I am a Mainframer: Sean Grady and Haseeb Jawad

By April 20, 2021April 30th, 2021Blog, I Am A Mainframer

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with Sean Grady, Senior Software Architect, and Haseeb Jawad, Director Product Management & Operations, Power Systems Business Unit at Rocket Software. On this podcast, they discuss their journey with the mainframe, advice for those just starting their journey with the Mainframe, and where they see the Mainframe going in the future.

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Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome. My name’s Steven Dickens. And welcome to the I’m a Mainframer podcast brought to you by the Open Mainframe Project, a Linux Foundation collaborative project. I’m joined today by a couple of guests. So we’re changing up the format of the show. We’ve got Haseeb Jawad and Sean Grady, both of which are from Rocket Software. Welcome to the show guys.

Sean Grady: Hi, nice to meet with you today.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. So let’s just get our listeners orientated. Maybe I’ll go to you first, Sean, if you could just introduce your role, give us some sort of brief introduction. That’d be fantastic.

Sean Grady: Sure. So I’m one of the so-called millennial mainframers. I joined the industry at Rocket seven years ago, straight out of college. And I’ve bounced from thing to thing since then, storage, terminal emulation. Eventually, I found myself as one of the founding members of the Open Mainframe Project, the Zowe Project. And currently, my role there is I’m a member of the technical steering committee, the Zowe leadership council, and the leader of the web UI squad, where I do a lot of server and browser programming for Zowe.

Steven Dickens: Well, there are some topics we’ll be coming back to there, Sean, in that introduction, but let’s bounce to Haseeb first. And if you could just give a brief introduction to your role.

Haseeb Jawad: Sure. Thank you. So, well, my name is Haseeb Jawad and I’m the director of product management here at Rocket Software. And one of the products that I work on is the rocket terminal emulator that Sean also mentioned in his introduction. We have our strategic terminal emulator solutions. We have some other legacy terminal emulation solutions. So I’ve been working on all of those and then working on some of our security portfolios. Also, some of the cloud products that we have in partnership with IBM. So I’m leading all those conversations from the product management perspective. But in the past, I’ve been… I actually did engineering a decade ago. So I’ve done engineering. I’ve been involved in program management, on product management. I have some work experience in the acquisition space of mergers and acquisitions. So it’s been a variety of things that I’ve been doing and using all those skills in my current role at Rocket Software where we are growing organically, as well as inorganically. So that’s who I am.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. And thank you for that. So Sean, I said, we’d come back to a couple of topics there, obviously a thing that’s near and dear to the heart of the Open Mainframe Project with Zowe… I think I remember you being at the launch at Chair, so maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but it’s been a wild ride these last sort of two, three years would that as a technology, just give the listeners your perspective on where you think Zowe is, as you mentioned, one of the leaders of one of the squads there. How do you think we’re getting on as an open-source project?

Sean Grady: Yeah, so Zowe’s really interesting because it sort of feels like at least the first of its kind on the mainframe, if not on other platforms as well. Some of the things that we’re doing are really unique, but I think the most important thing about it is that it is serving the mainframe community because a lot of the themes that we see in Zowe are about trying to have modern tools and modern experiences and kind of the world has changed a lot in terms of what people are doing with technology these days, whether it’s cloud or AI or dev ops. And a lot of these tools are being made by people who aren’t really aware of the mainframe. And so with Zowe, we’re kind of embracing both worlds to bring them closer together.

So it’s a long journey to really make that happen in a way that satisfies everyone because it’s such a broad mission, but I would say we’re on our third year now. And we’ve seen an uptake in different areas over the past few years. I think one of the things that hit it off really well, in the beginning, was the CLI for dev ops and then later the Explorer for IDE, but later in 2020, and now in 2021, I’ve been seeing a lot of calls where people are interested in getting the web desktop set up and putting the servers into actual mainframe infrastructure. So I would say things are going pretty well and I’m excited to see how that grows the open-source movement on the platform.

Steven Dickens: And it’s interesting you say that and coming back to some of the things that you said Haseeb, you mentioned, you’re sort of on that terminal emulation side. That interaction with the mainframe sort of platform is something that is transforming and Zowe’s got a role to play there. How do you see that kind of transformation from a Rocket perspective from your role?

