Luisa Martinez on zNextGen and SHARE
Reg Harbeck talks with Luisa Martinez about her journey to zNextGen, her experience facilitating informal SHARE meet ups and the importance of staying connected within the IBM Z community.
By Reg Harbeck08/01/2019
Luisa Martinez: All right. Well thank you for having me and I guess me ending up in the mainframe was kind of an accident I would say. I never intended to but I'm happy that I did so I guess my journey starts all the way from high school. In high school I knew I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up in a sense. I decided computer science and if you fast forward a few years in college when I was about to graduate, I did an internship at a local company and actually I was the IT department developer so after a few months they actually offered me a full-time job so actually before working for the mainframe for IBM I worked at a different company. So in that company I was, again, the IT developer and there I did more in-house applications. I was in charge of their internet. I was doing the front end, the back end. I was doing help desk so I was doing a little bit of everything.
Luisa: The first few months I enjoyed it. I mean I was freshly out of college and it was a fun experience but after a few months that's when reality sunk in and I realized that wasn't really what I was passionate about. I felt that I could have been more challenged. I saw that there was little growth within the company because it was a small company and there wasn't really an area that I could grow. I mean I was doing applications and it wasn't all that exciting. I mean some people find that exciting and that's perfectly normal but for me, I was looking for something else so when I said by chance, around the time where I knew I needed to find something else, a professor from my college, he actually reached out through email obviously. He asked me if I was interested in working for IBM. I knew IBM was in the area and I said why not, right? So I decided to update my resume and send in my resume. It's funny because I knew about IBM. I knew they were a huge company but I didn't really know much about them so in my mind it was kind of like what is the worst that can happen, right? If I send my resume, maybe they'll call me. If they don't, that's fine. That made me update my resume so it turns out I sent in my resume. I think a week later they reached out to me.
Luisa: That was really, really fast so I don't think I was prepared for that. They reached out and they asked me if I wanted to come for an interview the following week.
Reg: Now this is Poughkeepsie?
Luisa: That was in Poughkeepsie, yes, so that was really quick and I wasn't prepared. I didn't really know what I was interviewing for actually. I remember because I wasn't really sure what I was going to be doing. I was studying. I was very nervous and the week after I went for an interview. It turns out I interviewed for three different teams within the mainframe area in IBM Poughkeepsie and it was a very easy interview. I mean I know over time the interview process has changed a little bit but at the time it was pretty straightforward. It was more about information of what each team was and it was interesting. It got my attention about what they were working on. Everybody sounded so excited and passionate and even though I was still having trouble trying to figure out what was the thing they were working on, I knew it was something that was out of my comfort zone. It was not something I knew. It's not something I learned in school so once they offered me, I decided to take the offer.
Luisa: And that's kind of how I ended up on the mainframe. I work for z/OS Unix System Services. I do development and I've still been on the same team now for four years.
Reg: Excellent. Now the development you're doing at Unix System Services, are you doing that in C or Metal C or PL/S or Assembler?
Luisa: What we're doing is IBM proprietary language.
Luisa: Similar to PL/1. Yup.
Reg: Okay, cool. I've always been curious about PL/X not having ever been an IBMer myself, I've never had a chance to work with it. I'm going to guess it is probably a little bit more challenging to write than REXX but perhaps a little bit more satisfying than C.
Luisa: I actually never did C.
Reg: Oh, okay.
Luisa: I know yes, it's very similar to C. It's kind of that lower level language but yeah I mean when I went to school, I did mostly Java so it was something I had to learn and I'd done a little bit of REXX. I had done a little bit of C at work too. I even have done Node.js at work on mainframe on side projects, even Python so I've done a little bit of everything.
Reg: Now code pages must have been interesting for you because of course EBCDIC kind of sneaks in there when you're dealing with Unix System Services because it’s on the mainframe and yet of course you're still kind of dealing with ANSI a lot and ASCII. Has that been part of your journey kind of getting used to EBCDIC?
Luisa: At Poughkeepsie when I started we actually did an education, like onsite education, kind of like a boot camp, so that's when I learned about EBCDIC and all that conversion. At the beginning it was a little confusing but in the end, no I haven't really had any trouble with it. You kind of get used to it. I mean there's a lot of things that kind of take care of that for you. We have the converters and all of that.
Reg: Well that's good because otherwise you can get out of sorts about that.
Reg: Tell me how did you end up coming to SHARE?
Luisa: SHARE. I guess that was an intentional accident.
Reg: Oh? Tell me about it.
Luisa: Yeah, so I just mentioned I did some like Node.js and a lot of things within Poughkeepsie so the way I started was that my friend and I—we were at that point I think six months into the company—we worked on this side project with another group of IBMers so we were creating a mobile application of one of the components of z/OS that is run time diagnostics so we collaborated. We helped with the part we knew which was the application side and they put in a lot of the other work with the back end and all of that so we merged both sides. So when that came about, Frank De Gilio, who I am sure most people are familiar with—
Reg: —Yes, I had the pleasure of interviewing him and Jeff for this podcast as well—
Luisa: —Oh, they're awesome but yes they have played a very important role in my career. So they thought the project we worked on was very cool so I think TechU was coming up that year and he invited us to be part of his keynote for five minutes.
