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What has GSE UK ever done for us?

A great deal, says the virtually unstoppable Rob Stroud, a 25-year veteran of GSE UK and its annual conference. Rob explains why it makes sense to be part of ‘the essential IT knowledge network’.

I first entered the workplace in 1989 and, for me, it’s been about the mainframe ever since. The mainframe today is arguably more relevant than ever but the rest of the world looked rather different back in 1989. The Berlin Wall fell that year, signalling the end of the Cold War. In the UK, Sky Television went on air for the first time. House prices in London crashed, falling to an average of £86,800.[1] I know.

I started using computers at school then studied IT at what’s now Thames Valley University. Working mainly in COBOL then, I could choose from a great many jobs when I graduated. I joined Lloyds, moving into systems programming in 1991, and never looked back. I was an MVS systems programmer but basically did everything on the platform in those days. It’s more specialist today. Gradually moving towards CICS, I joined Capital One Bank in 2000 and, from 2005, progressed to Technical Lead at NatWest, where I now head a team of up to 40 systems programmers.

I first became involved with GSE around 1995 and have attended the annual conference ever since. So why have I stuck with it? What’s the point of GSE?

For me, GSE is about developing careers, and helping you look after your customers.

It’s a conduit for techies’ interests and enthusiasm. GSE is a great forum for different personality types to meet and interact. Some people want to learn, others to speak to more experienced people. If you’re in a relatively small team, it’s a great way to meet people and share ideas. And it’s also a way to connect with IBM: mainframers can bring their issues to GSE and have them discussed, with IBM and other vendors. That gives real impetus to helping solve everyday problems.

Of course, another big reason for individuals to get involved is to help develop your career. For me, that’s been multi-faceted. First, to help develop me as a technician, as an individual. You find out new things and can explore trends a little earlier, and potentially have an influence on the industry. And linked to that, you can build up a huge network of contacts. Both of which can only benefit your colleagues, your employer and your internal customers. Very often, if we’re having a problem with a piece of software or a supplier, I can out and leverage those contacts, outside the normal ‘trouble ticket’ process. It’s all about those relationships. That’s been a real advantage to me and my company.

One very positive development with the GSE conference this year was that I could send a note to my entire team with a list of agenda items and say that anyone who wanted could attend. In the past, I had to scrimp and save for, say, a couple of air fares for team members to fly down from Edinburgh. Our folk in India had no chance of coming along. With the online event, everyone in the team who wanted to come was able to. That was brilliant. Of course, that one-to-one, face-to-face interaction is also important, those ad hoc meetings and catch-ups over coffee, but that was just not possible in 2020. I see the way forward as being a hybrid event: in person for those who want or can, in a safe and controlled environment, while opening up the sessions to a far wider global audience online.

That approach is also important for the vendors that sponsor and support GSE, who want and need those direct interactions with people. Online and widening access is one part of it: you need the ‘traditional’ networking opportunities and social side too. That hybrid model is the right way to go. It’s a way to help GSE continue as a broad church, a place that attracts and offers something to everyone from students and apprentices through technical specialists and managers to influencers, vendor salespeople and execs.

Feedback from this year’s event reinforced my view. It was a great success, with strong numbers and positive feedback, so imagine what a hybrid model might be able to achieve? The two-week 2020 conference attracted 1,255 attendees and saw a total of 11,476 session attendances from 37 different countries. Despite being online only, it still welcomed some 34 sponsors and exhibitors present.

Back to the bigger picture. I’ve recapped where we are now, so what does the future hold? What’s coming down the line? I’m fortunate to sit on the Design Council with IBM, looking ahead for Z and CICS, and that really excites me: discussing future possibilities, things we might do today that could come to fruition and make a difference in five years. It’s very satisfying to be involved in that process. In my next blog, I’ll talk a little more about what you might see in the months and years ahead.

Rob Stroud works for NatWest. Chair of the GSE UK CICS Working Group, all views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of NatWest or GSE.

[1] Even allowing for inflation, that’s less than a third of the average house price in London in 2020. At the time of writing, that was around GBP £667,000 – allowing for an inflation rate of £120.29%, £86,800 in 1989 would be worth £191,000 in 2020.

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