John Eells: A Career Focused on Pragmatic Thinking and Knowledge Sharing

John Eells_badges_caption.pngJohn Eells’ career spanned more than 40 years at IBM in various roles, and many remember him most for his work on IBM’s z/OS installation strategy, which provides a platform that IBM and independent software vendors can use to transform the installation experience for mainframe clients. Elaine A. Krakower, manager for zCore Logic and project manager for z/OS at IBM, says, “He has a wealth of knowledge in so many areas inside and outside of work. I always walked away from discussions learning something new.” She added, “He's famous for saying ‘Truth in advertising’ and always strived to ensure if we claim it, then we are doing it. Really, he is of utmost class and character.”

Eells recalls his first SHARE conference in the 1980s. “I found it overwhelming at first, frankly,” he says. “So many presentations on so many topics, some of which were advanced, and not enough time to attend them all.” (This can be the case for most first time conference attendees.) But Eells adds, “I found a lot of value as a system programmer in the SHARE content and made several improvements to what I did on my return to work.” After installing System-Managed Storage at work, Eells says the storage management department implemented the software and improved productivity within 18 months. Technical sessions were the most helpful to him early in his career, offering best practices and solid information and facts that could be used in his day-to-day job.

One presentation from an American Express system programmer in the early 1980s has stuck with Eells to this day. “They had a unique way to measure availability,” he recounts. “A system was considered ‘down’ when any user was unable to use it to perform a work task.” American Express at that time had redundancy built into the entire system, complete with additional networks, routers, terminals, servers, and more. They thought creatively about how to make the system more robust. “With that method of measurement, they provided something well over 99 percent availability, a number almost unheard of at the time, and far below what would be deemed acceptable today,” Eells says. This presentation enabled him to think about the mainframe reliability problem differently. He adds that he looked at the problem not only to determine what was wrong, but also what could be changed to improve recovery time down the road. “We all cared about improving reliability, and that has not changed a whit,” Eells says.

The Benefits of SHARE

“A lot of change has happened at SHARE since the 1980s. People are less formal,” he notes. “When I went the first few times, all the IBM employees were required to wear suits, and SHARE badges were made on large print typewriters.” However, Eells explains, “What’s not different is that the people who attend still care deeply about making things work. Making them work all the time, even with outages hidden from their end users.”

SHARE offers many opportunities to glean information directly from software and hardware vendors, and build relationships with contacts at those vendors and other people who work in the industry. “All of these can be invaluable in a pinch,” Eells says. He also notes over time he found the most valuable aspect of SHARE conferences was the time he spent networking with peers. “If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly enough, if you need advice, even if you’re looking for a job, these things will help. Not only that, but these are all serious, smart, connected people. If you have a problem, any problem, and they know about it, and know you, they can help in unexpected ways,” he explains.

Eells, who was in a z/OS technical marketing position at the time, recalls one of his first SHARE presentations and how nervous he was. At one point he told the session chair to stop commenting on how many people were in the room after she reached 250. He was a bit nervous, but that didn’t stop him from presenting again and again at SHARE conferences, including one presentation that covered a preview z/OS release ahead of its formal announcement. Eells also laid out the roadmap for the z/OS installation strategy (as well as an update on the strategy from vendors) far in advance of its delivery, a presentation that received a positive reception and great feedback from SHARE and its members after he felt he had gone out on a limb in presenting it.

Eells says he's most proud of his efforts to guide others through his later SHARE presentations, such as using catalogs and why code signing is not practical for all of z/OS. He recommends programmers and others in the industry remember to base their decisions on facts, not opinion. Making decisions based on hunches can cost companies lots of money in downtime, Eells adds.

Throughout his career, he maintained his focus on pragmatic thinking and embodies the principles of SHARE in that he eagerly offered his expertise to those who needed it along the way. In leaving IBM, he left a plethora of work products to help those coming up behind him the knowledge they need to improve their own work. He’s confident that he’s left the work in good hands. Since retiring from IBM, Eells says, “The plan is not to have a plan for at least another few months.” However, he’s keeping busy with a number of home improvement projects.

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