PHIL SMITH III
Mainframe Architect/z Product Manager

Company—
Voltage Security, Inc.

Years in IT—
33-plus

My first mainframe job—
I’ve been a mainframe user since I was about 12. My dad would bring home terminals from the University of Waterloo, and I’d play games on VM, over 300 baud dialup. This included hacking a BASIC game called SUMER to add options—my first local mod!

I started getting paid for coding while on work term from Waterloo as a 1A engineering student, at Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa. I was hired to write PL/M for a microcomputer, in a group developing the Remote Line Module for the DMS-100 electronic phone switch. When I arrived, my boss was on vacation, so I was given a userid on their VM/370 Release 5 system and asked to tinker there until he came back. When he returned he told me, “Oh, we never got that machine … just keep doing what you’re doing.”

So I spent four months learning VM, including assembler (the hard way: I spent two days on a problem that turned out to be loading the address of a field instead of the contents, or maybe vice versa; at least I grokked the concept in fullness after that). It was a great experience. Since then, I’ve worked for various vendors, creating products for z/VM, Linux for System z, and z/OS, and while I have my biases among those, it’s been a wonderful ride!

My favorite mainframe attribute—
What I enjoy most about System z is solving serious problems for serious companies, and the graciousness and professionalism of the customers.

I observed many years ago that it’s remarkable that sometimes we sell a product for hundreds of thousands of dollars; the customer has a problem that costs them time, money, and hassle; we spend more time on various debugging attempts; I make a housecall and we work through it; and then rather than saying “Great, now get the **** out of here,” because they finally have what they thought they paid for in the first place, they thank me!

While it’s obviously a commercial relationship, mainframe customers are closer to partners than the all-too-typical PC–vendor antipathy/conflict. I’ve made friends at customers with whom I’ve kept in touch for decades (and worked with at successive jobs). The mainframe community continues this in user groups and on list servers, where flamage is frowned upon and thus relatively rare. I’m proud to be a part of—and contribute to!—this world.
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