Haseeb Jawad: Yeah, sure. So I think when you talk about Zowe and open-source, one particular thing that Rocket has been focused on is to support both the open side of Zowe, as well as a plan to adopt the commercial solutions for this. And Rocket Terminal Emulator has been long providing connectivity, speed, and ease of use to our desktop as well as web users. And now that we are a core member of the Open Mainframe Project and developing this Zowe platform, we wanted to have this terminal emulator solution available with the Zowe market so that we could leverage the different applications that we have and help our users not go through cumbersome workarounds that they have to go through to access their mainframe systems or other backend tool systems like IBMI or maybe even Linux. So I think what we are trying to focus is to provide our commitment to the Open-Source Mainframe project, as well as modernize this exceptional platform that has gone to thousands of companies around the world.

Steven Dickens: So it’s interesting. I mean, Sean, and you mentioned it in your sort of response there, the bringing of open-source and the methodologies and the collaborative sort of structured to the mainframe space, there’s both good and bad in that. What’s your collective experience? I mean, maybe go to you first, Sean. What are you seeing as we look to embrace open-source methodologies and processes and collaboration as a community? How do you see that impacting kind of from a mainframe perspective?

Sean Grady: Well, one of the things about the mainframe industry that’s interesting is that there’s sort of a gap between those who have been using the mainframe for decades and those who are getting out of college right now and looking for a job. There aren’t many people in between. And I would say that we are seeing a lot of younger people at conferences, like SHARE these days. But the interesting thing is that these younger people do have open-source learnings that they either take with them from university or from things that they do in their daily life. So they’re already equipped for the open-source world. However, they’re not yet the people who are administrating the mainframe. So the people who are working with or administrating the mainframe, have to become more comfortable with the open-source world.

And so one of the things that’s important about Zowe is that Zowe is from mainframers, for mainframers. And so we kind of blend those two worlds together where we know what the open-source world wants to do, but we also know what’s important to mainframe administrators in terms of security and reliability and, just stability. So in that way, one of the things that Zowe has done from the very beginning is to try and make a set of standards for this new initiative so that people don’t have to keep on reinventing the wheel in their attempts to modernize, that Zowe can be a that modernizing platform. So in Zowe, we’ve always tried to get more and more companies and their products Zowe-enabled so that it can be that overarching tool for modernization and open-source.

Steven Dickens: I think it’s really interesting, Sean, what you say there that kind of infusing open-source into a mainframe community and set of tools and processes that are designed for mission-critical computing. So a lot of the best practices are designed for that maximum uptime, high availability model, but then you’ve got to bring some of the chaos and some of the speed and agility of open-source. It’s been really interesting for me over the last two or three years to see those two worlds, I almost don’t want to say collide, but almost come together and see how the Zowe communities built that forward. I mean, Haseeb, anything for you to add to that, do you think?

Haseeb Jawad: I think when we look at the… And Sean touched upon the users and what we want is that we address all types of different users on this thing. There are administrators, then there are super users who are comfortable with maybe green-screen applications, or they have some customizations done for their own applications that they’re using. And then there are end-users, like maybe an airplane and check-in agent, or someone in the insurance industry or a financial industry using a few commands of the mainframe to access data, but they are not as familiar. So what we try to do is to actually provide solutions for all different types of users, whether they are administrators or super mainframe users, and daily end-users and Zowe desktop can address all those three different types of users that we have on the mainframe.

Steven Dickens: So staying with you, Haseeb for a moment, where do you see that evolution going? Particularly kind of in your space, terminal, and emulation, bringing sort of Zowe users in, where do you see that over the next sort of maybe 18 months or so?

Haseeb Jawad: I think what we are doing for… And Rocket Terminal Emulator and mainframe and Zowe use is to actually make it more stable and grow the customer, or the user base, by adding features and customization that people are comfortable with. Like I said, there are some power mainframe users who want a very specific font size and they want to run their macros and scripts, and we want to provide all of that. I’ll get them the emulator, the commercial version that we have on Zowe, it has all of those features. We want to build on top of that. Have easy-to-use applications, integration with other Zowe applications that we have so that if people are using one particular application within Zowe, they can integrate and communicate with our Rocket Terminal Emulator Solution. So that compatibility is one advantage of the Zowe plugin.

