In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with Jeanne Glass. Jeanne is the CEO at VirtualZ Computing. Jeanne tells Steven about her journey with the mainframe, advice for people starting on their career path, and the future of the mainframe.
Steven Dickens: Hi. My name is Steven Dickens, and I’m the host of the I’m A Mainframer podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. The Open Mainframe Project is a Linux Foundation collaborative project that was put in place to promote the open-source and Linux adoption, on top of the mainframe platform. I’m joined today by my hopefully exciting guest, I think she’s going to be a rock star on this podcast, Jeanne Glass. Hi Jeanne, welcome to the podcast.
Jeanne Glass: Hi Steven. Thank you for including us in your series. We’re thrilled to be part of the I Am A Mainframer podcast.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic. Jeanne, we normally start these by just getting you to introduce yourself, let the listeners get a view of who you are and the organization you represent. So if you could just get us away, that would be fantastic.
Jeanne Glass: Sure. Thank you, Steven. I’m founder and CEO at VirtualZ Computing, and day to day I work with our team of senior executives, many who are well known in mainframe computing like Vince Ray and Mark Holmes, both world-renowned experts in the mainframe industry through our time working together at CA Technologies. We reconnected about 18 months ago, co-founded VirtualZ and we’re working to create new ways to reduce mainframe software license fees in unique ways, primarily through automation and then for the first time, enabling true mainframe cloud computing and mainframe software as a service. So we’re really excited about what we’re doing.
Steven Dickens: Wow. So there are enough topics for me to go through for probably three or four hours worth of podcasting, so you’re giving me a lot of ammunition. Let’s just start. Obviously the mainframe has been around for a long time, a lot of adoption out there in the marketplace. Just maybe spend a couple of minutes talking me through, what it means to start a brand new organization in this space. Obviously there’s a lot of organizations that have been in this space for decades, but you’re kind of at that bleeding edge running a new innovative startup, from what I’ve gathered from the previous conversations. Just really keen to get that view and let the listeners hear a little of your story.
Jeanne Glass: Thank you. That’s actually been one of the most interesting aspects of starting VirtualZ. There’s two things that I’ve really bubbled up as unique about our business, in addition to the technology itself. One is we really announced our company and our product at SHARE in Phoenix, in March. At that conference, I didn’t realize that we would stand out the way that we did, because we were really the first new entrant as a mainframe ISV in a long time, and I didn’t have that perspective coming into and creating VirtualZ. The second thing I learned, not realizing this as I was creating VirtualZ either, is that we are the first women-owned mainframe ISV in history since the platform was introduced in the 1960s.
Jeanne Glass: So we received a lot of recognition. One is a women-owned business. IBM has been very supportive of us, as a new women-owned technology company. And then in particular, the first and only in the mainframe space. And then also just people are excited to see a new company innovating in the mainframe software space, which is very exciting for us. We’re innovating in a way that we believe is going to create a shift in how mainframe software is licensed, by enabling customers to license mainframe software as a service for the first time. So it’s been really [crosstalk] eye-opening for us.
Steven Dickens: Yeah, I can imagine. I’m particularly interested in this women-owned business piece. As a father of four daughters, I’m really tuned into this as my daughter’s approach to the workplace. Can you really expand on that for our listeners, and really what that means to be a woman-owned business? What that means, and what that recognition meant.
Jeanne Glass: The recognition practically has meant a lot of awareness and marketing. IBM featured us in Terminal Talks with Frank De Gilio and Jeff Bisti, and in IBM Systems Magazine and their May/June, and then again the July/August issue. Just a lot of sponsorship and promotion of VirtualZ as a women-owned business. VirtualZ as a women-owned business was foundational to the company. We have seven owners, three are women, four are male. And that means that the male owners need to be supportive of VirtualZ as a women-owned business because there are certain sacrifices, we have to have majority ownership, decision making. There’s a lot of processes to maintain a women-owned business and it’s beneficial to our customers because they have certain targets that they have to achieve for diverse spending. So not only will VirtualZ help customers reduce their core mainframe software license fees, but it also will help them achieve their corporate objectives.
Jeanne Glass: It’s also important because a lot of the challenge in the mainframe goes back to the skills gap, and young people and women are an untapped resource to help promote and grow the mainframe. And so we’ve been doing a lot of work on women in IT at conferences like SHARE and others, to bring more attention to the mainframe at large, through tapping into young people and women. So we think it’s very important at large just in the world, but also in particular in the mainframe space, to create awareness around women and young people in the mainframe, and we’re working to do our part. We just sponsored, for example, women in IT breakfast at SHARE in Pittsburgh. I spoke on a panel on women in IT at SHARE at Pittsburgh, and we’ll continue to support and do our part.
