Laticia Carrow on Community and Completing the Master the Mainframe Contest
Reg Harbeck talks with Laticia Carrow about how community and the Master the Mainframe contest were revolutionary in her IBM Z journey.
Laticia Carrow: Hi, thanks for having me. I discovered the mainframe by accident it feels. I had a little exposure to it when I was a kid because with my mother and her classes and work with COBOL and then here recently I discovered Master the Mainframe; I wanted to be a part of that. I took it last year so that was 2018 and I only passed the first challenge, the first stage. Then this year I really buckled down and I decided to go all the way and so I passed all three stages. It was a challenge but it was very exciting.
Reg: Outstanding. So now your mother was a COBOL programmer. That's a very Grace Hopperish kind of thing. How did you end up with a mother who was a COBOL programmer of all things?
Laticia: Yeah so my mom was in the army and she did almost nine years. When she got out, she went to school for computer programming. One of her programs from what she has told me was COBOL and I believe she said FORTRAN too. So yeah so I now I guess I get to say how old I am. So I remember her having like books and all sorts of things and always at the lab in Killeen at CTC with my mom. I was probably seven or eight years old and she would be in the computer lab. It would be cold but I would be right there by her side and so yeah, it kind of rubbed off I guess some years later.
Reg: But not right away. I understand you had a whole other career before rediscovering the mainframe.
Laticia: Yeah, I was a hair dresser.
Reg: Now that—I mean—
Laticia: For a long time.
Reg: That makes you a bit of a people person I'm going to guess doesn't it?
Laticia: Absolutely. I love people and I like solving problems. Hairdressing for me, cosmetology as a whole for me was very rewarding. It gave me some experiences that I could never have anywhere else and it really helps you to connect with others being very forward facing. It also helps you to solve their problems so yeah, it's sales and soft skills, and all that good stuff wrapped into one.
Reg: Now at some point you took all those soft skills and got inspired to move into a more business/technology perspective and something must have triggered for you to sort of think about. Was Master the Mainframe your first jump back into the mainframe or was there something else?
Laticia: So as far as the mainframe is concerned, it was really funny, and the journey is pretty surprising. I actually was working as a hairdresser obviously and the salon that I worked at closed down; so I was out of a job and I had been at this particular place for a while. I was thinking wow, how am I going to build up all the clientele that I used to have? How am I going to call them to tell them to come to the other salon, blah, blah, blah? So I decided you know what? I don't want to do all that. I went ahead and went to the Texas Workforce Commission, took some “How to get another type of job” sort of classes and I was funded with a WIOA grant which was great so I was able to take all of these classes with the grant and I was able to take all the computer type classes that just blew my mind, like networking and security and all this good stuff. In one of my courses, they were talking about mainframes but that was only three pages, I kid you not, three pages of our book that even mentioned mainframe platform. So I got really curious and I reached out to Twitter. The next thing I know I got all the information that I needed and it was great. It was just—from there it was just like a rollercoaster but it was so much fun. So that's how I wound with Master the Mainframe.
Reg: So basically you started getting information through Twitter and I noticed, I mean you've changed your Twitter handle a few times and now it's Laticia Is Mastering The Mainframe (@laticiacarrow) which I think is really cool but I gather that's been part of your journey as you have discovered the mainframe you went from hairdressing to learning IT to being really interested in the mainframe. Was it then somebody who saw you on Twitter who told you about Master the Mainframe?
Laticia: Yeah so as far as Master the Mainframe is concerned which is—it's almost like my savior. So I was reaching out to certain ones and I spoke with a gentleman by the name of Chad Rikansrud.
Reg: Oh yeah.
Laticia: He said you know what?
Reg: BigEndian Smalls he is called. BigEndian Smalls is his nickname.
Laticia: Absolutely and he was really great because I would watch videos with him and Phil Young and oh my goodness. I said wow, how are you all you know figuring this stuff out? But anyway I could go off on a tangent on that but he had said you know what? You would do really well by meeting a lady named Misty Decker.
