“I Am A Mainframer” podcast series explores the careers of those in the mainframe ecosystem. Hosted by Steven Dickens of IBM, who helped launch Open Mainframe Project in 2016, each episode is a conversation that highlights the modern mainframe, insight into the mainframe industry, and advice for those looking to learn more about the technology.

I am a Mainframer – Stephen D. Hassett

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with Steve Hassett. Steve is the COO of GT Software.  Steve tells Steven about his journey with the mainframe, his thoughts about the mainframe, and it’s future.

Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome. I’m Steven Dickens and welcome to the I am a Mainframer podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. I have the pleasure today of being joined by the COO of GT software, Steve Hassett. Welcome to the show, Steve.

Steve Hassett: Thanks Steven. Thanks for having me.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, always a pleasure. Steve, just for our listeners, can you just give us a brief introduction to your role and kind of where you fit in the GT Software team and  just sort of get us orientated so we can get started?

Steve Hassett: Yeah, sure.

Steve Hassett: So if you’re not familiar with the GT software, we are a 35 plus year old software company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Our focus from day one has been on tools for mainframe software developers. Initially, that was for BMS screen mapping and help screens on the old green screen terminals.

Steve Hassett: Today our focus is really laser focused on mainframe integration, so making it easy to integrate those legacy applications through APIs to web, mobile, and other applications. Within GT I’m chief operating officer and I’m responsible for all the day to day operations, sales, marketing, technology.

Steven Dickens: That’s a good, great place to start, Steve. If you can give us a little perspective of Steve Hassett, the person, you know, I’ve obviously got your profile up in front of me here, but just give me a view of kind of where you’re based out of and a little bit of your personal journey and that will sort of give some color commentary to our listeners here.

Steve Hassett: Yeah, it, you know, it’s funny that everything comes around.

Steve Hassett: So, I started my career after college. I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York and my first job was a mainframe software developer and that was a back in the day, and then I went back to business school at the University of Virginia. Did some work in M&A in finance and worked for a number of different companies and some consulting.

Steve Hassett: Then in 2000 founded an early SaaS web mobile software company. Sold that in 2004 and have been running businesses for a number of different software companies after that. And today I’m running the GT Software business and have been here for about two and a half years. So, I went from a COBOL to SaaS and now sort of helping COBOL integrate with SaaS. It all comes around.

Steven Dickens: So a journey, for sure Steve by the sound of it.

Steve Hassett: A logical journey.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, make it certainly a journey we’ve seen a lot more of in the industry right now and particularly in the mainframe space as people try and sort of embark on that journey to sort of open APIs, restful APIs, sort of connecting backend system of records if you will, to those front end systems of engagement.

Steven Dickens: So, maybe just talk me through kind of what GT Software are doing in that space. Just give me a flavor if you will, of kind of where you’re intersecting with that type of dynamic and how you’re helping your clients kind of move that game forward.

Steve Hassett: Yeah, so we have a tool called Ivory Service Architect and it’s the easiest way, we believe, by far the easiest way, to create REST and SOAP APIs that connect to legacy mainframe applications, so that you can create an API that’s exposed to the world so that you can create these newer cutting edge applications and do all your development around the mainframe. So, we’d like to think of it, and to borrow a term that IDC uses, which is to help create the connected mainframe. So, what that means is you keep that core system of record, but you do all your new innovation around the outside as opposed to trying to do the very heavy lifting of rewriting those legacy applications.

Steven Dickens: Hmm. And what are you seeing when you’re engaging out with those clients who are on that journey? Obviously a lot of our listeners are sort of at the intersection of open source and mainframe. How are you seeing that sort of RESTful API, SOAP API, kind of engage with those agile sort of DevOps-savvy, Cloud native, type players?

Steve Hassett: Well, we help in that quite a bit. Because what we enable the mainframe development teams to do is to adopt a more agile methodology when developing APIs and do it on an iterative basis.

Steve Hassett: So, it’s not a six month waterfall project where the end of it, you get an API. But it’s actually something you can build on and iterate on a daily basis and that helps them. It’s interesting, the big thing that I see and I hear every day is when I tell somebody what I do, they kind of give me a funny look and then … why would you be developing things for mainframes? And what they don’t realize is they interact with them every day and that if they’re working for a bank, they’ve got billions of lines of COBOL code and globally trillions of dollars of transactions flowing through those COBOL systems. And it’s imperative to develop the integration.

Steven Dickens: So, I mean it’s interesting, the title of the podcast is I’m a Mainframer and it’s interesting to talk about the reaction you get when you mentioned that you are a mainframer as you meet people. Can you sort of give us a little flavor of your personal journey and how you’ve sort of come to self-describe yourself as a mainframer? Just to give some … I suppose personal commentary that will help sort of frame the overall message for people.

Steve Hassett: Again, having started my career as a COBOL programmer and come full circle through SaaS and now to GT Software, the thing that attracted me to the company was the recognition of how hard it is to modernize legacy systems and how hard it is to integrate legacy systems without having the right tools in place. You know, and for me that was the number one thing that attracted me to this business in wanting to join the team and help steer the company in the future.

Steven Dickens: Okay.

Steven Dickens: And I suppose I’m trying to get underneath that. What do you see as those big challenges? Is it a perception challenge? Is it a technical challenge? Is it a commercial challenge? When you’re seeing that dynamic, the reason why GT Software exists, is it a combination of those factors? Or is it, as I say, a perception commercial or technical reason that you see is holding customers back most?

Steve Hassett: Yeah. That’s a great question because it’s something that I’ve encapsulated into what I call the five stages of mainframe grief.

Steven Dickens: So we pivoted to a grief counseling podcast, Steve, is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Steve Hassett: We have. Grief counseling for mainframers. And actually it’s for companies.

Steve Hassett: So the first stage is at a corporate level and It’s denial. They know they need digital transformation and so they’re going to try to rewrite the legacy applications or hand code integrations to try to modernize. And that doesn’t go very well and is not very fast.

Steve Hassett: So stage two is anger. And at this stage you’ve got the board driving the CEO and the CIO and the leadership team to modernize their applications and it’s not going well and it’s not going as fast as they expected. So they say, let’s rip it out, start over and move off the mainframe. And well that doesn’t go well either. And so in year five of the five year plan or the three year plan, they haven’t really gotten off the mainframe and they realize they can’t get off the mainframe.

Steve Hassett: They go into stage three, which is bargaining. And they think, well they can try to do it themselves and accelerate progress on their own and that doesn’t really work. And then the board realizes that they can’t get off the mainframe. And so they search for another alternative. And they go through a period of grief where someone says, how come we can’t modernize as quickly as we thought? And as a friend of mine who’s a software architect said it’s crazy to think that you can replace 40 years of legacy code in five years. And that’s a discouraging period for the organization.

Steve Hassett: And finally they come to the stage of acceptance and they realize that what they need to do is let the mainframe do what the mainframe does and build around those core systems and build RESTful and SOAP APIs around those core systems. And we are seeing that in every one of our customers, new and old, that they’ve gone through this process where they thought they were going to get off the mainframe and the board got engaged and wanted them to get off and it wasn’t possible. So, they’re searching for something new.

Steven Dickens: So I, I think I can, as I look at your Linkedin profile here, Steve, I think chief grief counseling officers is probably a better title than the one you’ve got written.

Steve Hassett: It requires some level of sensitivity.

Steven Dickens: Some level of sense. Very politically correct.

Steve Hassett: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: So now that’s an interest.

Steve Hassett: Really, the flip side of that is, we have our customers turning to us and saying, how can we better make the case for the mainframe? But they still have this pressure. And so, we try to work with them and help them develop those arguments which begin with what everybody knows: There’s nothing more reliable and scalable and faster than a mainframe. And it’s not just about the box, but it’s about the 50 years of applications you’ve built on that box that are designed for your business and your regulatory environment and there aren’t off the shelf applications that you can just plug in.

Steven Dickens: It’s interesting you hear so much about … It’s not so much as you would describe around this sort of 50 years of code. For me, I’d describe it as 50 years of business logic that’s been written into code that then executes on the platform. And I think that’s what … from certainly my interactions with clients, they tend to get ignored. If these were just COBOL programs, then it would be an easier migration. But what they are is a codification of the business logic. And in a lot of organizations you find that that business logic’s not understood, let alone the code that’s understood

Steve Hassett: Exactly. When I say 50 years of code, you’re absolutely right. It’s 50 years of business logic and the people that develop that logic are long retired. And it’s impossible to try to, nearly impossible, to try to figure out what the underlying behaviors you’re trying to get out of your systems are, which is why it’s a superior approach to try to just preserve that and build around the outside.

Steven Dickens: It’s a renovate rather than rip and replace is what you’re saying.

Steve Hassett: Exactly.

Steve Hassett: So if you move into or if you buy a new house or if you buy an old house and you have to decide what to do first, the last thing you want to do is upgrade the electrical and the plumbing. You’d rather figure out how to make that work as it is and then build a new kitchen. And in the mainframe world, we help enterprises invest in the kitchen rather than the plumbing.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, that’s a great way to describe it. Make the house look nice and a better place to live in rather than focus on the wiring and the plumbing that nobody actually gets to see.

Steve Hassett: Right.

Steven Dickens: Which is fair. And having done that in a previous house is very expensive for very little tangible return from an experience of living in the house.

Steve Hassett: Exactly. That’s where it came from. I’ve been through that as well.

Steven Dickens: You share the same scars by the sound of it, Steve.

Steve Hassett: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: Give me your perspective, if you would, of how you see the mainframe market right now. It’s always interesting to engage with the senior leaders of the open mainframe project membership and to sort of get a perspective of where they see the market. If you could give me sort of that market perspective, that would be great.

Steve Hassett:  So what we’ve seen is sort of the low hanging fruit of companies that could move off the mainframe, who don’t have the need for this stability and reliability and were able to buy commercial applications to migrate. Most of those have done that.

Steve Hassett: And now you’re dealing with the more complex organizations and the complex business logic where it’s more difficult.

Steve Hassett: So, for what we do, in terms of transitioning from mainframe to connected mainframe, we see it accelerating. And it’ll give you a couple of examples.

Steve Hassett:  In banking especially, we see two things driving it. One is Open Banking and one is real time payments. And Open Banking is the idea that you have create APIs to allow other companies to connect to your core systems.

Steve Hassett: And as you probably know, it’s the law in the UK. And it’s coming soon to Europe where every bank will be required to securely open up those core systems. And, that’s pretty profound. And it’s a complete change in mindset.