Jeanne Glass: What I’ve also learned, and why I think it’s important to create awareness about women in the mainframe and women in IT at large is, through the process of founding VirtualZ, I’ve been surprised at some of the data. So one example that I recently learned is venture capital. Today only 2% goes towards women-owned businesses, and of the 2% that is invested with women, non-women owned businesses receive around a million dollars in investment, and women-owned businesses receive about $280,000 in investment and yet women-owned businesses outperform by 2%. So there’s a much bigger gap than I realized, and that has come to light as part of starting VirtualZ as well.
Steven Dickens: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I wasn’t aware of those statistics and I’m alarmed by them, and I’ll certainly be following up to dig in with you and get more details on that just for my personal edification, but I think that’s something we all need to be aware of. I know we’re aware of it as an Open Mainframe Project. We talk about it actively about board representation, and how we are looking to diversify our structures and being more inclusive. It was just in our recent press release, and I was talking to some of the press at Open Source Summit, North America last week.
Steven Dickens: That was one of the key features of our press pack and our press package. So I think, I’m glad to see that you’re out there pushing on those boundaries as we are as a project. I think there’s more we can all do in that space, and as I say, as a father of four daughters, I’m trying to prime the pump so that when they enter the workplace instead of seven or eight years time, it’s a different landscape out there, and certainly we’re not still talking about some of these issues.
Jeanne Glass: That’s right. Thank you for that.
Steven Dickens: So Jeanne, as we go from talking about VirtualZ. As we transition from talking a little bit about you and your role at the company, and what you’re doing as an organization, this is the I Am A Mainframer podcast. I always like to try and get behind and get the perspective of your personal journey. So if you can just maybe expand and give the listeners how you’ve gone from maybe where a bunch of them are looking to come out of college and looking to build their own career, right through to some of our other listeners who are in senior leadership positions. So it was interesting for me, and I think listeners do understand your journey. So if you could give us an insight there.
Jeanne Glass: Sure. From an educational perspective, I have a bachelor’s degree in management information systems, which at the time was primarily a COBOL programming degree. And then went on to earn my master’s degree in international management, but I ended up in computing really at the prompting of my mom, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was two years into college and still undecided and she told me, “Now just take some computer courses because no matter what you do, you’re going to require those skills.” And it turned out to be a blessing because I’ve really found my path. I would never have imagined that I would have any skills in COBOL programming, but it turned out I was good at COBOL programming.
Jeanne Glass: Two teaching assistants at the university … I’m sorry, two professors at the university that I attended, asked me to become their teaching assistant and the CIO at the university hired me as his staff assistant. So I was able to gather real-world work experience and teaching experience, while I was getting my degree at the university. And then when I graduated, I started as an IT trainer and ultimately moved into hardware and software sales. I at one point quit my job. I was working in the state of Minnesota. I quit my job and packed up everything I owned into my car, and drove to California just to experience new things, and was fortunate enough to get hired by a client at Perkins startup company.
Jeanne Glass: I was hired by our now chief marketing officer, Lisa Wood, and ultimately ended up at Computer Associates. That’s where I met Vince Re, Mark Comes, who are both … Well, Vince Re is our chief technology officer. Mark Comes is one of our strategic advisors. And then Mark Sokal was chief marketing officer at Computer Associates at the time, and he’s not one of our strategic advisors as well. It was really through my time at Computers Associates, that I entered the mainframe arena. I left the mainframe space for a while and being back in it for me, and I tell my team this all the time, I feel like I’m back home. I’m where I belong. This is the area that I have a passion for, and I’m very lucky to have reconnected with Vince and Mark and others to create VirtualZ.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic. One of the things as I say, we have a lot of people embarking on their career and college students who listen to the podcast. If you could go back and give yourself some advice, the classic TV time machine kind of scenario, what would that advice be? What would you say to your younger self to give that type of feedback, and help guide the path that you’d eventually get up?
Jeanne Glass: Yep, and that’s a great question. Thank you for asking that. One of the things that I would like to start doing more of is mentoring young people, and in particular young women in IT. I’ve thought a lot about what could I do to be a better role model. One of the things is to better educate myself on the data like we talked about just a few minutes ago. Some of that data is still surprising to me, so I feel that I need to get more current, so that I can be a better mentor. But in having those discussions at some of the women in IT events that I participated in, one of the things that’s bubbled to the top for me is, I would suggest taking risks.