Reg: Oh yeah.
Laticia: So yeah, so he sent me an email. He added her and she kind of said hello. She was like you know what? Here's Master the Mainframe. Here you go. See what you can do. Wow, what a change. It’s paid off. Oh my goodness I'm so grateful.
Reg: And so you just having tried it for the first time and you've just now done it a second time and did all three levels. Now was it before or after you finished level three that you got the opportunity to do some apprenticing on the mainframe?
Laticia: Yeah so that's really amazing. As far as the apprenticeship is concerned, that was before Master the Mainframe when I kind of—not really before. I'm saying before I finished because I applied. You know I heard about it. I applied and then boom I finished part two. Then I was in talks with my apprenticeship and I said you know what? Let me go ahead and finish part three because there's no reason why I shouldn't, right?
Laticia: And so I was speaking to another person Professor Cameron Seay.
Reg: Oh my goodness. One of my favorite people.
Laticia: Yeah. He is quite—he's so awesome and just he's like you need to go ahead and get finished. I don't know what's taking you so long but I'm going to need for you to sit down somewhere and finish this right now. I said you know what? Okay. So I took like a weekend and just sat there. It was so rewarding when I finally got done and I think it was like the middle of the week like and I said oh my gosh. I can't believe I'm finished. It’s—I don't know if it's correct but it's got to be something.
Laticia: It's got to be something and so I'm really, really proud of that.
Laticia: And especially with all of the people. Gee whiz, I've had so much help and encouragement. The community has been fantastic so yeah, this is something. It's really something. Very impressive.
Reg: No, I have to say I'm a little bit proud of my tiny, tiny role way back when that may have had something to do with your journey in that the apprenticeship you're taking is at Broadcom which of course is CA Broadcom and that I knew a number of the people who put together the original CA apprenticeship program and some of the stuff I'd written and some of the things I worked on with them contributed in a small way to what they were doing so I'm really happy that you're doing that program. You know, one of the important ways that Broadcom is contributing to the mainframe ecosystem with this program and recognizing that not everybody in their apprenticeship program will be with Broadcom for their entire career but by forming them you know they're contributing so much to the ecosystem with these other people. Now for yourself, what are your observations so far in terms of the stuff you really like doing on the mainframe that you can see yourself doing for a really long time?
Laticia: Oh wow. Are you ready?
Reg: Go for it.
Laticia: So yeah, yeah. I look at—I came in looking at the mainframe as like a cake right but it has a couple of different layers and one might be strawberry, another vanilla, another chocolate and I keep taking these little pieces and formulating this perspective. I really like databases. I don't know what that's all about. In my limited experience it has been very fun to be able to manipulate data and put it where I want it to be. I don't know if that's a control issue or maybe I need to explore that but it's very rewarding. It's very rewarding. In the past I was really interested in security but I find and still am but I find that security is everyone's issue, everyone's issue and with databases I think that may be my contribution to this platform.
Reg: Cool. Well you know I—
Laticia: Because every—
Reg: Uh-huh. Go ahead.
Laticia: I'm sorry. I was just going to say everyone you know depending on where you are right but everyone has something to contribute. We all come into it thinking oh yeah I'm going to do this and I'm going to do that but in all actuality when you start tasting the cake, you find what you really like it so that's kind of where I'm at.