Steve Hassett: So, in the old days when you’d write a check, you give it to the bank or the correspondent would give it to the bank, and they’d batch them up, literally in a batch, and bring them to the Federal Reserve in the U.S. and the Federal Reserve would clear the checks and it would take a week or so, in a batch. And then they went to electronic images, but it was still batch clearing at the Federal Reserve and it took a long time.

Steve Hassett: Now consumers are driving the need and the demand for instant payments. So if you’ve used Venmo or Zelle, you instantly transfer money and it goes instantly out of your account into the new account.

Steve Hassett: And that’s taking over in in many aspects of payments and in a faster way than credit cards. And it means verifying funds exist from the payer and they immediately go to the payee.

Steve Hassett: But what a lot of people are realizing now is that impacts every other system. As you move from batch to real-time, you have to verify balances in real-time. You can’t have any latency so that you have $100 go in and $300 go out because the balances weren’t updated in real-time. You have to check for fraud in real-time. Verify identity. Make sure you’re not transacting with a restricted company, country, or person. And you have to do that all in real-time. And the systems weren’t set up for that but it’s addressable by proper integrations, both inbound and outbound from those core systems. And that’s a huge trend that’s driving our business.

Steven Dickens: And then how do you see the mainframe in that trend? Just maybe give the listeners a perspective of kind of how the mainframes kind of reacting to that trend, if you will, Steve.

Steve Hassett:                    So, what we’re seeing is building new capability, doing things like having the legacy system, it could be COBOL or PL/1 call out to a third party to check to see if a person is a terrorist or on a restricted list. And that’s a pretty hard thing to do. But it’s a critical thing to do.

Steve Hassett: And the other obviously is having systems call in to aggregate accounts and initiate payments from the other end. And what it’s doing is actually solidifying the position of the mainframe because again, you’re building these new capabilities around the outside and bolstering the mainframe with APIs to keep its position as the bank’s core system.

Steve Hassett: And I think it’s very, very beneficial and it helps accelerate the recognition that the rip and replace is not a good strategy. If you’re doing it for modernization there are better and faster ways to accelerate your business transformation.

Steven Dickens: So I think you’ve given us a really good perspective there, Steve. That’s been really interesting to listen to for me and I hope for our listeners.

Steven Dickens: One of the questions I always ask as we start to come towards the end of our time here together with the guests, is if you could look ahead, if you could have that classic crystal ball and look ahead to where you see the market going over a two, three, five, ten year horizon. Where would you see both GT Software and the underlying mainframe over that type of time horizon?

Steve Hassett: That’s a complicated question. There are a couple of things that are worth mentioning within that. One is what we hear from customers. One of the reasons that they’re trying to migrate off the mainframe is, and I think this is really interesting, is the perceived lack of talent in aging population. People aging out of being COBOL developers. And I’ve always thought that economics and supply and demand will fix that. And we’re seeing that happen. In that salaries are rising. Demand is there for the people with the skillset. And so we’re seeing more people go into learning these legacy languages. And in fact a really amazing piece of evidence of that is in Atlanta we have something that’s being developed called the Georgia Fintech Academy and it’s part of the university system of Georgia.

Steve Hassett: And when I first heard about it sounded very esoteric I think. How do you teach Fintech? Is that a thing you teach?

Steve Hassett: But what they’ve done is they went out to some of the larger financial companies in Georgia and said, what are your needs? What kind of people do you need? How can we help train them? And you know what the first mandate is? COBOL programmers.

Steve Hassett: So, we’re seeing that demand being met today. And so that’s number one. And so taking the lack of talent out of the equation in terms of a long-term reason to try to migrate. I see that not being a true issue within a couple of years.

Steven Dickens: Hmm. I tend to agree. I think just a free market economy. If college kids can see that it’s in a two to three x to program in COBOL versus it is in Python or Ruby or any of the Node.js or any other modern languages. You’ve got to learn one of these languages. Why would you learn a language where you can earn a third of what you can earn.

Steve Hassett:  Right.

Steven Dickens: We’re all coin operated to a certain extent. I can’t imagine learning COBOL is much different to learn in Python from a sort of length of time to get proficient. So why wouldn’t you go and take the higher paying job to be a COBOL programmer?

Steve Hassett: Right, exactly. Exactly right. And to extend that, part of the reason that folks had moved away is because COBOL programmers, mainframe programmers, administrators, were stuck in a lower trench of pay. And so it wasn’t attractive. But as you said, a language is a language. And what platform it’s running on isn’t all that really material to the satisfaction you get from creating something new and amazing. And as you have more ability to integrate both inbound and outbound to those legacy systems, you can create some new and extraordinary customer experiences. That drives a lot of people.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I can imagine it would Steve. I can imagine it would. And I’m certainly seeing the same dynamic.

Steven Dickens: So if you see the skills challenge evaporating over a two to three year horizon, what else do you see in store for the platform?

Steve Hassett: Well, I see a huge demand for more interoperability, more connectivity, more APIs. That’s one of the reasons we’re here. And that being driven by not just banking but every business moving to more of a real-time operating methodology. That again solidifies the existing platforms and provides the ability to create new platforms around the outside. And sort of the way I refer to it as is going from a batch of hundreds and thousands to running your jobs as a batch of one. That’s real-time, execute one transaction at a time. And we’re seeing mainframes being adapted for that.

Steven Dickens: So Steve, as we look to wrap up, is there any other sort of parting comments? Anything you’d give maybe to some of our younger listeners as they look to embark on their mainframe career? Or is there any sort of sage advice you’d give as a mainframer of some sort of standing in the industry to them as they maybe potentially look to embark on a career on this platform?

Steve Hassett: Yeah. So this is one thing that I’ve seen that that is a real obstacle for, well not just the new people but the people that have been in the industry for a long time, is that they’re not deeply engaged with the strategy of the rest of the organization or even with the rest of the IT organization.

Steve Hassett: And I’ll give you an example of that. I was in Europe visiting customers last year and I was asking them about something called a PSD2–the Payment Services Directive Two in the EU, which is Open Banking in the UK. And I referred to that earlier as the legislation that requires opening up the systems. And the mainframe people we talked to, they were developing APIs to support this, but they didn’t know the underlying reason for those development initiatives and therefore they weren’t in a position to really prepare for it. And sort of the light bulb went on and they need to understand what the corporate direction is. Why, from an IT perspective, they’re moving in that direction. And then proactively be able to find solutions to help leverage the mainframe to solve those problems. And I think at any stage in your career understanding your company’s objectives and not just narrowly focused on delivering a requirement is critical to rising within an organization.

Steven Dickens:  Yeah. Understanding the impact to the business of what you’re creating and what your role is within the business. I think that’s very sound advice, Steve. I really do.

Steve Hassett: Well thank you.

Steven Dickens: As we look to wrap up, would there be any sort of final comments before we give the listeners back some time and get them back into their day?

Steve Hassett: Other than to repeat what we’ve said, which is excited about the future.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic.

Steve Hassett: And where we’re going to take this.

Steven Dickens: Well Steve, thank you so much for your time. Always appreciate it. Appreciate the support of GT software for the Open Mainframe Project.

Steve Hassett: Yeah. And we’re excited to be part of that and excited to shortly talk more about Zowe and the other things that are associated with the Open Mainframe Project.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. Well, thank you Steve. My name’s Steven Dickens. I’ve been your host of the I’m a Mainframer podcast, brought to you by the Open Mainframe Project. You can click and subscribe and follow us on various platforms, including iTunes. So please take the time to do that and thank you again for joining us today and check back in the future for more I’m a Mainframer podcasts.

Steven Dickens: So signing off from me. Thank you very much and speak to you soon.


I Am A Mainframer – Usman Haider

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer, Uncategorized

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with Usman Haider. Usman is a masters student at NUST University in Pakistan and an alumni of the Open Mainframe Project internship program.  Usman tells Steven about his experience in the program, his thoughts about the mainframe, and it’s future.


Steven Dickens: Hello, my name is Steven Dickens and you’ve tuned into the I Am A Mainframer podcast, brought to you by the Linux Foundation. We’re a collaborative project under the Linux Foundation focused on the mainframe platform. And I’m joined today by Osman Haider who’s one of our former interns and who’s also loved the experience so much the discipline for this year’s internship program. Usman’s a master student at Nest University in Pakistan. An end to end developer who’s got experience with several programming languages. I’m really excited to talk to us as men. Usman, welcome to the show.

Usman Haider: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

Steven: Fantastic. Usman tell the listeners and me a little bit about yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background and what you’re doing out there in the community.

Usman: So I am basically an electrical engineer. I did my bachelor’s in 2011 and since then I’ve been developing software in different programming languages. I’m an electrical engineer, but my interest in software is growing because of the open source community. And I love to contribute to open source projects and technologies, and my main interests are Linux development open source software development packaging cloud technologies software development for embedded systems. Currently, I am working towards overdevelopment I am and I am really interested in that.

Steven: Oh, fantastic. So interesting background not been in the industry that long, which is always good to hear. Tell me a little bit about how you got interested in the mainframe.

Usman: So, I am basically using Linux for more than five years. Last year when I was looking for an open source project to work during the summer, I came across a blog post and there was a topic that was mentioning the Master the Mainframe contest. So, I read the read about that and I started using the Z/OS system. And then I got to learn about the mainframe systems. That’s how I got inserted in mainframe, it’s power, it brings to the table, and the security. That was really when I decided to join the mainframe community.

Steven: Tell me a little bit about how you found the Master the Mainframe contest what your perspective was getting onto the platform and how you really found that as an on-ramp into the technology.

Usman: So I really like the idea about the contest, because it gives you a hands-on experience. It gives you access to the platform in a way that you don’t get. You don’t get access to Z/OS or the mainframe. For example, Linux architecture or the x86 machines are everywhere, but the Z systems or the mainframe systems are very hard to find. You don’t have any online access to those systems. So for students, it is a very good opportunity to get hands-on with the mainframe architecture and the z/OS.

It also covered all the technologies. So, I really the mainframe and I recommended it to other students as well and I am planning to do this again next year.

Steven: Oh, fantastic. So, you’re looking to enter the competition again next year?

Usman: Yes. And I’m also telling other students to go look for the contest and get hands-on with the mainframe contest, because I came to know that this skill is valuable. You can get people that know c++, Python, & x86. But this skill, I find it rare. So that’s why I am telling my fellow students and my fellow colleagues as well to really get hands-on with this.

Steven: Fantastic. So, you were an alumni of the Open Mainframe Project internship program, which just I think closed the applications for 2019. Could you give us a perspective of how you found that program what you were working on, and what your project was like?

Usman: So, I like the whole process of that internship program right from the student application to selection and to the completion of the internship program. The application process is very easy and consisted of answering a few questions only. You just have to give a few details about the project you are proposing. So, it’s not very hard for a student to apply. It’s not very time-consuming. So, it’s very easy for the students to apply and also there are a lot of good projects for students to choose from. There was information about the mentors, so they can always contact their mentors and see if a project fits their skill. So, my past experiences are very good.