Jeanne Glass: If I had to look back at how I came to create the kind of relationships that I’ve created, and gather the skills that I’ve needed to now starting VirtualZ, it really goes back to some of the pivotal points where I was afraid, but I took a leap of faith. A couple of examples would be packing up my car in my twenties and driving by myself to California, to have an experience. That was hard and it was scary. Moving to another state, joining the university, registering for computer programs when I knew nothing about computers, that was also scary.
Jeanne Glass: It was hard for me to act on my dream to create VirtualZ. It took a long time for me to make the first phone call, which led to conversations with Vince and Mark that has now led to VirtualZ. So I would say, number one is if you’re feeling like there’s something that you want to do and you’re hesitant or frightened, I think you just do it and reset if something doesn’t work out, and at least keep moving forward. The other thing I would say that’s been critical in my career is building great relationships with people who inspire you. If you follow people who inspire you, they’re going to be in alignment with your core values and there’s going to be kind of a natural fit there, towards motivating you and raising your game in the areas that are important to you.
Jeanne Glass: And it’s a very small industry, and the relationships that we build are with us throughout our careers, and even for a lifetime. It’s kind of funny. Last week I was traveling with one of our strategic advisors, and we got in the taxi at the airport. I had to chuckle and said, “Oh my gosh, when we work together 15 years ago, could you ever imagine that today we would be co-founding VirtualZ in a car, in a taxi together, headed to a customer meeting?” And the answer was a mutual chuckle and no, couldn’t. So you just never know, and I think aligning yourself with individuals who motivate and inspire you, will go a long way in your personal life as well as in your career.
Steven Dickens: I mean, that’s a solid two pieces of advice I think, for people starting on their career. I look at some of the things that I’ve done in my career, and I can see a lot of echoes in that, but maybe not so articulately put. That’s good feedback. As we transition here a little, just tell me a little bit about what you see as the mainframe space going forward. Obviously you’ve founded an organization because you see a market dynamic. Where do you see this space going forward? What are the big themes and dynamics that you’re seeing in the mainframe space right now?
Jeanne Glass: Well, it feels like a little bit of resurgence in the mainframe space. As I said, I was just at SHARE recently and I was surprised. I hadn’t been to SHARE in about 10 years up until this past March, and then again SHARE Pittsburgh in August. I was surprised at the number of young people and women who have entered this space since I was last participating in those types of events. It feels like there’s a bit of a resurgence in the platform. Certainly, the Open Mainframe Project is helping to bring more awareness to the mainframe. Organizations like IBM and Broadcom are heavily investing in the mainframe, and in filling the skills gap in this space. So in some respects, it feels like there’s a bit of a resurgence, and we’re excited to be part of that.
Jeanne Glass: A lot of attrition in the mainframe has been due to cost, and we believe that we can help make the mainframe more affordable for customers, through technology but also with tailored fit pricing. There’s non-technology innovations underway, to help customers run the mainframe more affordably. What we see also, is the merits of the mainframe. It’s amazing that being introduced in the 1960s, and all the innovations that we’ve had in the world since then, that the mainframe is still the most secure, reliable available platform. We see the mainframe as the home to the world’s most complicated and customized applications, and that will continue to hold true.
Jeanne Glass: We need to help customers make it more affordable. We believe by enabling software as a service on the mainframe, we can help in that regard as well as some of our other core technologies. We do intend to support mainframe Linux on future releases as well. There’s a lot of possibilities there specific to the cloud, and we see the distributed system really is the platform that’s most at risk today. It’s easy to move some applications to the cloud, like email and so forth. Our business-critical applications will run and continue to run on the mainframe, but it’s the distributed environment that seems to be most at risk in our view today.
Steven Dickens: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I think IBM, the language we use is sort of chapter one and chapter two of people’s cloud adoption. I think people are starting to come to the end of that chapter one, where they move the commodity pieces of their estate to the cloud, CRM systems, email systems, their systems of engagement for their teams. But those mission-critical systems, that’s going to be harder yards. I think we’re going to see a lot more private cloud deployments than we are public cloud deployments, in that most mission-critical space. So it’s interesting your perspective.
Steven Dickens: I think the most interesting thing for our listeners there is the 10-year gap you’ve had and your reaction to coming into an event like SHARE, and just really seeing that dynamic and that sort of change. I mean, if you can maybe expand on what your reaction was, as you walk into the expo hall and sharing, and see all those students and see those women taking those roles. If you could just maybe expand there. I think that’d be a really interesting insight for the listeners.
