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First Encounters of the Z Kind

She started on Interskill, she went to SHARE and she’s starting to master the mainframe. What’s next?

5/17/2018 9:43:36 AM |

Well, we did it. Kristen and I went to SHARE, and she got the full immersion treatment. She even agreed to be a volunteer with zNextGen!

Of course, I’m referring to my previous article about helping your loved ones become mainframers. In this case, my loved one is my wife Kristen, who graduated with a degree in accounting a few years ago (this is her second degree). After she started to learn about the mainframe, she decided she’d like to become a mainframe auditor.

“Starting to learn” is a permanent condition on the mainframe. Decades after I started, I’m still learning new things about products that I’ve known for years. The well is deep and the water is clear; your bucket list will never run dry when you’re learning the mainframe.

In Kristen’s case, she’s just had her first few sips, and is both impressed and a bit overwhelmed—particularly since we recently discovered we’re also expecting our first child next fall. So, in addition to being newlyweds since last summer and her being a new mainframer since last fall, we’ll be new parents soon too. Life’s like that, thank heavens.

As it turns out, the mainframe is like that, too. It’s not an exception to real life, it’s a part of it. It plays according to the same rules. The same applies to learning the mainframe, which Kristen has continued to pursue. One of the biggest opportunities she’s taken advantage of is the amazing breadth and depth of online course offerings from Interskill, where my friend Darren Surch (COO, Americas) has been very supportive and encouraging of her learning journey. Interskill allowed Kristen to deepen her understanding of the mainframe before going to SHARE, and provided her with a better appreciation of what was happening there.

Sadly, we had to cancel her registration for the Academy, as her learning journey was not far enough along for her to get full benefit from it. Instead, she put all her energy into being fully present at SHARE—which, in itself, is quite the firehose treatment. We’ll hope to sign her up for a future Academy, but Kristen did get the full SHARE experience—especially with the zNextGen and SECurity projects, as well as keynotes, networking and meals with some special friends! She was also a very encouraging audience member at my two presentations (which were well-attended by very appreciative SHARErs).

What’s Next?

So, now what? Kristen will continue the journey of learning mainframe and I’ll continue the journey of mentoring her. At the same time, we’ll work on doing business and preparing for our family expansion. This means her mainframe learning has slowed down a bit, but that’s okay. After all, the scalability of the mainframe means you can run it at just about any speed, and we mainframers are often more effective when we take a “slow and steady wins the race” approach.

This is also a good time for me to keep telling Kristen about mainframe culture, which runs deep and wide, but is not nearly so clear. In fact, while mainframe culture is very much an outgrowth of the best of business, technical, academic and military culture leading to the announcement of the IBM System/360 on April 7, 1964, there’s also a great deal about it that’s arbitrary and not at all intuitive. Some of this is our jargon—like how we pronounce IBM’s various mainframe acronyms and abbreviations, or the phonetic words we use for the first six letters of the alphabet in the context of hexadecimal (Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox—remember?). Some of this is our customs and best practices, like change control, chargeback, capacity planning and the many silos of expertise required to run a few mainframes. In other cases, however, things are the way they are because that’s what they were like in the 1950’s and no one bothered to change anything.

But at the core of all this is the actual technology that runs the world economy. So I’ll keep mentoring Kristen on how it works, and how to detect and correct when it doesn’t work well enough. Additionally, from a security perspective, I’ll be brainstorming with her how to build a comprehensive and constructive picture of a mainframe environment that sees and corrects exposures before they’re found by unauthorized users, hackers,  managers or anyone else who is looking where they shouldn’t.

A Word From Kristen

As Kristen’s mainframe journey continues, I plan to write more articles about what we discuss and learn together while she builds herself into a professional mainframe auditor over the coming years.

Meanwhile, let me give my wife the last word about her experience of SHARE, the Interskill courses and the mainframe so far:

“For me, SHARE is a community of great minds and inspirational, world-class individuals who go out of their way to share knowledge with one another. There are no boundaries when it comes to sharing; that’s what SHARE is all about. And SHARErs have fun while doing that—they really do!

The Interskill courses are a great resource for someone working in a mainframe environment who wants to build on their experience, job requirements and mentoring to move to the next level.

I see lots of opportunities in the mainframe, but I also see some barriers to I’ll need to overcome in order to get involved.”

Thank you, Kristen, for being willing to face the barriers of learning and immersion in the mainframe as you take the journey of becoming a mainframer. Stay tuned, everyone!

Reg Harbeck has been working in IT and mainframes for more than 25 years, and is very involved in the mainframe culture and ecosystem, particularly with the SHARE Board and zNextGen and Security projects. He may be reached at
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