I really like the idea of the kickoff call where all the selected students interact with each other. They tell each other about their skills and what projects they will work on. So, everyone knows who will be working on which project which is very good.

Steven: So I know to see it in the notes that was shared before us joining the podcast together that you did some really cool projects in your internship. Could you maybe share what you were doing with some of the listeners, so they can get an awareness of some of the projects that you were involved in?

Usman: So I selected the project that was titled “Increase the number of s390x packages in SUSE Package Hub Project”.  Although I had development and very basic software packaging experience, I never used something like Open Build Service. Open Build Service is a platform that allows you to package your software for different architectures and different distributions. So, a large number of developers are using OBS for packaging and many companies are also making use of it. So obviously it is a very active IRC channel and community, and they collaborate very well. So, I saw this as an opportunity to learn from and interact with experienced individuals and professionals.

So, during the internship, I worked on packaging the open source software for the s390x architecture. The main idea was to select different software packages like Zabbix, Icinga and Cacti that are monitoring packages, and to build and test those packages for S390X architectures For that testing, I got online access to the S390C machine using the IBM community cloud. I built all the software and then I deployed the software on the s390X. Then I tested the software, removed any bugs or reported any potential bugs to the community of mainframers.

There are a lot of open source packages available for Linux and what we were targeting in that project was to pull those packages to s390x as much as we could. So we were four students that were working on that project and we have all contributed a large number of packages. People can use those packages on S390 X machines. All those packages are available now on OBS and anyone can use them.

Steven: Fantastic. So it sounds like you had a packed few months. What were the biggest challenges that you faced and kind how did you overcome them?

Usman: The biggest challenge as an intern was to get started. There were a lot of projects and the biggest challenge was selecting the right project. But after that, there was a great mentorship from my mentor. He worked at SUSE as an engineer and he really helped us a lot. Everything worked as planned. So, there were no problems during the internship. So, the only challenge I think, was the project selection, because there were so many group projects and good mentors.

Steven: Okay. So, I noticed here in some of the notes that you’ve started to get involved in the Zowe community and that you’ve started to contribute and engaged there. How’s that been as a new platform to really get involved with? Obviously, it looks like you’ve done some good work in the Linux space. How are you finding that sort of front end to the z/OS environment, IE: Zowe?

Usman: So after I went through the Master the Mainframe contest, the feed it gives you is not very user friendly. It’s a black screen and you get to use a keyboard, and you navigate from using the keyboard. But after getting to know about Zowe in the last open source conference in Anambra, IBM introduced to Zowe. I really like the interface.

The reason why I’m so excited is that it is going to change the feel of the mainframe. I see this could be a big shift. It can attract more users and more customers. The purpose of Zowe I think is to make the platform more accessible. But in the meantime, we should not compromise on the scalability and security or any other useful feature that the platform is currently providing.

So, I think Zowe will bring in contribution from the large open source community because it’s an open source project. All of the open source developers can contribute and there is access to the Zowe machine. I think this can lead to potentially increase the number of consumers as well. So that’s why I’m really interested. We can make a big shift in the mainframe.

Steven: That’s an interesting perspective I think even with your insight, you’re spot on with where the community sees in that platform and the impact it’s going to have on both the existing mainframe clients but also bring in new clients into the platform.

So one of the questions I always ask my guests on the show is, where do you see the platform in two to three years time? How do you see some of the shifts we’re seeing in the mainframe space?

Usman: The mainframe in two or three years will be about adding security, the Internet of Things. The machine learning internet of things. Everything is connected, so that’s security’s main concern.

With the IoT and machine learning coming, you need a computational power as well. So, the mainframe is providing you both the computational power and security. The two main technologies you need in two to three years. I have seen technologies at the open source summit, the machine learning things on the IBM platforms, the speech to text things and the image recognition things on the IBM mainframe platforms. So I really see mainframe growing in these two fields. So I really see a big boost or increase in two, three years.

Steven: Yeah, we tend to see the same thread. I mean, it’s interesting seeing have clients are picking up on that security thread. I was reading an interesting piece that says your organization is either a data securer or a data abuser. I think a lot of people are going to see themselves on either side of that. People are going to choose who they place their business with depending on whether people are a data securer or an abuser. I think obviously we see the mainframe as a platform to enable people to secure their data provide that trust that clients.

So, as we start to wrap up. Is there anything else you want to share with the group before we bring this to a close? Are there any other parting comments?

Usman: One thing I want to mention is that there is not so much awareness in students and universities about the mainframe. Maybe I am wrong, but that that is what I think. When I attended the conference last year, I met people from different universities. There were people from 80 countries at the last Open Source Summit and I discussed mainframes with them, and there were I think only 10% of people who really knew about the mainframe. So, I wanted to highlight this point that if there could be a promotional campaign or some awareness. The community is already doing great. They are very welcoming to new people, but maybe if something can be improved, about the awareness of the mainframe and the access to the mainframe can be useful for the mainframe and the community as well.

Steven: You’re taking a part in that promotion today by spending some time with us on the Open Mainframe Project podcast. So, thank you for helping us get the message out Usman. It’s been great to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time today.

Usman: Thank you so much. Thank you for giving me your time and for giving me the opportunity to talk about the mainframe.

Steven: So thank you for listening. My name is Steven Dickens. I’ve been your host today. I’ve been joined by Usman Haider who’s one of the great community members impacting how this platform is perceived out there in the academic community and in the community as a whole. Hopefully, we’re going to be seeing a lot more advertisement as he continues to expand these efforts. Please subscribe to this podcast for future episodes. And with that, I’ll bring today’s episode to a close. Thank you for joining us on The Open mainframe project. I’m a mainframe or podcast.

I Am A Mainframer – Alex Kim

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer

In the latest episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven chats with Alex Kim from Vicom. Alex tells Steven about his journey to the mainframe, how The Open Mainframe Project’s Zowe framework is contributing to Vicom’s innovative VIVA project, and where he thinks the mainframe is heading in the next few years.


Steven Dickens: Hello, my name is Steven Dickens and you’re here for the I Am A Mainframer podcast, brought to you by the Linux Foundation’s collaborative project The Open Mainframe Project. I’m really glad today to have one of my good friends out there in the community. Joining us is Alex Kim who’s really a rock star out there in the community really on the cutting edge doing some cool things. So Alex, welcome to the podcast.

Alex Kim: Thank you Steve, for the introduction. I’m honored

Steven: The honor’s all mine. It’s really good that we finally get you on to the podcast. It’s been too long. So Alex, just get us orientated. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Give us an introduction. Let the listeners connect to who you are and really give us a perspective and get us started here, if you don’t mind.

Alex: Hello everybody, my name is Alex Kim. I am a mainframe engineer and an architect. I started working as a chip designer in mainframe in IBM Poughkeepsie in 2001. I was in a team where we developed crypto express cards and I was a designer for the AES at the time. It was a new encryption algorithm standard. I moved to different development projects and then also moved to a sales organization as a pre-sale technical specialist covering the financial sector in Wall Street.

I’ve been with IBM premier vision partner Viacom Infinity for about five years now working with various clients. There are nice teams in here and we’re still at IBM and working with IBM teams like Steve and working on a lot of fun projects.

Steven: You’ve been too humble there my friend. There’s some really good stuff that I know you’re doing and we’ll come back to that later on in the podcast. But that’s a very humble overview of your skills. I see you as one of the guys on the cutting edge there in the community, working on some interesting stuff. So, I think it’s gonna be good. If I can get you to be a little bit less humble and tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing out there and some of the cool projects.

One for me would be the crypto stuff. That’s the cutting edge and are typically the best and the brightest.  So, maybe just give us a little bit about how you got started. Where you were working first on that some of that crypto technology. I know that’s getting a lot of press right now. And depending some of the cool stuff like Blockchain on the platform. So really keen to if I can get you to give a little bit of your perspective and how you got started on the platform.

Alex: Sure. So I was a graduate student at Polytech University in Brooklyn, which is now part of NYU.  My advisor and professor in my research plan, I was part of the chip design lab. It was around 1999 and 2000. I think at the time the encryption standard was Triple DES, which is known as the Data Encryption Standard was fading out because computing power was at  a point where you can break the code or in a day or so. So, there was a proposal out there from many different countries and candidates submitted. At the end, there was an aggregation selected called AES. That was the product that I worked on.  One day I was walking by the library and there was IBM recruitment on campus, and they are giving a pizza away. So, I went there for pizza and I started talking to our recruiting manager. She was very interested in my research and asked me to bring the regimen the next day. So, I did and after like five months after I started working for IBM. So, I got really, really lucky.

Steven: So we have a free pizza to thank for us starting your career on the platform. It’s amazing what you can get with free pizza.

Alex: Oh, yeah, yeah. College kids and pizza. You can never separate them.

Steven: That’s one for me to remember. Next time I’m doing a hackathon with The Open Mainframe Project. So starting off in the crypto space on a really cool project got you into the platform. Then you no longer work for IBM, you work for Vicom. Tell me a little bit about that transition and how you made the move from IBM to one of our great community members who work on the platform and really support your fun side.

Alex: So, when I moved to the Wall Street clients set to support my sales team for IBM, one of my clients I was working with was supported by an IBM partner. I learned about the company, and how they assist on top of IBM Support and collaborate with it. I think IBM wanted to encourage a lot of partners to take more ownership.  I saw the opportunity that I can contribute in that effort, and support my clients with some other skills that I had from the development experience. I was doing other things that maybe help customers to use mainframe more. So, I wanted to join the team and thankfully I was able to join. I still work with the same team from IBM, but I think I’m proud of extended team.

Steven: Fantastic. The podcast is called I Am A Mainframer. You know, I think a lot of our listeners are either established on the platform or a new and trying to understand it. I’ve been really keen to get your perspective about why you see yourself as a mainframer. What got you interested? So if you could maybe give us a perspective there that would be really interesting for the listeners, I think.

Alex: When I started working for IBM in 2001, the first year I learned a lot about things. The acronym was “RAS”, reliability, availability and serviceability. It’s almost engraved in my brain that anything I do, I always think about that. So, when I think about the mainframe it’s those three letters: reliability and availability and so serviceability.  I was working with at the time a distinguished engineer on a RAS feature. So he’s basically with other team members the RAS theory and developed a lot of chips and mainframe architecture with that. So going to his office, looking at all this research documents that he created from the basic components into certain level to the architecture level was amazing. I think mainframe today still stands for those three letters and then it became an enterprise system or enterprise computing when I came to the field. Customers actually rely on those three things. Critical business should have those three things all the time.

