Pamela Taylor on Her SHARE Presidency and the Path to Authorship
Reg Harbeck talks with Pamela Taylor, a past president of SHARE and a historical fiction author, about her experiences as a mainframer and an author.
By Reg Harbeck08/01/2018
Pamela Taylor: Hi Reg. As Reg said, I'm Pam Taylor and I've been associated with SHARE since the summer meeting in 1992 in a variety of roles so I have a fair amount of familiarity with that organization.
Reg: Now how did you end up becoming SHARE president? You started in '92 and if I recall correctly you were SHARE president about 14 years later. Does that sound about right to you?
Pamela: Well it's sort of a natural progression. You get involved in the organization as a volunteer doing something and some people are quite comfortable just staying at the level of volunteering to help the organization and to help in the technical program in their particular area of technology expertise, and others either are tapped or gravitate to a broader role in the organization. I started out with-in the area of application development languages. That led me then into open systems computing and the world of UNIX both as it manifests itself on mainframe hardware and as it was existing on other hardware platforms at that particular point in time. As I got more exposure to the people and the inner workings of the organization, I was one of those people that gravitated to getting involved at a higher level. That led me to join the board of directors in—I think this must have been 1998 that Ron Thielen asked me to be a deputy director in his administration and the rest as the proverbial saying goes led up to the presidency eventually.
Reg: Now so it sounds to me that you started out in your technology life doing some programming. Is that a fair assertion?
Pamela: Absolutely. Actually my first language was Fortran, I did a little bit of C programming along the way, I was involved with a small company that developed and sold mainframe style tools for UNIX platforms for people who were having to transfer their skills from the mainframe environment to a distributed environment, and I wound up writing a lot of REXX code at that same time and then moved onto doing a little bit of Java before my career took me in a slightly different direction as a software product manager.
Reg: Now I ask about writing programs a little bit because I just had the pleasure of reading your—I guess it is your first book, “Second Son.” Is that right?
Pamela: That's right.
Reg: You know I'm reminded of everything I read about how J.K. Rowling put her books together that she did so much research and planning before she started writing the first little bit of actual plot and I am going to guess that there was a lot in your case—a lot of research, a lot of planning and a lot of putting together very much like a programmer would. Is that a good guess?
Pamela: If you spread that whole idea out over a really long timeframe, yeah because I was a history major in college. I've always been just an avid reader of all sorts of fiction and nonfiction of a historical nature and so that absorption of details happened over a relatively long period of time. Of course with anything when you start looking at a specific timeframe you're writing about, then there are things you have to verify and research and solidify. But yeah, it was one of those things where the idea for the book and the facts needed to construct it had been assembled over a fairly long period of time.
Reg: So basically during your computing career, you were at the same time slowly building the idea of this book and bringing it forward to when you finally just published it. Is that about right?
Pamela: In the very classic mode of background processing.
Reg: Okay, fair enough.
Pamela: It took a while to decide that I really could write fiction but once I started trying it, it turns out it has a lot in common with writing technical reference manuals and white papers because readers are going to care about precision and they are going to care about telling a story and painting a picture. So the skills that I developed as a technical writer wound up translating.
Reg: I just wish that all the technical stuff that I read was written as well as your book. I think our technical writers could learn a lot from people who do fiction that has to speak to a broader audience. Now of course your own personal story—
Pamela: I was just going to say I think a lot of people wish that particularly technology reference manuals were a little bit clearer.
Reg: Oh yeah. I think that's one of the reasons YouTube is so popular because at least it feels a little bit more human than just trying to read the text that was written by somebody who thought they were writing a computer program versus the other way around where you are writing a text that’s written in a way that builds on that programming experience. I was going to ask you also about the interesting circumstances of your presidency at SHARE because you basically were part of a SHARE member company that got acquired by IBM.
Pamela: It happens, I’m not the first individual in SHARE's history that that has happened to and in fact not the first person on the board that that has happened to but I think I have the peculiar distinction of being the only one that it happened to while I was president. But it was one of those things that no one could have predicted at the time I stepped into the presidency. No one could have predicted six weeks before it actually happened, but it happened, and because SHARE is a fully independent organization, it was the right thing to do to step down once I was an employee of the Strategic Partner Organization.
Reg: Fair enough. Now would you say that your career in technology is mostly behind you or do you still have a heavy technological involvement in addition to writing and the other things you are doing?