And then we… As I’ve mentioned for the customizations, for the support for macros and scripts, and then I talked about the integration and customization, I think the last thing I would say is to enhance the user experience, whether it’s an administrator, whether it’s a daily end-user, we want to provide them with an experience that is easy to use. You don’t have to go through a number of documents or tutorials and all that. It should be easy to use, provide you with all the security and quality that you are looking for. So in terms of where I see Rocket, it’s all of that. And I think Zowe in particular, providing solutions to all kinds of mainframe users in the future.

Steven Dickens: Do you subscribe to that as well? Sean, do you share Haseeb’s vision there? Do you see that’s where Zowe as a technology is going to be going over the next sort of 18 months, two years?

Sean Grady: Yeah. So I was saying a little bit before that one of the ways that we want to bring open-source and the mainframe together is making Zowe be a platform for it. And I meant that quite literally in that several parts of Zowe are what you could think of as a framework where you build products upon it. And so Rockets Terminal Emulator is actually a really good example of how to make use of Zowe because, in Zowe, you have that virtual desktop where it’s basically… It looks like a real Windows or Mac desktop, but it’s something that lives in the browser so you can take it with you without having to install anything.

So just like in a real desktop, the more products you put into it, the more you get out of it. And the reality of the mainframe is that you can’t modernize it all at once. There’s too much going on. So you have to, you have to pick your battles and make sure that you provide the tools, as we do in Zowe to help make that transition.

But in the meanwhile, and hey maybe even in the long run, just out of user preference and the automation powers… Terminals. Terminals are going to be here for a while. So what we did in the Rocket Terminal Emulator is we brought that into Zowe. said, “All of the portability of the desktop, the terminal emulator can use that as well, so that it lives where Zowe does.” And when you’re in Zowe and you say, “Gee, I really need to get to my program that really only has a 3270 UI.” Or, “Hey, I’m more comfortable with a 3270 UI.” We don’t want to leave anyone out. So the Rocket Terminal Emulator is one of those products that can integrate into that Zowe world to help keep the mainframe a good platform for everyone.

Steven Dickens: So pivoting topics here a little, Sean, I want to go back to something that you said maybe sort of 15 minutes ago. You described yourself as a kind of millennial mainframer, which I think is a fantastic phrase. We’ve got a lot of younger listeners to the show. What advice would you be giving to those listeners who are maybe just embarking on their career? They’re sort of 21, 22 years old, maybe coming into the workplace for the first time. What would you say to the sort of young Sean Grady who was maybe there a few years ago? What would your advice be?

Sean Grady: Yeah, so I would say if they’re already listening in they’re on the right track because a lot of people aren’t really sure what the mainframe is. So if you’re already here, good for you. But to anyone else in the world, what I would point out is that there’s a lot of types of software specialization that you can do, but the mainframe is a very rewarding platform to get into in that it teaches you discipline about how to write quality code. And it also helps you to really make the world a better place because you think about, “Well, who uses the mainframe?” Well, pretty much civilization at this point. The mainframe helps the world succeed. So helping people use the mainframe better and helping it to continue to power all of our systems, credit card transactions and the banks and so on.

It’s really interesting. There are a lot of challenges to solve, if you like challenges and puzzles, but it’s also really important stuff.

So the other point I would bring in about being a millennial mainframer is when you look at the mainframe education online, you might think that it’s something that you don’t have the background for, but that’s not really true. You might see things like COBOL and say, “Oh, gee, I don’t know, COBOL.” And I would say, “You can learn COBOL. It’s a language like anything else.” But there’s a lot of new languages on the mainframe, more and more coming out every year. And Zowe is built on Java and JavaScript and some C. So, I mean, these are all languages that a lot of millennials would know. And I would say, “Don’t worry about it. Your skills will be valuable. There’s something on the mainframe for everyone.”

Steven Dickens: And Haseeb, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Haseeb Jawad: So what I would say is sometimes people are afraid and concerned that these legacy systems, including mainframe, are maybe going to be replaced in the future. There are companies who are going to move off of these systems and go to some other more modern solutions. And I think that that’s one thing that I would tell to our listeners, that these are, in my opinion, the misaligned priorities. I think what we want to do is embrace those systems. These are the legacy systems that are the most important infrastructure in our Fortune 500, fortune 1000 companies. And they run on those. They are high-speed, high processing, and, in my opinion, a basic requirement for those companies. So embrace those systems. Provide seamless access to those systems through different applications and modernize the solution.