Steven: I agree when you speak to clients and when we speak to people on this podcast those really sort of come through. As key foundations for how they use the workloads on top of the platform, and really some of the architectural choices, the development teams, making the hardware engineering teams and ultimate those clients are when they’re architected for these workloads. I think it’d be really good to maybe share that with some of the listeners. One of the coolest things I’ve seen over the last sort of 12 months is somebody developing a voice assistant for the mainframe. I know that’s your pet project. It literally blows me away every time you demo this. So, can you just share with the listeners what you’ve developed what Viva as a project is and really what we can expect from that technology coming out over the next few months.

Alex: Sure. VIVA stands for Vicom Infinity Voice Assistant. A lot of people, including myself, has a voice assistants at home. I have like six or seven Alexa ECHOs at my place. A lot of people might have Google Home and I use it daily. And I think it will be another major human interface to the computers.


The beginning of this fever project for the mainframe was starting with thinking “how cool it would be to ask a question to a device how the mainframe is doing?” Every morning I have two kids going to school, and I to clothe them properly I ask, “Alexa, how’s the weather?” Then she answers me, then I can get the information right away so I don’t have to look at my smartphone for the temperature for the weather. So, I thought it’d be cool to do that with the mainframe. I started with our summer intern in 2017. This was second year he’s come for a summer internship at Vicom Infinity. His first year, he got a project for Hyperledger which is very high level and very conceptual. So the second year he wanted to do something fun and realistic and I picked three things together. Raspberry Pi, voice recognition and RESTful API for the mainframe. So, we meshed that together and came out with something that you can ask questions about the mainframe systems. So we showed our demo to our president at the time at the end of the internship testimonial. Our president really liked it and I think he saw the potential that it could be helpful to our clients at some point. So we started investing more time and effort and came up with a more secure and more reliable usable technology so that you know we can introduce it to our clients.

Steven: Fantastic. Anybody should look out for the demo of this. I think it’s a really good user interface. Not only a fun project, but I can see the business applications. And the way you demo it getting those executives to query about the mainframe performance, peak usage, your month end process in or after a busy day being able to just query the mainframe and check performance. I think it’s a really cool project. One of the other things that I know you’re heavily involved in is Zowe. I see your name more frequently than I see anybody else is probably in the Zowe slack channels.  Can you just give me your perspective of Zowe and maybe if there are any connections to VIVA, of how you see that?

Alex: I’m more of a user of Zowe the open source project. We really think it was a perfect moment for Viva because we ere using API connected to time to integrate many other system API’s the mainframe, but we wanted to use something free so that you don’t have to pay to start the project. When we were introduced to Zowe, I was like, “Wow, this is it. We should definitely dive in and use it”. We got it working after two months. We got a lot of help from local development teams and from overseas in the U.S. and Canada. It was great working together and they still are working together. It was a perfect match.


Steven: So where do you see Zowe going? Have you see its impact on the rest of the open source community and on the mainframe community?

Alex: I think its more of a testing the water period, that a lot of people want to get some awareness, and how it’s being used with the initial packages. For example, our use cases demonstrate how you can create an API and then integrate it with some other application in your enterprise. I think as for Zowe, if people continued to demonstrate their use cases, a lot of people will have their own ideas and their own way to contribute back to the community.

Steven: So it’s interesting to talk about community. We’re on the Open Mainframe Project podcast. What role do you see the OMP and the Linux Foundation playing in that mainframe community? How do you see that coming together?

Alex: I think the OMP has done a great job for the past three years. It’s been great, especially for Zowe’s side was the US Open Source projects. I think there are some mainstream audiences that may want to know about this. Also, working together in the open source community will have great potential to expand mainframe users and developers. For example, having some other Linux Foundation project like Hyperledger or Let’s Encrypt, and have them integrate something with Zowe across platform development might be something good. I would love to see that happen as a personal user. And I think there will be a lot of development and collaboration on the non-mainframe side.

Steven: Where do you see the mainframe platform going over the next 12 to 36 months? Where do you see for the short term and maybe medium term future? What do you see ahead for the platform?

Alex: I think that the pervasive encryption topic that IBM is easy to broaden to the market really hit the hat. It couldn’t be better timing or, I shouldn’t say better because we see a lot of security breaches and I think he should, we talk about the encryption and security vulnerability, and how to how to exploit the features and how to prevent data breaches. Open Source traditionally address those areas very well. I think having OMP with the Linux Foundation focusing on the security topic over the next 36 months might be very good. I think has potential as that people will try to drive it that way.

Steven: Yeah, I think it’s going to be an exciting time. I mean with what’s coming down the pipeline from some of the security guys here. You know, it’s the communities definitely digging in on this requirement. Every day you hear about a hack at there and some other companies being hacked. So, I think as we all look to engage with clients around the mainframe platform and security, that message just seems to resonate.

Alex: I see a lot of our customers finally getting to the ideas and started to implement those pervasive encryption features. There’s a lot of open source out there and you can run it on any platform. So we just need to let people know that they can choose to run open source on the mainframe and then make it stronger and protect it.

Steven: Yeah. That’s a foundation for me, the ability to protect that data and be able to provide a platform where you know you’ve got encrypted data. You’ve got that strong robust security at every level through the stack. That’s just foundational for me whenever we talk to clients so I’m not surprised. You say that but it but it’s reassuring to hear that. That’s coming through in your conversations out there in the community.  Alex, This has been absolutely fantastic. Always a pleasure to talk to you. You’re such an innovator in the space. We talked about Viva and I recommend everybody check that out. Is there anything else you want to share with the group as we would look to wrap up? Are there any other sort of parting final comments?

Alex: I really wanted to thank you, the Linux Foundation, The Open Mainframe, and the other developers of Zowe and development community for their endless time and effort putting this together.

Steven: Oh it’s always a pleasure  Alex. Always great to talk. So you’ve been listening to the open mainframe project. I’ve been talking to Alex Kim from Vicom about some of the great work he’s doing and how he’s innovating on the bleeding edge of voice recognition and the mainframe. Please look to subscribe and join us again for future episodes. My name is Steven Dickens. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today on The Open Mainframe Project, I Am A Mainframer podcast. Thanks for much for your time.

Andy Youniss: I Am A Mainframer

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer



In our latest episode of the “I am a Mainframer” podcast, Steven chats with Andy Youniss from Rocket Software. Andy co-founded Rocket back in 1990, and has served as CEO for nearly 30 years. Andy describes how he started Rocket with a college roommate, the company’s growth and his thoughts on why mainframe is still the go-to infrastructure in 2019.

Steven: Hello my name’s Steven Dickens and you’re here on the I’m a Mainframer Podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. I’m joined today by Andy Youniss and I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Andy’s from Rocket Software, and thousands of companies depend on Rocket Software every day to solve their most challenging business problems by helping them run existing infrastructure and data, as well as to extend those assets to take advantage of Cloud, mobile analytics, and future innovations. Andy is joining us as I say, and he was a co-founder of the company back in 1990 and has served as the CEO for over 30 years. Thanks for joining us Andy, great for you to be here.

Andy: Thanks for having me.

Steven: So Andy, we’ve known each other for a few years now, I’m looking at the introduction that the teams given me this, and just some fantastic things. I didn’t realize that you’d been the CEO with Rocket for 30 years and were a co-founder. So maybe lets start there, could you just tell me a little bit about that and how this business got into mainframes and kind of get us orientated to get us started?

Andy Yeah, going all the way to 1990, I had worked for a small start up company here in the Boston area. We were building mainframe products, products around the mainframe. They were solving really interesting problems for mainframe customers. This small start up company I worked for got bought out by a larger company down in Washington, D.C. I wanted to stay in the Boston area and I had some ideas of new products, new solutions to bring to market, and so I started Rocket with a colleague of mine, and from the very beginning we made some important decisions.

One is that we were going to begin our journey, begin Rocket Journey in the mainframe space. We knew the customers well, we knew the technology well, and we knew the types of problems that those customers wanted solved.

We also made a very important decision from the very beginning to partner with IBM. Back in 1990 we could have made other decisions, but we really wanted to stay close to IBM and IBM customers, and so those two decisions about “lets make sure we start with our footing in the mainframe space”, and “let’s make sure we start with being a good IBM partner”, those really set the direction for Rocket for the next 30 years of our journey.

Steven: Well I’m looking here, it started out from you and a colleague, and now you’re up to over 1500 employees. That must have been a pretty wild ride over the last sort of 30 years. Can you kind of give us some commentary of what that’s been as you’ve grown to that sort of size and scale?

Andy: Yeah, we started here in the Boston area, and we started hiring engineers. We were going to be a very engineering centered company, and that’s my history. I’m a software engineer, and I actually first got introduced to mainframes in the early ’80s after I graduated from college. I knew when we built Rocket, we were going to be good at a few things. One was we were going to be good at engineering, we were going to build really good products, and we were going to be good to engineers. We were going to treat engineers well.

So in our early days we were hiring engineers, we were small and we were not venture backed. We bootstrapped the company and grew as fast as we could bring on our next customer. So we grew slow and steadily and there was a time where we needed more engineers and we just couldn’t hire them fast enough. We decided maybe a strategy would be to acquire businesses that had good engineers, good engineering talents, and good products. So one of the first things again (we did) was acquire local, Boston based businesses that had good engineers, and good engineering talent. That’s one way that we have been able to grow not only our customer base and our product set, but our Rocketeers. So our growth from zero to 1500 engineers has happened organically, but it’s also happened inorganically through our acquisitions, and we’ve acquired and grown all over the world.

So even though we’re here in Boston, we have engineers in many locations including India, We have a couple of labs there in China, in the Netherlands, all throughout Europe, in Australia. So it’s been global growth and we’ve been finding great engineers and engineering talents all over the world. What’s also interesting is sometimes we acquire engineers with really strong mainframe skills, but most of the time we’re hiring good engineers, introducing them to the mainframe and they’re doing amazing things in that technology landscape once we unleash their capabilities onto that just awesome platform.

So our growth has been interesting, acquiring mainframe talent and just really good engineering talents and just letting them learn and grow in the mainframe space.

Steven: Well that’s interesting. From the way you describe it, mainframe’s been at the core of the business for 30 years, still the core of the business today. We obviously get a lot of feedback, and the industry’s got a perspective on mainframe and part of these podcasts are trying to reshape that perspective. But why are mainframes from your perspective, still the go-to platform, go-to tool, go-to sort of infrastructure for so many of the industries that we see them deployed in?

