Open Mainframe Project Mentorship: Offline COBOL Education

Written by Joshua Fogus, Open Mainframe Project Summer Mentee

At the risk of my story being compared to the classic epics of Homer or Virgil, I’ve begun it in medias res.  If you read my last blog, you know what I’m doing in the mainframe world, the people I’m hoping to reach, and all the wonderful statistics that surround it all.  If that’s not the case, I encourage you to check out the “middle section” of my story in my previous post here.  Today, I want to tell you about why I am working in mainframes.  My path has not been a straight line.  In fact, it looks a lot like one of the Family Circus comic strips where Billy’s path is indicated by a circuitous dotted line.

The Study of the Mind

Going to school to study psychology was the first strange turn I took.  Throughout my youth and in high school, I loved working with computers.  I took vocational classes on computer systems and electronics, where I reformatted hard drives and built computers for the first time, regular classes on C++ and Visual Basic, and even assisted in maintaining my city’s school system’s website.  When it came time to go to college, as is common for students these days, I went through a few different majors before landing on one (music performance with the euphonium and business).

I saw myself as a future scientist – working in a lab and discovering the mysteries of the world.  When I took an intro to psychology course at a community college, I almost immediately saw the great frontier that stood before me and exploring.  So, I switched majors and returned to the university and completed my bachelor’s degree.  I got my first job as a mental health technician and realized that the practical side of psychology was not for me.  I am truly in awe of the people who can assist others with their mental health, but I, for better or worse, am not one of them.

The Study of the Mind:  Redux

Going back to school to study psychology was the second strange turn I took.  Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I decided to persist in my study of psychology.  I already had a degree.  If I could get a master’s degree and possibly push towards a doctorate, I could get the less practical, more theoretical job for which I would be better suited.  Around this time, I took another heavy consideration into a degree in computer science, but opted to go earn an advanced education instead.  Degree in hand, I was in that wonderful place where I wasn’t educated enough to do research and too educated to be a lab tech.  So it was more school or…

More School!

I began teaching myself programming.  I started diving into web development.  I started using Linux.  I had always liked rooting for the underdog, and in the desktop computing space, Linux is definitely not the market lead.  The command line felt natural to use and it allowed me to be more creative in how I used the computer.  This led to me falling in love with Linux.  I also got my first Apple computer, a Macbook Pro, because computers are great and I enjoy using all operating systems.  

Finally, while working a job that I really enjoyed and was good at, I decided I needed to go back and do the thing I should have done in the first place:  get a computer science degree. I enrolled in Oregon State University, which has a program for graduates to complete another bachelor’s degree without completing all of the general education requirements.  While looking through the weekly emails about internships, a line about the Linux Foundation caught my eye.  It linked to the Open Mainframe Project and their mentorships, so I applied.

That is how I ended up becoming a mentee and starting on a path into mainframes.  I didn’t have much knowledge about mainframes prior, but this summer has been a crash course.  I’ve learned a ton so far, I’ve met so many incredibly kind, welcoming, and wicked smart people, and I am looking forward to diving deeper into this field and integrating further into the community.  So to answer the question of why I’m getting involved with mainframes:  Because I love computers and mainframes are really cool!

The Conclusion…

…is not here.  The end of this mentorship is fast approaching and the offline coursework is coming together nicely.  I’ve contributed some interesting improvements upon the initial idea, we’ve had some path changes along the way, and there will be a product to try out.  Details about all of this will be in my next post.  So be sure to come back for the epic conclusion to The Laptop Option for COBOL Programming Course.  To find out when the final installment is out, you can follow me on twitter @fogusjoshua or connect with me on LinkedIn.  Come say “Hi” or ask me anything.

If you’re interested in learning more about my COBOL Mentorship journey, join us at the Open Mainframe Summit. I’ll be giving a presentation on September 23 at 1-1:30 pm EST. Click here to learn more about the Summit. Or, read more about the other Open Mainframe Project mentees or mentors in this blog.