Pamela: You know I kind of set the software world to one side when I retired and decided to explore things that I had never had time to do when I was in the really fast-paced world of computer software.
Reg: That makes sense. I know one of the neat things that’s happening right now is we're getting a lot of people who have decades of experience in the mainframe who are continuing to contribute in new ways. I think for example of Jim Michael. You and I both have him as a friend who was very active in the mainframe and then his organization moved away from the mainframe. He stayed active with SHARE and then when he retired, he has now stayed active in so many other ways so it’s neat to see that with so many of the people in the mainframe and SHARE space that they continue to be really active contributors to society in all kinds of new ways.
Pamela: You know I see it with people who may have retired from their corporate job but who find themselves staying engaged with technology in different ways. I was, during the course of my career, on a number of standards committees, IT standards bodies and quite often the people that were engaged in that were active in the corporate arena at the time but there were also a number of people who had had significant careers in software or in the industry who now had more time to devote to really trying to define and propel the standards forward and so that’s one way that people contribute. Another way is that they now have the time to do things like they wanted to, like maybe write applications for a smart phone, or for a desktop device or for who knows what. They have time to do programming for fun now rather than for the particular hardwired schedule, they were on in the corporate environment.
Reg: I like those ideas.
Pamela: I also see people that are staying employed longer because they still enjoy what they're doing and they're still having fun so they don't feel compelled or don’t have any particular interest in retiring.
Reg: I like those thoughts. So tell me. Are there ways that you see that your IT background as playing an important and maybe new role in your future pursuits?
Pamela: Oh, really good question. In addition to writing, I've got a little editing business and one of the things that I've already had the opportunity to do is to apply my technology knowledge to help a couple of authors get the technology bits right in the books that they were working on.
Reg: That makes a lot of sense. Now I know that you're a person that has got a lot going on in your life. I know one other thing I just wanted to mention briefly is the wonderful characters that were audible when I first chatted with you before I started recording, is that you love your corgis. I have always found that to be an interesting aspect of yourself because they are so important to you. Tell me a little bit about how you discovered that particular passion in your life.
Pamela: Well you know I've always had animals. I grew up with cats. I went from that to having horses and then I had a couple of dogs, and fell in love with dogs in general. I had a Siberian husky for a number of years and she was just one of a kind. When I decided I was not traveling so much and could actually give the proper amount of attention to some new dogs, I was like “You know I don't want to have the same breeds because I would always be measuring wanting to get the perfect dog.” I found a friend who had corgis, fell in love with them, and have two of them now. They are the taste testers for my organic dog treat business.
Reg: Oh, cool. You've got a dog treat business as well.
Reg: I wish I had another 20 minutes to keep talking. It looks like we just keep discovering all kinds of new stuff.
Pamela: You know there’s just so much fun you can have after you retire and of course I go back to SHARE from time to time as well, and I was recently on the nominating committee for this slate of officers that’s being elected in St. Louis next month.
Reg: Yeah, I've heard some exciting things about the people who are coming in in August.
Pamela: I think it's a good slate. I think there are going to be some really strong people. No matter who gets elected.
Pamela: There's going to be a strong board of directors and I think it’s going to be good for the organization.
Reg: And it's going to be great to see you in person at SHARE. I'm really glad to hear that you're going to be there this time around.
Pamela: Yeah, I'm only going to be there for a few days but I've got a couple of sessions I'm giving on Wednesday, will be there for the election and get a chance to catch up with lots of old friends and with what's going on in SHARE itself.
Reg: Excellent. Well any closing thoughts you have just about the life of SHARE and mainframe or life after both or just the prospect of bringing IT and humanity together as we all move forward?
Pamela: Well you know it's funny that you mention bringing IT and humanity together. That's to some people a very, very new idea and yet when I first started at SHARE one of things I did in my sessions is I was teaching REXX programming. The philosophy behind that programming language was to make programming approachable and doable for anybody, for the average human being, not just the person who understands data structures and data types and integers and floating points and all of the deep down in the weeds technology. So I think there still is a very real need for making the whole IT world accessible and easily approachable by the average human being. That's only gotten more important as we’ve moved onto all these different devices and being completely surrounded by IT as part of our day to day to existence.
Reg: I like those thoughts. Well this has been a really interesting and enjoyable conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time Pam.
Pamela: It was my pleasure Reg. Thank you for inviting me.