Andy: So I obviously hear this a lot, and talk a lot about this. When Rocket started in 1990, I did receive a lot of advice, an overwhelming amount of advice that it probably didn’t make sense to start a mainframe centered company around the time when client server was all the rage. My server was the next big wave and you can imagine over the past 30 years, multiple other waves have come and gone, and the general wisdom is you probably shouldn’t continue to focus on mainframe; but we look at it very differently.

As others have run away from the mainframe, we’ve actually intentionally run toward the mainframe. The reason for that is, instead of looking at general wisdom and theory and potentially large macro-trends, we look at our customers. Our customers primarily are large, global businesses. They’re focused on financial services, or insurance, or re-sell, or manufacturing, or even government services, and companies, enterprises of those shapes and sizes, and continue to do a lot of their core business on the mainframe. Over the past 30 years, the use of the mainframe in those enterprises has grown.

So the number of mainframes today may be less than what it was 30 years ago, but the amount of transaction processing, the amount of data, the amount of critical business data in operations still flows through the mainframe.

Steven: Why do you think that is Andy? Why do you think people are still kind of relying on this platform, if you will? I mean I know the answer to that, I’m sure you know the answer to that; but I think our listeners would be keen to get your perspective, why are people still seeing this as a platform that can do things that other systems can’t?

Andy: Yeah, as you know it’s multiple vectors, and you can start with any one of them, but certainly something that you hear a lot about lately. Especially since the new D14 was launched, you hear people talking about this more, you can say it starts at security. The mainframe is a trusted computing platform, it’s extremely, implicitly trusted in large enterprises, the transactions that flow through mainframes are secure. The data that flows through and is stored on or close to the mainframe is extremely secure. The horsepower on the mainframe that allows you to secure it, encrypt it, protect it is something that is really unparalleled. So it can kind of start there if you’re in an industry, if you’re in a business where it’s absolutely mission critical that the data, the transactions, are absolutely secure. Mainframe is really unlike anything else out there.

But it can also be about reliability. It can also be about availability. It could also be about scalability, and so again, depending upon how you want to approach it, the mainframe certainly provides all of that and more. So I think that’s historically what’s happened, is these large transaction processing systems, large amounts of data, I mean mainframe did big data before big data was even called big data. So all of that is why the mainframe is what it is, and then there’s so many interesting things happening now with mainframe that will ensure that it will continue to be, not only viable, but mission critical into the future.

Steven: So I mean if that’s the good news story, and obviously you know I subscribe to that view of the world, what’s the challenges? If that’s the pros column, what’s the cons column? What’s the challenges you see for the platform?

Andy: The challenges in many ways are self imposed by history and by the members in the ecosystem, people who are part of the mainframe ecosystem. What I mean by that is, we’ve all heard for so long, the mainframe is going away, et cetera, et cetera, and so you see companies saying, “Well I can’t buy mainframe skills. I can’t hire people that know the main fame.” It’s within my IT organization, my employees would rather work on something more, I’m putting quotes around this now, “Something more modern than the mainframe,” and so it’s this self fulfilling prophecy that the people have imposed on themselves; but the fact is the mainframe is as modern as any other computing platform.

The mainframe is now as open as any other computing platform, we see that at Rocket, you don’t have to be my age in 30 years to be experienced with the mainframe. You can be in high school or come out of university, and be extremely productive on the mainframe right away, because all of your favorite languages and tools are there. Now, that doesn’t get a lot of press, there isn’t a lot of marketing around that, it isn’t widely known, but if you are a data scientist, all the data science languages that you want are on the mainframe.

In fact, all the data that you want to analyze is on the mainframe and so what a perfect marriage? Why do I need to move that data somewhere else, wait for it to get there, hope it gets there in time, or in the right way, and integrate it with everything else appropriately so I can do my analytics when I can do it right on the mainframe itself? So kind of a long answer to the myth around this it’s hard to find skills, it’s hard to find people, I need to transform my IT organization because I can’t do what I need to do on the mainframe, all that has really changed I would say over the past decade, over the past 5 years, certainly over the past few years; and again we prove that every single day at Rocket.

We bring on new Rocketeers who are young, who are smart, who are incredible computer scientists, and we let them apply their skills in this amazing mainframe space and they’re productive and they do amazing things very quickly because that platform is as modern as anything else.

Steven: Yeah that’s interesting that a lot of what you said resonates for me from that kind of open source movement, that’s where a lot of the, if you will call them college kids, and younger professionals are kind of getting into the world of computer. They’re getting into that kind of open source movement, and obviously that’s why we open Mainframe Projects three years ago now to kind of intersect that part of the market.

Rocket’s a relatively new kind of member of the Open Mainframe Project, obviously as the CEO can you kind of give us a sort of brief description of where you see Open Source? How you see a community? Kind of what role you see the Open Mainframe Project playing in that?

Andy: So, Rocket has been bringing Open Source to the mainframe for many, many years. We actually started boarding popular languages and tools to the platform over five years ago. But only recently have we joined the Open Mainframe Project, and so I think we’ve been doing some work and I feel so good because now we’ve found kind of a home. We’ve found our community within the Linux Foundation, within the Open Mainframe Project. We’re now connected with other people in the ecosystem who think the way that we do, which is that we need to bring more and more open source to the platform for the good of the ecosystem, for the good of the community.

So, yeah we’re relatively new to the Open Mainframe Project, we’re thrilled to be a part of it. We probably should have found it earlier, I don’t know why we didn’t but we didn’t and now we’re here, we’re very happy that we’re here, but we absolutely believe that for the future of, really of any platform right? But mainframe for sure, openness is the key; and I guess what I find really interesting is, and again I’ve been in the space for 30 years, more than 30 years, is the members of the mainframe community, if you will, have been asking for openness for quite a while. Now with the Open Mainframe Project they’re getting it, it’s available to them, and on the one hand as an observer, it’s interesting to see how quickly the community will embrace this openness, and then what the community will do with it, and where they will bring it next.

Historically in the mainframe world, the users of the mainframe looked at the software vendors to tell them what’s going to happen next. That’s kind of reflectively the motions worked forever, you know 30, 40, 50 years in the mainframe, now it’s flipping, which is the community can decide on it’s own where it goes, and use open technology to ride in that direction,. So that’s a new motion for the community and it’ll be very interesting to see how quickly it get adopted and exploited.

Steven: One of the interesting developments for me, and I was at the pleasure of being asked to share in St. Louis when Zowe was launched, but as you say, it’s how do we bring open source in that community, sort of crowdsourcing of development and stewardship of a code base to what has been probably the most closed platform over the decades sever wise. And I think for me, that intersection of the two is really interesting, how an operating system with such rich history and has been developed so tightly in the past, is not embracing open source and that sort of crowd source community developed roadmap development, kind of focus that comes from how open source is developed.

So, I’d really be keen to get your view of kind of why did Rocket see Zowe as something that was really interesting? Is there a kind of manifestation of open source and severless? Why were you guys interested, why were you so keen to join, and maybe where do you see things going, if you can give me that as a perspective Andy?

Andy: Zowe, as you said, was really kind of announced and launched August of last year, August of 2018, but we had been working on what would become Zowe two years prior. It really came out of conversations we had with many customers, all different industries, all different geographies looking for kind of common platform capabilities that cut across products, and cut across vendors, if you will.

I think for too long customers would see products from different software vendors kind of look and feel differently, get installed differently, get consumed differently, and even within, I could tell you with our Rocket products set, and I’ll kind of pick on ourselves.Within Rocket we might have 20 different products, and they would all look and feel different, and again get kind of consumed differently; and so this desire for commonality is something we heard loud and clear from our customers and so we started on this effort within Rocket to build this common user experience using modern and open technologies, and we said, “But what if we could really solve this problem, not just for Rocket, because we’re only one small player in this really large ecosystem, what if we could really solve it for the whole community?”

And at the same time I know within IBM there were similar conversations and I know at the time within CA there were similar conversations and the three of us got together and said, “What if we brought all of this together and made it open for the good of everybody? For the good of the community?” So that’s kind of how it started, we were big believers in it. we were hoping we could get others, and we were so thrilled that IBM and CA looked at it the same way, now that Zowe is launched, it exists, it’s real. By the way, the Open Mainframe Project is the perfect vehicle from which to launch this thing. So, I mean the timing couldn’t be more perfect, and so now we’re looking for other like minded people who want to not only consume, but contribute to Zowe.

So, I think it started with the desire for commonality for modern, for open, that’s where it started and where it’s going is going to be determined by the community. That’s what I’m most excited about. I talked about Zowe many times, in front of many different audiences, and this community that hears the story, likes what they hear, sometimes a little bit confused about what they hear because they haven’t heard about openness before on the Z platform. Then they reflectively say, “Okay, what are you going to do next with it?” And I flip it back and say, “That’s not a question you can ask anymore, now it’s what can you do or what can we do next to it?”

So the more of us that embrace Zowe, the more of us then will have ideas of where Zowe goes next, and maybe it will be more about user experience, and maybe it will be more about CLI or maybe it will be more about APIs or maybe it will be about all of that. The good news to me is the community gets to decide where it goes and then we all focus our efforts on that.

Steve: Yeah, and that’s one of the questions I always like to ask in these podcasts. So I give you a crystal ball, I give you the ability to look say three or five years into the future, where do you see us landing? So what would Rocket software, the kind of open ecosystem, around the mainframe look sort of three to five years out? Where do you think we’ll end up?

Andy: What I think Zowe will allow all of us to do is to look back in five years and say, “Back in August of ’18, we started to change the conversation and now the conversation is changed, so the mainframe is considered a first class participant in any modern IT infrastructure, architecture, application landscape within a customer set.” That because of Zowe, every single modern language and tool is available on the mainframe just like it is on any other platform. And that allows IT, senior IT leaders, the business decision makers to say, “Now we can use the best tools to solve the best problems. We’ve got all those tools available to us, so we’re going to take advantage of mainframe, where mainframe makes sense.”

I think that’s the real game changer here, Zowe is going to allow the mainframe to part of that conversation, where over the past decade it just wouldn’t have been considered. Just think about it, data science can happen on the mainframe, not just because some small sector within the IT organization believes in it. But because the entire organization believes the mainframe is capable of delivering that type of value to the business, because all of the openness is there, so I think that’s looking back, five years from now looking backwards we’re going to say it all started in August of 2018 with Zowe.

Steve: Okay, that’s a fantastic perspective, and that’s where I see us ending up Andy. So, I try and as I look to wrap up, kind of ask that crystal ball question of where we’re looking going forward. Then I’d like to ask a question of I guess on the show, what would have been your advice if you’d have had the time machine to kind of go back, and I’ll pick 30 years ago, as you were starting Rocket, what advice would you have given to the 30 years younger Andy Youniss as he was looking to sort of found Rocket and start things out, what would be your advice to your younger self?

