Working on a mainframe can be a very rewarding way of spending your time. There’s lots of information to learn to start with, but, once past that point, there can be so much satisfaction in getting to grips with z/OS, Db2, CICS, and IMS and everything else. But how do you stay up to date? Vendors clearly have an agenda when they’re presenting to you. They want you to buy (or rent) products from them. How can you learn what’s new and useful, and remind yourself about techniques to improve performance or reduce costs?
You could spend time pouring over manuals and Redbooks. You could read journals or any number of mainframe-related blogs. You could join one of the many mainframe-specific LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups. You could follow your favourite vendors and experts on Twitter or Instagram. But, probably the most effective way is to go to a conference.
At a conference, you can enjoy a huge number of presentations from experts in a specific field, and you can get to chat to other mainframers like yourself. You can find out what they are doing at their site. What are their priorities? What difficulties have they met and how did they overcome them? And what’s their view of this latest product/device/way of working? You can come away revitalized after a visit to SHARE or any of the other conferences around the world.
Putting Covid-19 issues to one side, the problem most people face is convincing their manager that it’s good value for money for the company to send them away for those days. From the manager’s perspective, there’s the cost of your absence from work, and possible cost of paying someone to replace you for a week. There’s the cost of travel, there’s the cost of accommodation at the swanky venue where the conference is being held, and there’s the cost of food. Plus, everyone seems to refer to your days away at a conference as a ‘jolly’ – implying that you’re on holiday at the company’s expense and not working hard.
The answer that keeps colleagues and bean-counters happy is take part in online webinars. Sessions are usually around an hour long and you don’t have to leave your desk. And regular webinars mean that over the course of a year, you are always up-to-date with your chosen speciality – CICS, IMS, or whatever.
An example of an online user group is the Virtual IMS user group. It’s is an independently-operated vendor-neutral site run by and for the IMS user community. The user group was established in 2007 as a way for individuals using IBM’s IMS hierarchical database and transactional processing system to exchange information, learn new techniques, and advance their skills with the product. There’s a Web site at https://itech-ed.com/virtualims/ that provides a central point for coordinating periodic meetings (which contain technically-oriented topics presented in a webinar format), and provides articles, discussions, links, and other resources of interest to IBM IMS practitioners. Anyone with an interest in IMS is welcome to join the Virtual IMS user group and share in the knowledge exchange. The user group is sponsored by Rocket Software.
Last year, the Virtual IMS user group met six times. On the 5 February, the user group meeting enjoyed an excellent presentation from Kevin Hite, Senior Technical Staff Member (STSM) - IMS Architect at IBM, entitled “IMS ODB”. On 9 April there was an interesting presentation from Scott Quillicy, Principal at SQData Corporation, entitled “IMS CDC to Kafka – Performance and Tuning”. On the 11 June, the user group absorbed lots of great information from James Martin, Senior Solutions Advisor for Rocket Software. His presentation was entitled “What’s new in IMS Connect Extensions V3.1”. On the 13 August, the user group heard lots of great questions to ask and got lots of useful information about APIs from Dusty Rivers, Director, z Systems Software: IMS & CICS at GT Software in a presentation entitled “IMS APIs... You Don’t Know, What you Don’t Know”. Then on the 8 October, the user group had an interesting presentation from Glenn Witt, Principal SQA Engineer at BMC Software entitled “Managing changes in IMS environments”. Lastly, on 3 December, the user group had an absorbing presentation from Gary Euler and Al Saurette entitled “Providing system integrity for multiple LPARs with improved GDPR and PCI/DSS compliance”. It discussed a useful product that can recognize breaches in minutes rather than days called FIM+.
The Virtual CICS user group is very similar to the Virtual IMS group, except it’s for CICS professionals. The Virtual CICS user group is sponsored by Hostbridge. The user group website can be found at virtualcics.hostbridge.com.
Last year, the Virtual CICS user group also met six times. On the 15 January, the user group meeting enjoyed a wonderfully technical presentation from Tom Dunlap, CTO at Themis Inc. He talked about “The CICS / DB2 Interface”. On the 5 March, the user group was enthralled by another excellent presentation from Ezriel Gross, former CEO of Circle Software. He discussed “Efficient management of online resources using CICS Configuration Manager”. And on the 14 May, the user group enjoyed a second great technical presentation from Tom Dunlap, CTO at Themis Inc. He talked about “The CICS / MQ Interface”. On the 23 July, the user group absorbed a fact-packed demo from Colin Pearce. He was explaining “How to solve CICS Enqueue problems”. Then on the 10 September, the Virtual CICS user group experienced a great presentation from Glenn Schneck, Principal Technical Architect at GT Software. He was discussing “Mainframe Integration – Handling Legacy Application Challenges”. Lastly, the Virtual CICS user group were fascinated by a fact-packed presentation from Eugene S Hudders, President of C\TREK Corporation on 12 November. Gene was discussing “LSR Tuning Today”.
If you work with CICS or IMS, it’s worth joining these online user groups.