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Developing a healthy mainframe ecosystem

Blog by Mark Wilson: Guide, Share and Engage is what GSE does. Networking is essential to GSE so we can develop and shape a healthy mainframe ecosystem that benefits all.

I was 16 years old when I started working in mainframes as a trainee operator. That was May 1980—which means my fortieth anniversary in the industry is coming up. Like many people, I worked my way up through the ranks: operator, senior operator and shift leader, then into operations support and systems programming. In 1998 I took my first role in a consulting organization and I’ve worked in that field ever since. Over the years, I learned that it’s good to talk, you should always pass on what you’ve learned. I know that I’ve benefited from the guidance and knowledge of many others throughout my career.

That’s one reason I’m so passionate about GSE and its role in creating a thriving mainframe ecosystem. While the technology is in rude health, we always need more people, new insights, fresh outlooks.

GSE exists because it’s good to talk, and nurturing the ecosystem is all about networking. Many of us in the industry found a great place to work and have stayed there. If you spend 20 years or more in the same bank, say, then you know that environment inside out. Connecting with other people means you can not only share your knowledge and experiences with them but, perhaps even more importantly, hear new insights from other organizations and different settings. That’s how it works.

There’s huge value to be gained from comparing notes with your peers. So imagine doing that with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, on a regular basis? Talking at a level that is almost peer review – allowing for commercial confidentiality – where you can instantly understand each other, commiserate over similar problems, and delight in novel solutions and new approaches. You don’t really know what “good” looks like until you’ve spoken to someone else. Welcome to GSE UK.

An attendee at our conference from a global bank put it rather nicely last year: “Conversations start at a higher, more informed level. That has to deliver a real benefit. The networking opportunities are incredible … mixing with people from other companies, comparing notes on the challenges we face and the possible solutions.”

I’ve probably visited most mainframe sites in the UK and there are lots of other people like me, who have seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. We’re another type of person you meet at GSE events. A third group are C-level executives. We’ve seen increasing numbers at our annual conference, interested in hearing what our technology can do to help them achieve their business goals.

In this way, networking becomes one big melting pot of industry people from all levels: board members and senior leaders rubbing shoulders with mainframe specialists, junior programmers, and with students and apprenticeships just starting out on their journeys. That is how you nurture a healthy ecosystem. As one longstanding GSE member said, “There are three reasons why it makes sense to attend the GSE UK conference. First, networking: discussing problems and sharing knowledge. Second, for cross-fertilisation of ideas. This delivers real benefits for their companies. And third, developing the next generation of mainframers.”

However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that “the best laid plans of mice and mainframes often go awry” (to paraphrase Rabbie Burns badly) and we’ve been no exception. The UK is currently in lockdown and while there are obviously far more serious issues, one of the many, many impacts of the COVID-19 emergency is the fact we’ve had to postpone this year’s physical GSE UK Conference to 2021. A disappointment for us but minor in the great scheme of things. However, that postponement doesn’t mean the mainframe ecosystem is on hold: far from it.

Instead, we’re planning a series of virtual conference streams and sessions for this November, when the physical conference should have been taking place. These will be free to access for GSE UK members, with the dates and times published in the normal conference agenda. We still need volunteers to present at the virtual sessions. We’ll be supporting our charities. And just like the physical conference, if members give feedback for sessions they attend, they can get the usual CPE certificate. In general, our specialist Working Groups can meet remotely in any case, as so many of us adjust to working fully from home. Other plans are under discussion by the GSE UK Board too, to help keep our community connected as we move through these uncertain times. Watch this space. Because now more than ever, it’s good to talk.

Mark Wilson is GSE UK Interim Region Manager and GSE UK Conference Manager. An international speaker in mainframe security and technology, and a passionate advocate of all things Z, Mark heads BMC Mainframe Services by RSM Partners’ Technical and Security teams.

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