Andy: My answer is have more conviction about what you’re doing, again, we started this mainframe company in an era where everybody was focused on other things. It took us a while to really have the confidence to say, “You know what? We absolutely love the mainframe.” Our customers knew that, our employees knew that, our friends at IBM knew that, but we really didn’t tell that story loudly; but we have recently.

We absolutely love the mainframe, we love the mainframe customers, we love the mainframe community, and we’re not afraid to say that. I think if we had that confidence and conviction to say that 20 years ago, 25 years ago, that would be the advice I would give my younger self, like we knew it, we knew this was the right place to be. We knew this was the right place to make our investment, we were kind of quiet about it for a little bit too long, and now we’re not afraid, we’re not bashful about it. We love the mainframe, we love the mainframe space, and we’re going to do everything we can to continue this journey that we’re on to make the mainframe this first class participant in every IT discussion and every business around the world.

Steven: Andy in that last answer, you probably encapsulated everything I would have said in wrap up for our conversation today. That love of the mainframe platform, the desire for that to exist in an open source community and for us to plan forward to bring new people into this platform and enjoy working on the platform as much as you’ve obviously enjoyed it over the last three plus decades.

Andy it’s been absolutely spectacular to talk to you today, really enjoyed our 30 minute conversation. Is there anything you’d say as we wrap up?

Andy: Steven, I always appreciate when we get together and talk. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, and I look forward to continuing the conversation, we’ll I’m sure be together at IBM THINK in San Francisco in February and until this best of everything, we’ll see you in a few weeks.

Steven: Fantastic, thank you very much.

So that’s been Andy Youniss from Rocket Software, the CEO talking us through how Rocket is investing it the mainframe space, how he sees the business going forward, and gave us both a look forward five years, and a retrospective of the fantastic history of Rocket over the last 30 years. My name’s Steven Dickens, you’ve been listening to the Open Mainframe Podcast. Please join us for next episode by clicking subscribe, and thank you very much for your time today.

Ludmila Salimena: I am a Mainframer

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer


In our latest episode of the “I am a Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens chats with Ludmila Salimena from IBM. Ludmila has been in the Mainframe industry since 2009 after entering the Master the Mainframe Competition. Ludmilla describes how she began her career in working with the mainframe, and gives advice for those looking to work with the platform. She also describes how she’s planning on helping the next generation of mainframers through internship programs and networking.  

Steven: Hello and welcome. My name is Steven Dickens. I’m here today on the Open Mainframe Project, I’m A Mainframer podcast. The Open Mainframe Project is a Linux Foundation collaborative project that it promotes Linux and Open-Source on the Mainframe. I’m joined today by my guest Ludmila Salmena. Hi, Ludmila.

Ludmila: Hi, Steven. Thank you.

Steven: Yeah. Thank you for joining us. Always good to talk to people from around the world, so maybe if you could just give us a little background on yourself, and give us a little view on your career and how you’ve been working in the mainframe ecosystem? Always good to start there and get your perspective.

Ludmila: Sure. My first job position was not in the mainframe world. One day, I entered the Master the Mainframe Competition, and that was my door to the mainframe world. It was not the first time I heard about mainframes because my dad is also mainframing, so it was pretty easy. So because of him, I already knew about mainframing. I knew how powerful and important mainframes are to many companies.

After I completed the Master the Mainframe Competition, I got an internship opportunity at IBM. That was back in 2009. I started as an upper salesperson but in a few months, I started to work with the compass in Brazil. Since I was hired, I was in the academic initiative program for IBMZ, but year after year, I was incorporating other activities related to the ecosystem such as working with clients and their strategies for IBMZ, developing community outreach such as the fair, hackathons, events, meetups. It’s a very broad bunch of activities.

Steven: Okay. Something interesting there that you mentioned, you mentioned your father was on the mainframe. Can you maybe just give us a little view of what he used to do on the platform?

Ludmila: He is still a mainframer.

Steven: Oh, okay. Fantastic.

Ludmila: Yes. He’s DBA DB2, and worked with ZBM since the beginning.

Steven: Oh, excellent.

Ludmila: As you can imagine, after many years hearing him talk on the phone and seeing him working from home with green letters, mainframe was not a mysterious thing to me. I used to go with him to the office and play with terminals. It would be great to have some cameras at that time, so that I could share some interesting memories right now.

Steven: Oh, fantastic. You’ve been a mainframer since the age of six by the sound of it?

Ludmila: Yeah. We can say that.

Steven: Excellent. One of the other things you mentioned was your first encounter with the mainframe. Well, probably in your professional career at least was in the Master the Mainframe Contest. That’s a really interesting program and I know a lot of our listeners will maybe have heard about it, but it will be good to get your perspective of that contest and how that provided a portal into both the mainframe world and IBM.

Ludmila: Yeah. The essence of the contest is showing different terms and information you needed in your mainframe job position. The focus of the contest is exactly to achieve all kinds of participants. If you have no knowledge on mainframes or any kind of enterprise level IT, this is the correct place to start. If you tell me, “Hey, I already know a little bit on mainframes.” Master the Mainframe is also a good place to keep learning. Every year, we launch a bunch of new activities. Each challenge is different, is unique. You can have experience from JCL, COBOL. There are also many coding challenges that you can learn about it.

Steven: Okay. It sounds like a broad range of activities. From your experience, what have you liked most as you’ve gone onto the mainframe platform? Either in the Master the Mainframe contest or since you’ve joined IBM, what’s been your passion?

Ludmila: I think there are many strengths related to mainframe that I like. I think the one that I like most is the compatibility because it’s very interesting that you’d be able to upgrade your hardware and know that all programs will continue working without code changing is amazing. I am a little bit far from the technical side now for a few years, but those kind of strengths are very interesting on the platform.

Steven: Okay. Now, you’re working within IBM, and with schools and universities. You’re working in an academic program to try and pull those institutions through onto the platform. What’s the feedback you’re getting from those academic institutions as you try and position the mainframe technology?

Ludmila: In Brazil, there are many rules guiding the university’s curriculum. When I speak with these schools and universities, usually I tell them to incorporate the mainframe content in their curriculums, but they complain that they are not seeing job opportunities for their students. Therefore, I have been working with the IBMZ community to pair them closely with those universities. So faculty can see there is opportunity in this place and the companies can share appropriately this information with the academia in general.

Steven: Okay. You see the biggest challenge moving forward is that joining of the academic institutions with the people who would actually have those job roles, i.e. the end clients. Is that where you see the biggest challenge moving forward?

Ludmila: Yes. The communication between mainframe employers and academia must exist and needed to be proven. Unfortunately, this is not happening as much as I’d like to. The academia is preparing the professionals of the future and today, you can work with high school students coming into colleges, universities, etc. The students today don’t know of the kind of job possibilities they can look for. The companies today, they are (the ones) who are implementing and being a part of the technology transformation and they needed to visit schools and show to faculty and students the possibilities of technology because it’s huge. I am here happy to work with employers to introduce them to academia community to make this happen.

Steven: So I think if I was to give you a title, it would be a mainframe matchmaker. You’re making that match between the academic institutions and the students and the employers, the end users of the mainframe, and really trying to join those two communities together and get them to work with each other. Would that be a fair summary?

Ludmila: Yes. Perfect.

Steven: That’s your new title, Ludmilla, mainframe matchmaker.

Ludmila: Yes. I’m going to add this.

Steven: Fantastic. As we talk a little bit about the Open Mainframe Project, we’ve got a number of academic members, and they help us advance a key part of the mission which is to recruit, teach and educate the next generation. One of the ways we do this, is through our internship program. The Open Mainframe Projects got an internship program now that’s been running for the last three years. We’ve taken almost 30 students through that program. What advice would you give to students looking to get into the mainframe space? What would sort of be your path that you would suggest to a student who’s looking at the mainframe and saying, “How do I get into this technology?”

Ludmila: There are many possibilities. As a student, you can get involved with Master the Mainframe, you can explore and use the Linux cloud as you already mentioned, you can go to internship programs on Open Mainframe Project and also explore some identical patterns related to mainframe. All of them give you the experience in all levels to get into the mainframe industry.

Steven: Okay. That’s obviously people looking to get into the mainframe space, students. Obviously, a lot of our listenership here is already in the mainframe space. What would be those best practices or tips for those people already in the mainframe industry maybe looking to our different skills, maybe looking to move jobs? What type of advice, hints and tips would you give to people already in the mainframe space?

Ludmila: The same channels that the students can use of course, and each one is going to take advantage in his or her way. But I think staying up to date in all modern capabilities and tools on mainframe can provide you a long future, a brighter future. We have to update ourselves.

Steven: Okay, excellent. Speaking from the Open Mainframe community side, what would you like to see from us? How would you like to see the community evolve over time specifically in the skill space?

Ludmila: The Open Mainframe Project has a unique ability to access a broader open-source community. I’d say I would love to see them share the value of this platform with the community that can help get the word out there.

Steven: So it’s getting the word out and try and use the community that we’re building within the Open Mainframe Project to amplify the message and reach new audiences?

Ludmila: Yes, because we have many developers that work today, and they just don’t know the possibilities using mainframe and open-source. So this project is amazing to give opportunities to developers. They’re already creating amazing products.

Steven: Fantastic. One of the things that’s been big and hot in our community over the last few months since the summer has been this Zowe Project. This is bringing open-source and crowdsourcing development to the once closed world of ZED OS, which for me is just really fundamental and transformational about the way that open-source as a movement is interacting with probably the last bastion of closed source code, ZED OS. So for me, it’s been a really transformational time. Question for me, how does open-source help with the challenges of universal mainframe development and particularity through a Zowe lens?

Ludmila: Open-source allows today’s developers to use the tools they are comfortable using. They can leverage the power of the platform with those specific skills.

Steven: You think it’s going to break down those sort of skills barriers and those barriers to entry to the platform. Is that where you think Zowe is going to be most powerful?

Ludmila: Yes, because you don’t need specific skills, and open-source connects everybody today and this project is amazing and it’s very recent and I’m looking forward to working closely with students. Especially in Brazil next year.

Steven: A couple of questions I ask everybody in this type of forum. First off, if you had a crystal ball, and you could look three to five years into the future, would you be able to give us your view of the mainframe three to five years from now? How do you think it’s going to be impacting the industry?

Ludmila: Wow. That’s a tough question.

Steven: It catches everybody out. So it’s a good one to make you think.

Ludmila: Yeah. In my point of view, I expect that the developer community & the students can see the modern mainframe the way we both know. I see that in three years, considering all situations we are facing in many countries, this can position us in a very important platform to many industries such as education and banking, since we already have already a long history with them.