Reg: Cool. Well I have to say database is one of those areas on the mainframe I've always admired but I've gone in every other direction, never really dug deep into the databases. In fact when I was at CA Broadcom, well before they were Broadcom, one of the things I did is I learned a lot of different mainframe presentations and when it came time for me to learn the presentations about CA's mainframe databases, IDMS and Datacom, the fellow who taught me about them a fellow name Orin Stevens who I really look up to, he said, “You need to understand you're not a DBA and you can't pretend to be a DBA. People will smell a rat if you act like that. If you haven't been up to your elbows in database for years, you're not a DBA so present this respectfully and don't act like you know what you're talking about.” It was a real education for me but we've got six amazing databases on the mainframe. We've got of course Db2, IBM's Db2 which is sort of the one people automatically think of, you know, that great relational SQL database. We've got IMS which was the first great database in some ways on the mainframe that was constructed for NASA for the Apollo space program and still is so you know incredibly important. We've got Datacom which started out before the mainframe as a data communication product and slowly morphed both into a database and onto the mainframe. We've got IDMS which was the product of some of the earliest really in-depth academic theorizing about what a database could be. We've got ADABAS from Software AG which pairs up with their NATURAL product and is a wonderful tightly-coupled pair of products that a lot of organizations use and there is tableBASE which is this wonderful in-memory database that allows you to let the IBM mainframe handle all of the disk stuff; it's just super efficient because it just takes advantage of all of IBM's memory management so I mean we just have this incredible wealth of amazing databases on the mainframe and so I think that might be an area you'd really enjoy. That said are there any other things you sort of observe? Unfortunately we only have so much time now but I'm sure you'll have lots more opportunities to be interviewed over the coming years but you know just what are some of the other things that have sort of struck you about the mainframe that you'd really like to share with people?
Laticia: For me, it's definitely availability and exposure. I would really like to see more people know about the mainframe. It is so important. I feel like there's kids that are in you know inner cities, three of them. One has the controller and they're playing the video games. The other one is telling him how to maneuver the video game and then the other one is looking for on his laptop looking for like you know the cheat code. Could you imagine if these kids understood that they were actually pair programming and then if we were able to reach out and touch them at a very fruitage – you know, blooming – type stage and tell them hey, would you like to learn how to do that on the mainframe? Hey there's a little place here. I can show you this vignette. I think that it would really blow our minds as a community all of the talent that's actually out there. Me, I'm a hair dresser so the hand eye coordination is on point. You have painters out here painting houses. Could you imagine if you had somebody with that type of focus to stay inside of the lines and you taught them how to program what it would do? I mean it's mind blowing I mean: think of it!
Laticia: Yeah, I'm not saying like don't go to colleges anymore and you know get people and recruit them. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that there's a lot of talent out here.
Laticia: And we just have to tap it. We just have to tap it. That's it.
Reg: Yeah, absolutely.
Laticia: Expose these people to it and they would be so happy.
Reg: Well you know one of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill. I like to use it at the end of some of my presentations when he said "Well this is not to the end. It's not even the beginning of the end but it is perhaps the end of the beginning" and I like to use that quote in the world of mainframe because there are so many people who have written off the mainframe but those people have chosen platforms that are now long gone and the mainframe is still running. It's so wonderful to have a new generation of people especially—including people like yourself who have real life experience to bring to bear in their learning on the mainframe to really becoming such a bright future on the mainframe. We're a small community. We all tend to get to know each other and so you know I'm really happy to be one of the people to introduce the mainframe world to you and to the mainframe world. It's going to be really fun to see where you go next in your career and welcome to the mainframe ecosystem Laticia.
Laticia: Oh no problem. Thank you so much and let me just say you know this last year has been completely amazing and it's all because of the support and encouragement from the community. I feel it and I just want to say thanks. Also I listened to one of your recent podcasts with Ray Mullins and I just want to say he's impressive.
Reg: Oh, he is.
Laticia: Wow and I thank you for having this space where people are learning you know that mainframers are people and it's not all technical. It's this is how we learn and this is what we do to get to the places that we're at so I really appreciate you for that. It's such a service for the community so thank you.
Reg: It's such a pleasure so thank you Laticia. I look forward to seeing where your career goes next and what roles you play in our ecosystem.
Laticia: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here and I appreciate you.
About the author
Reg Harbeck is a mainframe enthusiast who has worked IT and mainframes for over three decades. He's the chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics ltd.
See more by Reg Harbeck