Much has changed during the mainframe's existence—what it means to be a mainframer, and technologies we use and support. While we've without regret shed punch cards, printed dumps, mechanical hex calculators and job control language (oops, that's still here), we've gained processor, DASD, memory, network connectivity, and speed and development capabilities we couldn't have imagined. Similarly, while we've mostly lost on-site vendor support staff, printed manuals and ample or relaxed time for learning, we have access to worldwide communities of interest and encyclopedic online information.
But this is not another baby-talk pep talk about using LinkedIn for meteoric career growth or a patronizing discussion of in-person networking as a source of technology help. Rather, it's a catalog and reminder of diverse resources for system programmers and application developers to do their jobs, develop personally and professionally, and not feel alone with their challenges. Groups shown are examples; many more exist and are easily found online.
Categories aren't rigid so even if you live online check out the real world. And if you're an in-person rock star but not well represented online, get started.
is the 60-year-old grandaddy mainframe user group. With conferences twice yearly, though a bit smaller than its peak size and a bit more expensive than its bargain days, it's still comprehensive one-stop shopping for all-things mainframe—and priced quite competitively against other conferences.. Organized into programs and projects by technology and role, there's something for everyone. SHARE's former tagline "It's not an acronym, it's what we do" became the equally accurate "Educate, Network, Influence."
Another venerable, well-regarded, IBM-oriented conference organization of interest to mixed-system sites is COMMON
, a global organization of Power Systems business computing professionals.
Specialty groups drill deeper into topics than more comprehensive organizations. IDUG
supports and strengthens the information services community by providing education and services promoting effective DB2 utilization.
Smaller groups fill gaps between large conferences, offering local or regional education and networking at very reasonable costs. One of the earliest organized—New York's Metropolitan VM Users Association (MVMUA)
—celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014 with historical and current technology presentations, and a reunion of many longtime participants. Similar groups support VMers in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
A local group with tight focus is the Tridex DB2 Users Group, similar to IDUG in orientation supporting the database information systems community of the New York City and Tri-State region. They welcome all users, from novice to expert. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A different creature is the VM Workshop
, originally a series of yearly events from the ’70s to ’90s, reborn in 2011 under new management. Almost entirely free of formal management and structure, it's always been a grass-roots production of the VM community. Offering several days of dawn-to-nighttime VM energy, it's made cost-effective by very low and quite-inclusive registration fee, and is typically at universities with economical accommodations.
IBM offers a broad worldwide selection of technology and management conferences
providing access to key IBMers and immersive education, at corresponding cost.
—within SHARE but open to all—invites those new to enterprise computing, in a new role with z Systems servers or working as new z Systems professionals, to participate. It includes links, blogs, training resources and a 1000-plus member community spanning two dozen countries.
These groups and meetings all have a key aspect in common: someone started them. As much as they look polished and eternal, they all began with a core group of people with shared technologies and problems. If you haven't found what meets your needs, get organized: Identify a mission and target audience, define logistics (i.e., where, when, topics, speakers, food), craft an invitation and let the world know you exist. You've got much better communication tools to work with than MVMUA in the 1970s or SHARE in the 1950s—and they've done OK.
And, of course, there are people you actually know. A colleague remarked that people look surprised when he reaches out and gets answers (as he did regarding a 3270 datastream question, with a friend firing up an analyzer to prove it). It pays in many ways staying in touch with congenial co-workers.
New practitioners may not be as accustomed to using system source code as extensively as those who worked before IBM withdrew and restricted it. But when it's available, it's the ultimate wisdom on how things work, and sometimes, why they don't.
arm covers the company's diverse products and services, architectures and business solutions. Titles help users prepare for IBM certifications, master implementation and support of IBM products and solutions, and educate business leaders. For both nostalgia and some timeless advice, the J. Ranade Series from McGraw-Hill
covered multiple topics.
IBM research residencies and resulting IBM Redbooks
publications provide a wealth of real-world installation, configuration and usage insights into myriad technologies. Titles span broad and deep topics, such as "Introduction to the New Mainframe: z/VM Basics," "Cloud Workloads on the Mainframe" and "System z on the Go: Accessing z/OS from Smartphones."