Steven: Okay. The second question that I always ask is if you could speak to the Ludmila that was at college, and go back in your own life, what would you say to the young 20-year-old Ludmilla about how to build a career on this platform? What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Ludmila: I shouldn’t say this and I hope that my dad doesn’t listen to your podcast. He’s been trying to pitch me this since I was 15 years old or before I could ever think about an IT degree. He is always pushing me like, “Hey, there are many job positions. Hey, this is amazing, and I am still working with this, and this is going to live forever, and you should be studying.”

Steven: As a father to a 15-year-old daughter, your advice is listen to your father.

Ludmila: Yes. I won’t show this podcast to him.

Steven: I’m going to play it to my daughter so that she listens to it somehow. This is fantastic. Just as we look to wrap up, Ludmila, just a sort of final couple of questions if you’ll permit me. Are there any specific requests or interests you have within the Open Mainframe Project as you look ahead for this next 12 months?

Ludmila: I am very excited about Zowe and the new ways students will be able to interact with the platform. I wanted to be able to share it with them, and provide them the opportunities to participate in the open-source community, so that they can build their skills.

Steven: Okay. You see internships and Zowe as the things that are of most interest to you over the next 12 months?

Ludmila: Yes. The real life experience is something that helps you create your path with your career. It’s a very good opportunity.

Steven: My final question, what advice do you have for the mainframers working in the IT industry?

Ludmila: For this one, we would have to record a new podcast to just talk about it.

Steven: If I can keep you brief Ludmila, what would be your maybe top two or three pieces of advice?

Ludmila: First of all, I think the most important is to shift perception, because we need to promote our strengths, our value impact, and the opportunities in mainframe. Mainframe is such a modern technology with so many possibilities, that we all should be talking about this all day. If I can say, please remove the acronyms. Remove the jargo. Remove all these letters from the job descriptions because it’s not helping to attract the new professionals. The new generations don’t know those names. They don’t know what JCL is but, they are amazing programmers. They can learn about COBOL. They can pursue any mainframe job position. But sometimes, they are afraid of the acronyms. Once again, be close to school, your faculty and students, because you can be a guest speaker to a mainframe class. You can be a mentor. There are so many possibilities, but we need to put everybody together and connect all mainframers.

Steven: Ludmila, that’s been fantastic. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you over the last few minutes. Any parting comments? Any final things before we wrap up?

Ludmila: I think the last thing that I would add here, it’s important to us to go to the community where we can find the mainframers. We don’t have to expect them to come to ours. That’s the reason why I am parting up meetups, conferences, communication channels. I’m organizing a series of meetups in Brazil, and I think everybody should be creating and promoting this knowledge and experience to the students and future mainframers.

Steven: I couldn’t agree more, Ludmila. I think getting involved in the community and building the platform and breaking down some of those barriers is certainly why I see myself as a mainframer. From our conversation today, it sounds like that’s where you see yourself as a proud mainframer. Thank you very much for your time today, Ludmila. It’s been fantastic to talk to you.

Ludmila: Thank you, Steven. It was great.

Steven: You’ve joined me, Steven Dickens on the Open Mainframe Project, I’m a Mainframer podcast. Please look for us on iTunes and other platforms and click the subscribe button. We’re going to be here talking to you on a regular basis around what it means to be a mainframer going forward on this platform. Thanks so much for your time today.

Sujay Solomon: I am a Mainframer

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer

In our latest “ I am a Mainframer” interview series, Steven Dickens, WW Sales Leader – LinuxONE at IBM, chats with Sujay Solomon. Sujay has been in the Mainframe industry for 8 years. With an array of experience in technical leadership roles such as z/OS system software development, web development and product management roles, he is now leading CA’s initiative to modernize the Mainframe for developers. Steven and  Sunjay discuss the business processes and business that the Mainframe platform is supporting, Zowe and the future of the Mainframe.

If you’re a Mainframe enthusiast or interested in the space, we invite you to check out our new community forum.

Steven Dickens: Good day. I’m Steven Dickens and it’s my pleasure to host another edition of the I’m a Mainframer conversation series, sponsored by the Open Mainframe Project. As a Linux Foundation project, the Open Mainframe Project is intended to help create a Mainframe-focused open source technical community focused around collaborative engagement on the Mainframe platform. I’m joined today by Sujay Solomon from CA. Thanks for joining us, Sujay.

Sujay Solomon: Thank you, Steven. Happy to be here.

Steven Dickens: Sujay, this is all about why you’re a Mainframer. If you can just get our listeners a little bit orientated and tell us a little bit about yourself and give us some background. And really first off try and understand what makes you a Mainframer and what makes you so passionate about the platform.

Sujay Solomon: Sure. I am, I’m actually a Product Manager now, so I haven’t been writing code for a little while. But what attracted me to the platform was I went to Penn State for computer engineering. And that degree is interesting. It’s somewhat of a marriage between computer science and electrical engineering. You do a little bit of hardware and you do a little bit of software. And it kind of meets in the middle.

Because of that background from Penn State I was interested always in doing and working on things that powered the back end of things. The engine, if you wish. And I, right out of college I actually worked for a start-up where I was designing and building code for microcontrollers. And it just happened to be that that was being done in Assembly language, believe it or not.

And then I saw an opening in Penn State’s career website that said there’s a position for a software engineer at CA Technologies in Pittsburgh. It might involve a decent bit of Assembler for that programing and I said, “You know, I like what I’m doing now.” I didn’t really know about Mainframes but I just went out and Googled Mainframe a little bit. And then I found out that there’s all these very important technologies and businesses today that run with the Mainframe as their backbone. From what I had heard about Mainframes in the past, from movies and such, was that they need to be hacked because they’re very important. Until I did some bit of research I didn’t know what they actually did.

But then again I considered it, I looked at it and I mean it was a very stable platform that had been around for a very long time. I said, “Why not? Let’s go and interview for this. I’ve had my year of fun with start-ups, let’s go and look for something that’s more long term.” That’s how I got started with the Mainframe platform.

Steven Dickens: You started out as an Assembler programmer and that’s what drew you into the platform, is that a good summary?

Sujay Solomon: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the fact that when you’re developing code at that level you need a very clear and good understanding of how the system works at an operating system level. And maybe even at the hardware level. But you still have to have your fundamentals of writing software and developing code in a good place as well. I liked that aspect of it where I wasn’t writing a whole lot of high level, abstracted code and I was doing more coding that was very close to the operating system and the hardware. That’s absolutely what attracted me.

Steven Dickens: Keen to get a view underneath that a little bit. I mean, you obviously learnt Assembler, you came out of college, got into that start-up, were writing that code close to the hardware layer. Tell me a little bit more about that transition as you went from that world to the Mainframe world. Was it an easy transition for you to make? I think a lot of our listeners would be interested to understand how you made that transition.

Sujay Solomon: Yeah. My response here is usually a little bit different from what I’ve heard from others. I actually didn’t have much of an issue. It’s, Mainframe is just another computer. And the architecture that’s followed in the Mainframe platform is well defined and actually one of the common architecture that’s followed even in other platforms. To me, learning about how a computer works at its core was very key at Penn State. And their curriculum was such that they didn’t focus much on specific languages or specific technologies. It was more so concepts that drive how computing works.

And that really helped me when I joined CA and we were doing a lot of development and operating systems level things. And it was really enjoyable for me because it was really the concept that I was learning. And then actually putting them to work from what I learned in college was way more interesting to me than what language I was writing the code in.

The transition for me was fairly easy. Especially when it comes to the language. I had no issue with picking up high level Assembler as opposed to writing in the microcontroller Assembly language I was using previously. I did do quite a bit of C-programming as well. Along with Assembler on the Mainframe. And again, both are languages that I really enjoy writing in.

The concepts in Mainframe when it comes to, say, things like cross-memory posting, managing your virtual storage, topics like that, they were challenging but it was also very, very interesting. That’s what drew me in and kept me here is the technical complexity of the platform when it comes to writing very efficient code. And you having full understanding of what you’re writing and how the machine’s gonna actually interpret that and run that for you.

Steven Dickens: I’m just, as I was prepping for this Sujay, was looking at your profile on LinkedIn and looking at the eight years or so you’ve been at CA. Pretty stellar rise through the ranks there from a software engineer through to your current role. Can you just give these listeners a view of what you’ve been involved in, some of those interesting projects. And really a whistle-stop tour through your time at CA. I think the listeners will find that really interesting.

Sujay Solomon:  Sure. Just to go back to your previous question, you asked if moving to the and working in a Mainframe platform was challenging. The technology itself wasn’t really challenging but the expectations in the Mainframe world were quite challenging. I was maybe two weeks into my job and I worked on a performance management product which was quite key at CA. And they had me look into an issue that the customer had opened. And I worked it out, I came up with a fix and I wrote a PTF which you can consider a patch and another technology, right?

And I released that not as a public thing, but as a closed off fix for just one customer. And I get a call directly from one of the Directors of Mainframe in that company and he’s drilling me over intricate details of the fix that I wrote. I certainly did not expect that. But trial by fire like that really put me in a place to understand how important this platform is for people. And the fact that somebody that high up in their organization was technically proficient and looked at a fix and was concerned and then he called me up directly to ask questions about how it was implemented … That opened my eyes as far as how important this platform is.

And going forward I work on other products that even plug directly into the operating system. And if you’re, say, opening up a data set on the Mainframe and somebody else is opening it up at the same time there’s serialization issues that can occur. I actually worked on quite a bit of operating system exits that would handle serialization issues like that.

One of the times we, a large bank in Europe was having some issues with ATMs. And they didn’t really know what the issue was but they essentially said, “Hey, CA. We have your software. IBM we are using your platform. You guys work together to sort this out. We don’t care what the problem is but we need our ATMs to be back and running right away.” That involved being on bridge calls with the customer, with other vendors for many days straight. Across weekends, even nights and then we all worked together to solve this issue because this was a customer who was really dependent on the Mainframe. And as vendors who create software and hardware for the platform we all work together to solve issues like that.

That sort of experience was rewarding for me. It’s solving real world problems that touch people lives every day. It’s just working on the software that runs it.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, and I think that’s obviously a challenge we’ve got as we position the Mainframe out to different audiences. It’s, as you mentioned in one of your statements, the box at the back end. It’s not front and center for a lot of our clients. It’s the box that never falls over at the back of the data center that just runs the business. I mean, have you seen that as you’ve engaged? That critical, sorry, criticality to clients? And if you could maybe give a CA perspective on some of the business processes and business that this platform’s supporting, that’d be interesting, I think.

