SHARE Grows with zNextGen

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Retrospectives offer us a chance to reflect on the work that has come before so that we can move forward with a solid foundation in history. SHARE’s 65th anniversary also serves as a testament to the hard-working individuals, leaders, and volunteers behind the organization’s growth and continued mission to educate and innovate. We’ve spoken with a number of volunteers and members about the history of SHARE and the role that many past presidents still play today in the association. As the next generation of mainframe leaders come into their own and pass their knowledge on to others in zNextGen, we spoke with the community’s current project leader and some of its members about where the group has been and where it’s headed, as well as the future of SHARE.

The zNextGen project began in 2005 during an IBM-sponsored meetup for “under 30s” at SHARE Boston. At the time, it was led by Kristine Bastin (formerly Harper) and Iris Rivera; the project was created to help newcomers to SHARE and the mainframe industry feel welcome. “Kristine Harper and I immediately connected at SHARE after meeting at a networking event,” says Rivera. “We discussed how interesting some of the technical sessions that we attended were but agreed that they were very advanced. We realized that we needed to connect with SHARE coordinators about providing education and mentorship to the next generation of mainframers.”

The process of creating the zNextGen group took months of planning and a lot of work by volunteers and staff at SHARE headquarters. Rivera and Bastin spent countless hours building the group’s infrastructure from the ground up, designing the program, and lining up speakers. “We were very fortunate to have the help of some amazing mentors, including Reg Harbeck, Jim Michael, Sam Knutson, Skip Robinson, Ken Tomiak, Brian Peterson, Ed Jaffe, Ed Webb, John Eells, and many more,” Rivera recalls. “Once zNextGen became a formal project at SHARE, we were welcomed into the MVS Program.”

She added, “The leaders helped us develop a suite of educational sessions that were beginner to intermediate skill level, we hosted our own zNextGen keynote session, held networking events in the evening, and built up a valuable mentoring program.”

A Warm Welcome for Newcomers

Hemanth Rama, current project manager for zNextGen, says, “zNextGen group has always been welcoming newcomers to SHARE and to the mainframe community. We hosted several formal and informal gatherings/networking opportunities for the newcomers while at SHARE.” zNextGen aims to foster a sense of community and provide educational materials to address the mainframe skills gap. He adds, “These opportunities helped them to ease into our group and [ease into] SHARE. This further motivated [people] to be part of the group and SHARE. We also encouraged a few newcomers to chair zNextGen sessions.”

Cody Giardinello, deputy project manager for zNextGen, agrees that the group is an entry point for newcomers in the mainframe world. He’s presented and volunteered with SHARE for four years and notes, “It’s been a real pleasure to work, socialize, and network with such a great community of people.” Luisa Martinez, software engineer at IBM, says that shortly after being hired as a developer by IBM, she got the chance to experience her first SHARE at San Antonio in 2016. “Since 2016, I have attended and presented at every SHARE. SHARE has allowed me to expand my network inside and outside of IBM,” she adds. “By being involved with SHARE and becoming a volunteer, I have grown my technical, presentation, planning, and leadership skills. As a new person coming into the world of mainframes, SHARE has played a crucial role in my career.”

SHARE allows you to tell your own story, Giardinello says. “My first presentation at SHARE was the easiest presentation of my life because it was a subject I am an expert in — myself,” he says. “At the zNextGen keynote that summer, I was able to tell my story from a college graduate with no mainframe experience to becoming a proud mainframer.” Connecting with zNextGen, Giardinello explains that it “has afforded me so many great relationships that I maintain today. Since then, I’ve been encouraged to see similar presentations given by people that want to connect in the same way that I did. We all have a story and the more we find out about each other, the quicker we realize we are more alike than different.”

Rivera says, “As I reflect on my experiences with SHARE, I recall that immediate feeling of belonging that I experienced at my first SHARE in Boston. There I was, surrounded by hundreds of people who loved the mainframe as much as I did.” She recalls that the event was rife with positive energy and vibes, and how everyone was friendly. “As my first business conference, I recall being conscientious about maintaining my professionalism since I have a natural tendency to be energetic and extremely talkative,” she says. “The SHARE community not only welcomed and embraced me, but they made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

Network, Educate, and Influence

Rama has said previously, “I believe that SHARE conferences are where you find the industry’s best minds under one roof.” His top three favorite things about SHARE are networking — SHARE has given tremendous opportunity to meet and greet like-minded people; education — SHARE has provided continued education, an extension to the strong footing of his master curriculum at Northern Illinois University; and SHARE — the organization provides a venue to share experiences and expertise. “I enjoyed speaking at various sessions,” says Rama.

