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A Call to all Canadian Mainframers

IBM Z Champion Reg Harbeck on encouraging mainframers from Canada to make their impact known

A photo of the Canada city skyline.


Mr. Watson. Come here. I want to see you,” said Alexander Graham Bell on March 10, 1876, marking the beginning of voice telecommunications. Americans and Canadians grow up learning about this important event in the early history of IT, but they don’t always know that Bell developed this technology in both the U.S. and Canada, or that he maintained residences in both countries for much of his adult life.

We have benefitted greatly from another Watson: Thomas J. Watson Sr. and his eponymous son. Each played a role in our journey to the System/360 and beyond to the modern IBM Z® platform. And like so many great technology leaders in North American history, they and IBM also had Canadian connections—including important customers, and development and manufacturing locations. Today, key IBM people, organizational units and clients—for IBM Z and many other lines—continue to work and prosper in Canada.

Keeping Canada Included

The funny thing is, we rarely hear about these Canadian successes—even in Canada! Somehow, the conjoined history of the U.S. and Canada has led to a concentration of popular communicators in the U.S. and a much more quiet and polite environment in Canada, where publicity is mostly reserved for sports stars, politicians and American celebrities. 

For the most part, that works out OK, as we are a deeply integrated pair of countries that allow for shared manufacturing, entertainment and academic and business thought leadership. Our historical roots aren’t easily severed by passing political trends. But sometimes, Canadians miss out unnecessarily because people forget to include us or, in the case of locations of SHARE conferences in recent decades, U.S. government spending limitations prevent attendance at events outside of the U.S.

That’s the context in which I learned and grew into my IBM Z career in the “frozen north” before taking my first job that involved work and travel outside of Canada. Until then, it was easy to feel isolated from the IBM Z ecosystem “out there.”

Then, in 1998, I attended my first SHARE conference in San Francisco, and began to see how alive and well the IBM Z world really was. For over two decades since, I’ve been deep-diving into this wonderful ecosystem of ours, traveling around the world and meeting with fellow Canadians. And what I’ve found out about Canadian mainframers is consistent with the culture of Canada, only more so: They’re hardworking, very capable and almost always shy of attention, let alone publicity. Fortunately, I have met a few Canadian role models who rose above this cultural ceiling, from SHARE past president Martin Timmerman to amazing IBMers (and former IBMers) such as Jim Elliott, John Swainson and IBM Z CTO Kevin Stoodley.

Subsequently, I’ve continued to grow and deepen my involvement in the international IBM Z ecosystem. I was delighted this past January to be notified that my journey now included being named an IBM Champion for Z—the only one in Canada!

Calling all Mainframers in Canada!

One consistent aspect I have always hoped my journey would manifest, whether in my career, academics, or my personal life, is to give other people permission and encouragement to meet and exceed anything I’ve accomplished. So, the time has come for me to take advantage of this excellent IBM Champion program to tap my fellow Canadian mainframers on the shoulders and tell them, “We need you too—join us!”

2020 is my first year as an IBM Champion. My hope and goal is to continue to qualify for this designation for decades to come and, if I succeed, to be joined by other IBM Z Canadian Champions so I’m never the “only one” again.

To my fellow mainframers around the world: If you encounter a Canadian mainframer, please encourage them to join the fun—and to contact me. And to my fellow Canadians, please reach out to me on Linkedin or learn more about the IBM Champion program. It’s time for us to wake the sleeping Canadian mainframe giant. 


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