Sujay Solomon:  Sure. Again, before I got into product management I was engineer. I was working, I was supporting products as a level 2 engineer, but also actively doing development on it. One of the things that I had to do was I was actually on call over, at night and on weekends. So if I was going hiking in the mountains I still had to make sure that I had phone signal and I usually lugged my laptop around in case I got called. And then it has happened. I’ve been at friends’ places at 3 o’clock in the morning and I’ve had to attend calls where they said, “Hey. We’re having a data center outage and we run your software. Again, we don’t know what the issue is, please look into it.”

And you just have to get on that call and get to it because as minutes go by with their Mainframes not working, they’re losing maybe thousands, hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of dollars in business. With just a few minutes of the Mainframe not operating. That’s the level of importance that the industry has on the Mainframe platform.

And CA absolutely has so much process in place. We have rotations of folks who are gonna be on call. And multiple layers, even, or a certain person who’s maybe in Support gonna get called first. And then if they’re not able to solve it they have multiple levels of escalation and everybody’s number is on file and they can get called at any time. That’s part and parcel of working in an environment and an industry like this where you’re really key when it comes to continuing the business operations. And to me that’s actually rewarding. I don’t see that as a burden. I see that more as, hey, the key businesses in this world rely on our technology being highly available. And we are the people who help make it highly available if it ever runs into issue. That’s very rewarding.

Steven Dickens:  Yeah, I think that’s just part of being in this Mainframe space. There’s a different code, if you will, around what it means to be a Mainframer and what it means to support these clients. It’s good to get that perspective and I think it’s interesting to hear you say, and I certainly feel this way, is we’re supporting these clients. That’s a good thing. You feel like you’re giving something back and there’s … The world runs on these platforms so to be involved in them is a positive thing.

Looking ahead Sujay, there’s some interesting stuff going on right now as we look at the Mainframers and overall platforms. Some fantastic announcements at SHARE recently. Can you just give me your view of where you think open source and the Mainframe platform come together? And really how you see that shaping not only the platform but just how customers are gonna interact with it going forward?

Sujay Solomon: Sure. One of the challenges that we’ve had over the past decade with the platform is since it’s closed source, folks have been able to improve the accessibility of our platform to the level that some of the other platforms have achieved. And that’s starting to become an issue because when you look at, just take for example DevOps tools. Things like, I think they use integration tools like Jenkins or build tools like Gradle, Gulp, Ant, Maven. These are now becoming synonymous with software development. Not necessarily tied to any platform.

You could build software that runs on Windows or Linux or maybe even different distributions of Linux. All of the software that runs on those different platforms can be built using the same build tools, can be managed using the same  pipelines. The fact that it’s a little bit of a challenge to integrate Mainframe into those standard tools that are becoming prominent in the software industry, that is a problem.

And I believe with the initiative that we announced at SHARE called Zowe, our intent is to really, not necessarily solve that entire problem. But kickstart an openness to the platform. And start building some infrastructure that would allow the community of users and customers and individual developers to really start building integration into these open tools that are available. And are becoming very popular with developers in general.

But sometimes I say that we’re trying to make Mainframe just another platform. But obviously we’re not trying to reduce the scalability, availability, security or any of those great aspects of the platform that we have. Just add to it by making it more accessible.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think open source brings a lot to that. I mean, what’s your view on how that community’s gonna build around something like Zowe? Sounds like a strong focus on the technology but if you give me the community perspective, what do you think that community engagement’s gonna bring to a network like Zowe?

Sujay Solomon: Sure. Up until now if you wanted to influence what happens on the platform, there were a few avenues. There is a, within the SHARE organization they have something called SHARE requirements. And then that was one way to influence what goes into the platform. But now with the power of open source, it’s a home for anybody who is interacting with a platform to really start looking at it and saying, “Hey. I’ve got this program that I wrote, this  program I wrote that helps me greatly every day with maybe looking at system on the Mainframe.”

I don’t particularly see this as a business advantage for me, just keeping it to myself. And I don’t even want to maintain all of it myself. Maybe I’ll just up in the open source foundations, GitHub, and a lot of others might start using it. And they may even start enhancing this utility that you shared yourself. And you might reap the rewards of you open sourcing it because others are enhancing it and you’re now able to take advantage of what other folks are building in their tool that you shared.

That is really what we want to build and promote and nurture. Is build that community around the platform where folks feel comfortable sharing their tools, sharing their ideas so that the platform as a whole can grow. Without having to go through a lot of process and influencing say just a couple of vendors and improving it.

Steven Dickens:  Yeah. And I think I certainly get the perspective that that kind of crowd-sourced community development is where the industry’s going. We’ve certainly seen that explosive growth of the model for how code is developed. And it’s really interesting for me to see that increasingly coming to the Mainframe platform. As you say, not moving away from the performance availability, security, but adding to the platform. And just making it not only able to play nice with others as part of a DevOps type framework. But also just harness the community, harness that crowd to develop on the platform.

One of the questions I’m gonna ask and get you ready mentally for this Sujay, so this one’s gonna challenge you. Where do you see things 18 months, three years, five years out for the Mainframe platforms? You look ahead and into that crystal ball, where do you see the platform going?

Sujay Solomon: Well, seems like things have come full circle. When I was in college, mid-2000s and maybe even before that, there was a lot of talk that Mainframes are going away. We’re gonna try to migrate everything to the cloud. That sort of thing. But what I’ve noticed recently is actually kind of a reinvigoration of interest and commitment to the platform from a lot of companies. Because they seem to have realized that there’s quite a few aspects to the Mainframe that are, that really cannot be replaced by anything else.

There’s also a lot of investment that has gone into the platform. There’s, I mean, think about the 30, 40 plus years of business logic that’s been written and enhanced and refined over these years. Why rewrite that? Why move that somewhere else if you can make what’s on the Mainframe highly accessible and open? So that you’re not inhibited by the platform when it comes to innovation. That’s key, is that we need to be able to drive innovation on the platform. It can’t just be a platform that is kept maintained well. It’s gotta be a place for innovation. And I believe that that’s starting to happen.

Today I think folks at larger organizations are just accepting and realizing that the platform is not going away. And they’re starting to reinvest in it. I’ve even heard that some of them are even moving non-traditional workloads. Things like Java workload or an OJS workload from other cloud platforms into the Mainframe platform. I think next year, or maybe a couple of years from now, we’re gonna see more of that. Where maybe there’s an application that’s running somewhere in the cloud that’s not meeting SOA. And the data that that application interacts with is actually on the Mainframe.

Those types of applications, if we make it simple enough for, say, a web developer to deploy a web application to the Mainframe. The same way that they can use something like a COI to deploy to another cloud platform. As long as we make it as simple and as accessible I believe Mainframe is now gonna start taking a spot when it comes to enterprise architecture where they consider different deployment platforms. Mainframe needs to be considered as one of the options there and I believe that is starting to happen.

Steven Dickens:  Yeah, I think we share a lot of the same views, Sujay. I think I see an exciting future ahead. And some of the work that you guys are doing around Zowe and the open source collaborative piece is only just gonna help that.

One final question as we look to wrap up our time today. The format of this is I’m a Mainframer. What would you say to yourself back as you were leaving college, if you could do that, around the platform? How would you energize the college kids graduating this year to get into the platform and follow your path and become a Mainframer?

Sujay Solomon: That’s actually a tough one. I really liked what Penn State did for me. They did not teach me a hell of a lot about specific languages or specific platforms. I learned concepts. Just normal programming concepts, computing concepts, hardware concepts. And I was able to take those concepts and I picked a platform that I thought was viable and long standing and that had an important place in today’s businesses. And for me there’s really nothing better than Mainframe data when it comes to longevity and stability and importance in the real world.

I wouldn’t get too caught up with the different languages. They come and go. If you look at UI frameworks there’s flavor of the year, sometimes even flavor of the month, frameworks that come and go. I would focus more on, if you’re learning the infrastructure of a platform, the skills all transfer over. I’ve myself gone from doing heavy duty Mainframe system level Assembler fee development. I’ve done some JavaScript and Java web development. The transition between the two really wasn’t bad for me.

That would be my advice, then, to keep your options open. Look at the platform and try to understand why it really is, plays such a key role in today’s economy and in various industries. And the skills you learn there are transferable to any other platform if you ever get bored and you wanna move around like I did. Options are always there for you.

Steven Dickens: That’s fantastic. I think that’s really good coaching. I think the Sujay of 22 years old would have appreciated that type of insight. Thank you for that.

Sujay, this has been fantastic today. Really good to get your perspective, really good to get a view of where you’ve grown as a Mainframer. Your initial experience at the platform. Your perspective of where we are right now with some of the things that are happening. And just that looking ahead and that view 18 months, three years out of where the platform’s gonna be. Thank you very much for your time today.

Sujay Solomon: Thank you, Steven.

Steven Dickens:  This is Steven Dickens signing off. You’ve been listening to the Open Mainframe Project I’m a Mainframer podcast. Please look forward, please look for us and join us next time.


I am a Mainframer

By | Blog, I Am A Mainframer

By Steven Dickens, Open Mainframe Project Marketing Committee Chair and IBM Global Sales Leader

What does it mean to declare you are a fan of a particular technology? Are you a casual user who kind of thinks the technology is cool, or does it have to be more than that? Do you need to be a developer or a super user? Can a new user declare a passing interest and still self-declare they are a fan?

Regardless of where you fall on this scale, the “I am a Mainframer” podcast series from the Open Mainframe Project has something for you. This newly rebooted podcast series hopes to be an informal entry point for the first time user of the mainframe, right through to providing insight to the 30-year technology veteran.

In this podcast series, I hope to provoke, stimulate and actively encourage the guest to share what brought them to the mainframe platform and get under the covers of how their careers have developed. I then plan to dig into what they are working on and the hot project that is driving their mainframe passion here and now. Finally, in every episode I will encourage the guest to look up from the daily grindstone and look ahead to what they see on the horizon.

Along the way, we will hopefully share some fun anecdotes and stories that will provide the much need color in this world of overtly polished marketing podcasts… rest assured in this podcast series we will be heavy on the fun and insights and light on the marketing fluff!

So please look to join me every month as we look to get a view into the careers of those who are shaping the mainframe technology space and more widely the enterprise and mission computing worlds. You can make sure you never miss an episode of this podcast series by subscribing here. If you want to be a future guest of the show, please send an email to Maemalynn@linuxfoundation.org.

Open Mainframe Project Announces Open Source Framework for Modernization | Database Trends and Applications

By | I Am A Mainframer, Zowe

The Open Mainframe Project has announced Zowe, an open source software framework that bridges the divide between modern applications and the mainframe, intended to provide easier interoperability and scalability among products and solutions from multiple vendors. Zowe is the first open source project based on z/OS.

Read more at Database Trends and Applications.