Martinez agrees, “SHARE feels like a family. Being able to connect with the biggest mainframe user group, and being able to hear what they like, what they don’t, and what is not working for them has been helpful.” She loves the “wide range of sessions, everything from career growth to introductory, intermediate, and advanced technical topics, among many more.”

In keeping with SHARE’s core tenets – educate, network, and influence – Giardinello says, “it’s no wonder the technical agenda is always jam packed” given the amount of expertise available at each event. He says that newcomers should make the most of their time when they attend SHARE for the first time. “This is something we encourage all first-time attendees to do because the resources available during and between conferences is really unlimited,” Giardinello explains. “Everyone is willing to help, whether that’s on a technical subject or just getting to know who’s-who. The mainframe community is so full of knowledge and people willing to pass it along that there leaves no excuse not to introduce yourself and spark up a conversation.”

Giardinello acknowledges that networking is probably his favorite thing about SHARE. “I can’t think of a better way to meet new people in the industry without feeling like I’m back at a college career fair than at SHARE,” he says. “All it takes is showing an interest, and it’s actually surprising how many new people there are to meet during the week. There are always repeat attendees, but somehow I still manage to meet new people.” In terms of influence, SHARE helps lower the walls between IBM, vendors, and mainframe shops, placing everyone on the same team. “We all know how special this industry is and having a centralized, unbiased organization rallying the troops is hugely important and a big reason I stay involved,” he adds.

“What I didn’t realize back then (wow, 15 years ago),” Rivera says, “was that being one of the co-founders of zNextGen would be one of the accomplishments that I’m most proud of in my career.” She adds, “I’ve always been a people person, but connecting with the members of SHARE helped deepen my connection with and empathy for mainframers.” It’s clear that camaraderie is a big plus for Rivera, who says “SHARE is like being part of a mainframe family.” She also points to having technical leaders like Cheryl Watson and Marna Walle available as invaluable, alongside the education SHARE offers. “SHARE’s values are rooted in education and networking, which are also important to me,” Rivera says. “I’ll always cherish the six years I spent volunteering at SHARE and can’t express my gratitude enough for the support they gave me early in my career. I’m a better design researcher today, who’s committed to addressing the needs of my mainframe users just like SHARE.”

Mainframers Collaborate to Innovate

“SHARE continues to lead the mainframe community from the front. SHARE provides an opportunity for collaboration among various mainframe-centric vendors that helps to shape the future of the mainframe,” Rama says. “In my opinion, collaboration among mainframe communities is the key that shapes the future by setting standards and trends or resolving common industry problems.” Moving forward, he says that SHARE can further expand its influence by offering online sessions more frequently.

Rivera agrees, noting, “SHARE could expand its education offerings online and hold technical sessions throughout the year.” If SHARE records all online and in-person sessions, she adds, mainframers from all over the world could benefit from that education.

Martinez adds, “In my opinion, one of the biggest values SHARE provides to its members is that it allows for people from all different backgrounds and skill levels to network and share expertise with each other.” She says, “It also allows its attendees to learn about the latest that is happening in mainframe technology and what is coming. I continue to volunteer with SHARE’s zNextGen group because I want to continue to help provide the content and resources for those who are new in the mainframe space.”

Giardinello advises that as technologies evolve, the next generation of mainframers must do the same, which is why it is so important for mainframers to have communities like zNextGen where everyone can share a collective interest and bring their varied skills to the table. It is important for each generation of mainframers to have an “open” mindset, he says, because the mainframe is moving to a more open platform, which will require the use of more open tools and automation utilities. He adds, “Development continues in the industry — it’s our job to be the advocates for the technology and people we all love so much.”

SHARE must remain focused on leading changes in enterprise IT, promoting diversity, educating members about the latest technological advancements, and providing a platform for networking and collaboration. In the next 65 years, SHARE can expect new technologies to emerge and fade into the past, but the core of the mainframe business is not going anywhere.

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