Jeanne Glass: It’s been really inspiring and it was a profound difference. It wasn’t a subtle difference that took me a while to notice. It was something that I noticed almost immediately, and there’s a real sense of community. If you go to the SHARE Website and look at some of the pictures, you’ll just see there’s a lot of camaraderie and momentum around young people and women in the mainframe. Also with the Broadcom acquisition and some of the investments that they’re making, and their support of the mainframe platform, I think is driving some momentum as well. It really was a profound change between this year and 10 years ago, and it was very inspiring and we’re excited to be part of it.
Steven Dickens: Yeah, and I certainly get that. But I’m really fortunate to do this podcast, and we’ve had a few of those graduates come on and talk about their experience. Some of these young professionals are really effervescent about the platform and really excited to be in this space. I think that certainly as a mainframer of a few years now, that that certainly just energizes me, hearing that people are excited to be embarking on a career on this platform just, I think is a fantastic thing.
Jeanne Glass: It is. It is exciting.
Steven Dickens: One of the questions I always ask is a crystal ball gazing question. I think it’s really good to get senior leaders like yourself and ask them this question. You’ll be in a strategic planning cycle, you’ll be planning for the success of your business, but where do you see the mainframe two, three, five years from now? From all of your experience, where do you think we’re heading?
Jeanne Glass: I think our mission-critical, high volume transactional applications will continue to reside on the mainframe. One of our goals in making the mainframe more affordable is to hopefully offer customers the opportunity to move more workload for the mainframe and stop the tide of customers trying to get off the mainframe because they perceive it as cost-prohibitive. It is hard for new businesses to move to the mainframe. But that is happening as well. So we hope that there will be more mainframe customers, and more workload on the mainframe as innovations like VirtualZ and other nontechnical innovations like tailor-fit pricing, that things will continue to come about that the mainframe will become more prevalent.
Jeanne Glass: We see mainframe Linux as a path to that. A path because from a skills gap perspective, if you have Linux skills, those are fairly portable from one platform to another. In organizations today, such a small population of the IT team is focused on the mainframe. So maybe if you took the entire IT staff of a large mainframe organization today, maybe 10% of the team is focused on the mainframe. They don’t always have a voice. Their management might not speak their language. So we believe through our work efforts, through the efforts of the Open Mainframe Project and as I said, some of the investments that Broadcom and others are making, that we can start to bridge a gap of understanding that we can make the platform more cost-effective, that we can bridge the skills gap, and that we can enable customers to take advantage of the platform, that is still again from the 1960s is still the most secure, reliable, available platform for customers to leverage.
Steven Dickens: I think if we look ahead two or three years, I see the same dynamic. I think we’re starting to see new customers come onto the platform. We’re starting to see that skills gap and that issue that was maybe really at the front of people’s minds five years ago, be addressed by some of the big users of the platform as they bring new people on, and the reaction that you’ve gotten at SHARE, and saw those new people in the industry. I think I share your view. I think we’re in a good place. I think it’s going to be a very different kind of view going forward. I’m lost track of time here, which is always a good place to be on these podcasts. That means we’re having a great conversation, but I’m looking at the time. Is there anything you want to leave us with? Anything else you’ve not covered before we wrap up?
Jeanne Glass: Well, one thing I would add is that our chief technology officer, Vince Ray, he was one of the earliest participants in what’s now become the Open Mainframe Project. Of course, that name is fairly new, but Linux on the mainframe goes back to the early 2000s. Much of the low-level drivers and so forth that allowed Linux to boot up and run, were written by Vince and his team. He’s brought … Preparing for this podcast with him, I was asking him about some of his work, because he’s been part of kernel.org and actively involved in this community, and business brought over 64 commercial products to mainframe Linux in his career. So I want to thank you for including us in the Open Mainframe Project and in the I AM A Mainframer podcast. It’s a platform that, as I said, we intend to invest in and I would just like to say thank you. It’s been really a pleasure to participate in the conversation, Steven. I lost track of time myself.
Steven Dickens: That’s always a good thing, all right. I mean-
Jeanne Glass: Yes.
Steven Dickens: Thank you for spending some time with us. It’s been really good. I think a lot of key messages for the listeners, in new innovative companies like VirtualZ coming into the platform, starting up with new ownership structures, which I think are really exciting and should be encouraged, as we look to get a more diverse set of mainframers onto this box. I think some really interesting things there. I think a really good perspective on your journey. The listeners have picked up, and I think a couple of good takeaways there around taking risks and aligning yourself with people who are aspirational. So now, it’s been a fantastic podcast. Thank you very much for your time.
Jeanne Glass: Thank you so much. Have a great day. Thank you.
Steven Dickens: Sure. My name is Steven Dickens. You’ve been listening to the I Am A Mainframer podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. Please click and subscribe, and tell your friends on your social media platform, and we’ll be with you again soon.