Luisa: Again, I had only been in the company for six months so at this point that was very challenging for me. I never thought of myself as a public speaker but kind of fast forwarding that kind of gave myself and my coworker the motivation we needed and confidence to go and submit some sessions for SHARE. We heard about SHARE. We heard about how it was the mainframe user conference and we liked the experience at TechU so we wanted to be exposed to more of that.
Luisa: So we decided to get together, brainstorm what kind of sessions we could submit. Of course we couldn't do too much technical stuff because we were still starting.
Luisa: So we decided to talk about our experience as new hires to the mainframe, how we were being trained and I think we even did a session about our project we worked on. We submitted the sessions and to our surprise, again we just tried it out, like why not?
Luisa: We tried it out and they got accepted and we got hooked on it.
Reg: So cool.
Luisa: Ever since I've been coming to SHARE. I got hooked.
Reg: Great. Now how did they figure out that you would be a great IBM rep for zNextGen, because we're really glad to have you at zNextGen, but how did that come to pass?
Luisa: How, I don't know. I guess my personality is that I always like to help. I always like to help no matter what and ever since I came for the first time, I always—I also love meeting people. I love making friends and making people feel welcome so even though I was new, I was trying to make everybody that was new kind of feel welcome within SHARE.
Luisa: Kind of create those connections so I think they might have seen that in me and once the current IBM rep had other projects going on, it was time for him to take on another role; they thought of me, which to me was a great pleasure. I really have been enjoying even going a little further and being even more involved to see more of the vision. For me, I wanted to even bring more of the introductory sessions to SHARE and it’s been a great journey and I've been really happy.
Reg: Well and I know I'm so impressed seeing the initiatives you're talking, like you've even created some new activities in zNextGen like this Thursday evening. You've introduced a new get together for zNextGen in complement to the Monday evening one.
Luisa: Yes, yes. I started this around two years ago and again it’s still kind of informal. It's not even on the agenda but the reason why I decided to think of something like that was because our project dinner was on a Monday.
Luisa: And on a Monday especially a lot of people that are new to SHARE sometimes miss it so they don't even find out or they don't think they can attend so I eventually throughout the week I met more and more people at SHARE so I was talking to Christy Schroeder, which you probably know her.
Reg: Oh, yeah.
Luisa: Everybody knows. She is a great person. She is our Z Skills offering manager. I was talking to her and she was telling me about how at other conferences sometimes they have some other meet ups and I was like Christy, that's a great idea. Why don't we do this at SHARE?
Luisa: So we tried it out. I think the first time was Sacramento a year ago and throughout the week I told people, let's meet up on Thursday at 7:30 and let's go somewhere fun, somewhere to relax now that everybody is done with their presentations, learning as much as they can. We decided to get together. We got a great turn out and everybody loved it so much we've been doing it ever since so yeah, we'll be going out. I think of myself as the facilitator. I kind of bring everybody together and let them connect, interact, network and then after that everybody goes home and now they have that community, right.
Reg: That matters so much. Now I'm curious. I have a sense that you've sort of got, to some extent at least, a bit of a vision for the future both of zNextGen and of the mainframe workforce as somebody who's you know right in the very heart of the next generation. What are your thoughts about the future of both zNextGen and SHARE and the mainframe workforce over next, say I don't know, 50 years?
Luisa: Yeah, well my vision—I mean I've seen this throughout SHARE. I feel like especially this year we've seen so many more new people to the mainframe right so I think this number will hopefully start getting larger and larger. I would love to see more of these presentations and I mean, I don't know. I just see this project kind of expanding. So I know there's always a concern about skills, right.
Reg: Uh-huh, yeah.
Luisa: That is kind of the hot topic nowadays but I think there's not a problem. I mean I always help Christy do the panels and people are always interested to learn a new thing so it has kind of been about keeping that open mind about people willing to take that chance into the mainframe, just bringing that awareness so I think that will continue and we will see new people coming in into SHARE and the mainframe.
Reg: Excellent. Excellent. Any last thoughts you wanted to share with everybody?
Luisa: No, I mean I would encourage everybody to come to SHARE or even if they can't just to be involved. I know for zNextGen we do monthly webinars and I think there's other great resources and just somehow stay in touch right because I mean the mainframe is a big family. We're all willing to help each other.
Luisa: That's my comment.
Reg: Well thank you very much Luisa. This has been great.
Luisa: No, thank you. I'm always happy to help out.
Reg: I noticed that. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.
Luisa: Yeah, have a great day.
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.