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Lifetime IBM Champion for IBM Z: an advocacy journey.

By Darren Surch posted Tue August 03, 2021 12:54 AM


What a shock to be named a “Lifetime IBM Champion”!


It’s such a privilege to be an IBM Champion and have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with the 700+ global rockstars of IBM technology who also bear the title.  Now being named a Lifetime IBM Champion has taken this to a new level.  Since
rely, thank you IBM for this singular honor!

I’ve been asked by IBM to write about my advocacy journey.  While the tale may only be useful as a cure for insomnia, here are a few thoughts.


I began mainframe life as a COBOL and CICS programmer in 1990 and was recruited by a mainframe training company that was creating an exciting new training method called “computer-based training”.  Initially CBT was simple text and graphics installed on standalone PCs, but with the widespread adoption of the internet through the 90’s, elearning began to flex its muscles and its possibilities.


At the same time, the mainframe industry was growing concerned about the approaching retirement age of many of the senior mainframers who powered it.  The importance of mainframe training to the future of the mainframe workforce and indeed, the future of the mainframe industry, was apparent to everyone, but mainframe organizations seemed stuck in the traditional training status quo.



I realized that somehow, I had found myself at the intersection of these highly consequential and influential events.  The mainframe industry that powered the business world had an 'iceberg' ahead!  The industry’s captains could see it but inexplicably were not changing course!  Elearning was a new and relatively unknown element that, with the coming ubiquity of the internet, I knew would change enterprise training (and the education world).  So here I was, an Aussie living in America, at a remarkable tipping point, with valuable knowledge of modern mainframe training that could alert the captains and help the industry (no more metaphors, I promise!).  So, I began to tell my story to everyone who would listen!  I wasn’t sure if it would make a difference, but I just wanted to help.  I didn’t even know what an advocate was, but I began advocating!

Initially, most mainframe industry people I told my story to nodded, smiled politely, and ignored me.  But I kept on talking about mainframe workforce training to anyone who would listen, and I was lucky enough to meet with the passionate, tireless, talented, indomitable IBM Academic Initiative team.  Over years, we have helped each other to amplify the message of mainframe education, and I am fortunate to count many of these remarkable IBMers as my finest friends to this day!  Around the industry too, I was fortunate to meet other mainframers who could see what I saw and believed in the importance of modern mainframe education.  And so, the message began to resonate and be heard.

Enough of the rambling and to more practical matters. If you would like to try any of this, my advocacy covers a variety of activities, all interesting and enjoyable:

    • Active at mainframe conferences and events worldwide (Thought Leader style presentations about modern mainframe workforce training, plus taking part in round-table discussions/panels)

    • podcasts and other virtual interviews

    • writing articles for industry publications and on social media

    • mentoring for IBM’s mainframe hackathons and virtual mainframe events for next generation mainframers

    • active re modern Mainframe Workforce Training on social media, primarily via Twitter @Darren_Surch and via LinkedIn. 

    • running the Mainframe Education LinkedIn group

    • Promoting IBM’s industry-changing IBM Digital Badge Program and digital credentialing in general

    • I even had the privilege to play a small part in a US Congressman’s legislation to provide $100Million in grants to universities teaching mainframe programming: the “Grace Hopper Code for Us Act”. So cool!

    • and finally, importantly, most days I take a moment to speak with and advise someone wanting to enter the mainframe industry and change their lives with this exceptional, consequential and fulfilling career!


In the end, when it’s all boiled down, all I have really done is tell an interesting and important story over and over and over again.  It's a story about something I passionately believe – that optimal, modern, mainframe workforce training is critical to the ongoing vitality and efficacy of the mainframe industry!  So: start telling YOUR story, make it a story for the common good, back it up with your efforts, and keep it going!  Your advocacy journey, same as mine, will be a mosaic of all your individual acts of advocacy, big and little and everything in between. I look forward to seeing your important work!


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how the remarkable Interskill team’s 30 years of effort has also been a big part of the raised profile and modernization of mainframe workforce training.  Interskill’s mainframe elearning has now cumulatively trained over 1 million mainframers globally and is the world's most delivered IBM Z mainframe training annually with over 700,000 hours of mainframe training delivered to mainframe organizations in 2020.  We are proud mainframers and as well as training the industry, we also give back by donating mainframe elearning courses to universities and colleges to help foster the Z next generation. Kudos Interskill team, your efforts have lifted up an industry!  Finis Coronat Opus!



Finally, on a personal note, I'll let you in on a little secret.  I start each day trying to do at least one thing that my kids would be proud of me for, and that my future self will look back and be proud of me for. It’s a good rule to live by.


Thanks for reading.  MAINFRAME RULES!  Thank you IBM, for your gift to the world!


Darren Surch

COO Interskill Learning and Lifetime IBM Champion