And I think that’s what Rocket Software and we all have been doing is to create those applications that provide access, like Rocket Terminal Emulator, or even modernize those legacy systems instead of replacing them. So modernize those applications through Zowe desktop, for example. So what I would say is embrace these legacy systems. There is a future for decades to come and learn about those. I think people are sometimes scared of it and look for other innovations in the market. So that’s one thing that I think I would highlight here. And another thing that probably I would give to my younger self is to be careful about 2020, and what’s going to come in the world in 2020. And I’d like to know-

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I think that’s all solid advice. We would have liked to have known ahead of 2020, Haseeb. I think our listeners would agree with that advice. Maybe to have bought a house by the beach, maybe would have been the advice of 2020.

So as we start to take the show home here, a question I ask of all of our guests, and I’ll go to you first, Sean, is where do you imagine you’ve got that classic sort of crystal ball and you can look ahead where do you see the mainframe platform sort of five to 10 years out from today?

Sean Grady: So there’s a lot of new initiatives in the world that we’ll have to see how AI pans out for the mainframe, how cloud pans out for the mainframe, but already we’re starting to see what we can do there. I think the mainframe has an important role to play in the hybrid cloud. And really, if you look at something like Zowe, a lot of the technologies in Zowe are sort of in that cloud space already. We recently released its tech preview for Docker containers. So we’re on our way there.

In the near future, I see more and more products getting integrated with Zowe, which will help them on that journey to things like hybrid cloud. And who knows what’s next. But I think the products that we talked about today, terminals and Zowe are still going to be there and more important than ever.

Steven Dickens: And over to you Haseeb where, where would you see the mainframe sort of five to 10 years ago?

Haseeb Jawad: So I think I would agree with the cloud and open adoption. So, as we see our users working on these different mainframe applications, the cloud is definitely one of the things that get asked a lot, “How our customers, can their applications run in the cloud and how can they make it much easier to use so that they don’t have to deploy anything in their own infrastructure.” So cloud and hybrid cloud, of course, I think I would definitely highlight those.

Security is another. I think as different CIO’s in an organization talking about security and making sure that access to the host systems, whether they are mainframe, IBMI, or Linux systems, and are up to the highest standard. So how can we support our customers with different security standards or compliance standards? So those… I think I would highlight those two. And definitely, I think even improve quality in terms of the applications that we provide on these systems. So whether that is an app and dev ops solution or whether it is a modernized solution, how the higher standard of quality products and applications that we can provide that can run on these legacy systems, I think are very important. So hybrid cloud security and quality, I would say are the three main things for me.

Steven Dickens: I think those should resonate with our listeners. And I think a lot of them would see that as a kind of way forward. So we’re coming towards the end of the show here. Any other sort of parting comments or things you’d like to share with the listeners before we wrap? Maybe able to use Sean for that one first?

Sean Grady: Well, I guess I would say if people are interested in talking to us more, you can always check out openmainframeproject.org or zowe.org. I believe both of them will send you over to the Slack channel that we use frequently. And you can ask us more questions if you want to get started with Zowe, get started with a terminal emulator or put the terminal emulator into Zowe. These are things that we can help you out with.

Steven Dickens: And final parting comments from you Haseeb?

Haseeb Jawad: For me, I would say, like I mentioned, in the beginning in my introduction, I’ve been in different fields from engineering to product management, to program management and all of that. And I’ve truly loved my time here at Rocket Software since I joined last year. I think the reason is to work on modernizing these legacy solutions. The excitement that I get from working on those legacy systems because these are the most important, I think, systems for any organization that are running different applications on those systems. So it’s a very cool space. You will share my excitement when you start working on those and start using these applications as well as these systems. So I would just encourage any of you listeners to learn more, try these on your own, and ask us any questions if you have in the future. You’ll definitely enjoy and love this.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap us up here. So you’ve been listening to them I’m a Mainframer podcast. I’ve been your host for this show. My name’s Steven Dickens. If you like what you’ve heard today, please click and subscribe. And please give us a five-star rating, that really helps with us on the show. We’ll be back with another show next time talking about I’m a Mainframer from the Open Mainframe Project. Thank you for joining us.