There's an essentially infinite bookshelf covering IBM. But a few seminal books by principals describe mainframe origins and evolution: "IBM's Early Computers" and "IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems." It's too bad these and other authors didn't continue this series through today's systems.
Among those with websites that have information are IBM, CA, BMC, Voltage Security, SHARE, Destination z, Data 21 and Information Builders. But look beyond these.
, for example, is a visual but not overloaded website that features "stories, insights, videos and datagrams celebrating a different z Systems theme each week and show how the mainframe is empowering big opportunities in both new and familiar areas." You never know when a story will resonate with your management or give technology insights.
Discussion lists abound, often with deep historical archives. Mainstream lists are IBM-Main
and VSE-L with a more festive website
. But beyond those, lists like RACF-L
are more tightly focused and where experts hang out. A fellow IBMVM subscriber noted, "I've been helped and helped others more on this mailing list then any other resource; there's a community of z/VM users here."
A caution regarding these lists: some echo to other services such as Google Groups, where they appear to function normally. But responses posted there are not always relayed to the main list, meaning the main community does not see them.
Not specifically mainframe-centric but relevant in these times of mixed systems and catastrophic breaches are two security mailings: Risks
Many active and veteran mainframers blog about current and past technologies. Jim Porell, retired from IBM in 2013 as a Distinguished Engineer, recently wrote "Emerging Technology and the role of the mainframe,"
describing z Systems and z/OS in particular relevance to current, emerging and future trends.
At the other career bookend is Millennial Mainframer
, a blog for “college students and early mainframe professionals interested in IBM mainframe technologies. We produce original content for the benefit of the mainframe universe, and help voice a fresh view from a millennial perspective." It includes contributions from industry stalwarts such as IBM's Tim Sipples.
LinkedIn is touted for career-oriented networking. Beyond that, though, it's a stellar source of mainframe-related information, solutions and answers. Groups provide mini-forums for posting resources, asking and answering questions, and discussion. Among mainframe communities are titles such as IBM Historic Computing, Global Mainframe Group, IBM z Systems Events, The Mainframe Academy, zNextGen, Order of Knights of VM and First Fault Problem Solving. The latter group is dedicated to "mainframe thinking," though concepts are generic, reaching issues in economics, business, and car and airplane design, among others.
Even with online job sites and automated matchmaking, recruiters still play a unique personal role in career evolution. But choose wisely; a 20-something recruiter may grasp neither mainframe technologies nor related career accomplishments. Joe Gallaher of staffing firm SPCI
suggests working with someone specializing in your field. Intimate knowledge of your marketplace and what you do helps tailor your resume to specific client needs and better "sell" you for appropriate openings. Such a recruiter will also be familiar with jobs that may not be advertised.
Some vendors still offer traditional classroom education, but beyond that are offerings like IBM's Academic Initiative
, a partnership between IBM, industry and academia, offering online classes, certification, a job board
IBM Global Training Providers
provide diverse classes and certifications. And Marist College offers free massive open online courses
Register for Destination z
and you'll see a steady stream of free webinars offered covering broad, detailed and vendor-specific topics. Similarly, IBM runs frequent webinars featuring technology leaders and plenty of Q&A.
include forum Mainframe Community and several more general areas. CA recently ran a webinar featuring Reg Harbeck, titled "A Big Piece of Cheese? Interesting Mainframe Analogies," pointedly noting, no, it's not dead, and it's not Windows and it runs the world economy.
Communication Is Key
Too often, the most important, most forgotten, least managed and exploited resource is your own career. So there's another resource to exercise: your own wit and wisdom.
I recently conveyed related advice—received from my reporter father when I was in high school—to students at my high school's career day: Be able to tell stories, communicate and describe why what you're doing matters. If you can, you'll be ahead of colleagues and peers perhaps your technical equals but unable to explain or demonstrate their abilities and value.
Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. Email him at email@example.com.