Evangelizing Mainframe
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How I Found the Mainframe

I’m taking this opportunity for my first blog on Destination z to introduce myself and to describe my history with the mainframe. I currently work for IBM as a mainframe software architect, assisting customers in making IT decisions that have at least some relation to mainframe technologies. My objective is to help them understand and leverage the value of the technology they already have!

Exposed to technology as a youngster, a Packard Bell 8088 showed up in our house one day, and thus began my computing interest. Back then, I played MS-DOS games and, eventually, moved into OS/2 and Windows 3.1 when an IBM PS/2 showed up courtesy of my uncle, who was an IT consultant at the time. I ran Word Perfect and programmed BASIC.

In 1994, I was one of the only people in my college dorm who had a PC in the room! Until college, my only experience had been Microsoft and some OS/2. The university setting opened my mind to VAX, UNIX, and, finally, Linux somewhere around 1995. It was then I realized PCs only scratched the surface, and there was much more out there to understand.

My career began in 1997. While finishing my undergraduate degree and searching for an internship, I accepted a position with IBM as a SAS/COBOL programmer for an inventory accounting department. Essentially, the accountants needed inventory reports and knew they didn’t need to pay a full-time programmer to produce them.

I knew nothing about mainframes. We programmed COBOL on Vax 9000/VMS in college and the job control language (JCL) was quite different. However, I went in with an open mind and a hunger to learn. The day-to-day tasks were seemingly mundane, producing reports for logistics and warranty purposes. Little did I know we were tracking the parts that the customer engineers used to maintain the IBM mainframe install base.

This position provided the opportunity to learn from more senior developers who were handling most of the heavy-lifting production work in COBOL and Programming Language/1. Some of the discovery went like this:

The system is actually in another state?
How many people are logged on at once?
We can process THAT many transactions per day?
So these systems are all LPARs on one machine?

I began to think the mainframe was really cool in 1997, just about the time the IT industry pronounced it dead! I saw the platform for what it was—the real guts behind how businesses processed their data.

This experience provided an opportunity to work for IBM full time as a mainframe systems engineer, working directly with Fortune 500 customers. Every other job offer I had at the time was for Visual Basic or this or that dot-com. None of those seemed very interesting, but this mainframe stuff was really starting to get under my skin. I saw the real value of the platform and wanted to learn more about it.

I was the only person in my graduating class who took a job having anything to do with mainframes and probably only one of a handful of college graduates that year who knew anything about the IBM mainframe or multiple virtual storage. While all of my friends were busy coding forms and reports, I was working with customers on their enterprise computing backbone, ensuring that all parts of these gigantic enterprises were fed with the data and information required to execute their business strategy. It was an incredible experience.

Fast forward 13 years and I’m writing a mainframe blog. It’s a safe bet I’m one of the only people from my graduating class who stayed in the same technology area this entire time. The reason: I continue to see more and more value in the mainframe, especially with the Linux platform coming aboard and many of the great innovations from IBM, independent software vendors and the open-source community over the years. Many customers have also been able to drive the cost of computing down in the mainframe environment to the point that it is competitive with other platforms. The platform is as viable today as it has every been.

There has never been a better time to be a mainframer and there is still no better way for an up-and-coming IT professional to gain exposure to the real information-processing backbone of a business!

Chris Gombola is Enterprise IT Architect with 13 years of experience at IBM.

Posted: 9/13/2011 7:43:42 AM by Chris Gombola

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