mainframer to wikis – often internal – and articles preserving this knowledge."
Another potential avenue of preserving mainframe culture is the creation of more books, like the newly-published introductory textbook, "Introduction to Enterprise Systems", written by Harbeck and his colleagues Dr. Cameron Seay, David Boyes, and Karl-Erik Stenfors, which introduces the history, context, culture, and technology of the mainframe.
Harbeck indicates that the mainframe is like no other computing platform and its ecosystem and people are part of the culture that supports it. "Whatever platform is running the world economy 100 years from now will be based on it, and when computing becomes a true profession, its most important lessons will draw from the mainframe," he adds. "It’s time for us to be proud of our platform and ecosystem and the amazing people we get to meet and work with, and prepare for the mainframe to become an 'overnight success' after 58 years of unparalleled reliability."
From enterprises and organizations to experts and user organizations, such as SHARE, it is incumbent on every participant in the mainframe to work together to preserve the culture whether it be in the SHARE Archives or songbooks and other materials. It is a continuous process of sharing insights and experiences and learning from others.