Jeanne Glass on Starting Her Own Mainframe Organization
Reg Harbeck talks with Jeanne Glass about the process of founding VirtualZ, a woman-led mainframe company, and how she got involved with the SHARE board.
By Reg Harbeck11/02/2020
Jeanne Glass: Hi, Reg. Thank you so much for having me with you today, so glad to be here and have this conversation. I started in the mainframe in college. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do career-wise. My mom and my uncle worked at Honeywell and my mom suggested that I take some computing courses since I didn't know what to do. She told that no matter what I did, I was going to end up working with computers, so that would be just kind of a safe place to start. My uncle hired COBOL programmers at Honeywell, and they did a lot of recruiting from the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, so he suggested I check out their program. I went on a tour and ended up transferring and took my first programming class in COBOL. Unbeknownst to me and actually quite surprisingly, I was good at it and two of the professors at the university hired me as their teaching assistant. The CIO at the university hired me as his student assistant, and so I ended up really getting ingrained in the MIS program at the university, got a lot of very good work experience as a result as well as my education, and ended up really falling in love with the mainframe at that point. I ended up at Computer Associates several years later.
Reg: You know, you remind me of my friend Joanne Moretti, because that sounds so much like her career path. How well do you know her?
Jeanne: Yeah, because Joanne and I worked together at Computer Associates.
Reg: That is so cool.
Reg: Of course, the interesting thing is that a lot of us mainframe people, our primary skills are technical, and our people skills are sort of baseline, but you're obviously one of these people who has spectacular people skills as well. I sense that moved you into roles that were more than just technical before long when you were at CA.
Jeanne: Well, that's true. I started in sales at Computer Associates, and I have spent most of my career in sales. I transitioned from technology into sales because I started as a technology trainer and it turned out, I think because of my communication skills, I was as a trainer noted for training users in a way that focused on the benefits of the solution to them versus the mechanics of the solution, and was asked to move into sales fairly early on in my career.
Reg: Okay. Now, you spent a good amount of time at CA before you moved on to found your own company, probably over a decade?
Reg: Okay and then, when you moved on from CA before founding your own company, were there other things you did as you tried to figure out where to go next, or did you jump head first into founding a company?
Jeanne: Nope. I actually spent several more years in software sales. The former head of worldwide sales for Computer Associates brought me with him to a career that he pursued after he left the company, and I ended up working for several cybersecurity software companies which really rounded out my experience and expertise with the contemporary issues that we're facing in our industry today, particularly in the climate with COVID and so forth. I ended up picking up a lot of experience that converged into VirtualZ, so I would say VirtualZ is a combination of every aspect of my life. It's a combination of my educational experience leading back to my COBOL programming experience in college. It's a combination of the relationships I built with the executive management team at Computer Associates who are now my cofounders. It's been a conglomeration of education, work experience and industry colleagues who are now part owners of VirtualZ.
Reg: Now, one of the cool things about the company you cofounded is, on the one hand, it's a women-led company and so you've got some amazing colleagues that also spent some time at CA and other things. Such as, for example, Lisa Wood, who has basically got this amazing background of actually inventing some of the technology that we all use all the time, and yet also people such as Vince Re, who is one other authors of Top Secret, and Mark Combs, who was in charge of the whole mainframe software space at CA in terms of development. How did the lot of you get together to do this initiative? It's sort of like an A-Team of people that just kind of happened to find yourselves together and say, hey, let's do something cool.
Jeanne: Yes. So Lisa, as you said, she's a patented innovator and any time anybody sends a digital image or takes a picture of a check to deposit in their bank or posts a picture on Facebook, they're using Lisa's patented technology. Lisa and I worked together. She hired me when I worked for Kleiner Perkins, a start up in the Bay area a long time ago, and so Lisa and I have known each other for a long time and we've always wanted to work together, and many times talked about it, had aspirations to start a venture together. But VirtualZ really came about based on, again, my collective experience and wanting to start a female owned company, identifying this opportunity and then after much hand wringing, picking up the phone and calling Marc Sokol, who founded Realia COBOL, was acquired by Computer Associates. He became their chief marketing officer and he and I worked together, but I hadn't spoken to Marc, Vince, or Mark Combs in about 15 years. Again, after much hand wringing, I picked up the phone and called Marc Sokol, talked to him about the idea for VirtualZ. The team at VirtualZ is amazing, just very collaborative, highly intelligent, experienced, senior level leaders in the mainframe space, and from the first call with Marc Sokol evolved to a call with Mark Combs, hey, what do you think about this, and then to Vince, and we all ended up getting together in New York whiteboading the possibilities and forming the company.
Reg: Cool. Now, one of the interesting things that you're done since forming the company is gotten really involved in the mainframe ecosystem and I'm just so impressed, because now you're on the SHARE board, and how did you end up on the SHARE board? What was that process?
Jeanne: Yeah, so we launched VirtualZ at SHARE a couple of years ago now, and coincidentally, that was the SHARE conference where Martha McConaghy and the team launched the Women in IT Initiative.
Reg: Right, that too.
Jeanne: Well, it was just quite a coincidence. Whereas it was important to me to found a women owned company, that was a personal aspiration. I didn't know we would be the first and only mainframe ISV that was founded and owned by a woman in the history of the mainframe.
Jeanne: Quite surprisingly, and so at the conference we got to know Martha; we ended up speaking very impromptu at some of the events, the Executive Breakfast and so forth and so got very involved with SHARE really out the gate as an exhibitor. We ended up being asked to be part of the Women in IT Initiative, so Lisa is doing a lot of work with the Initiative at large, as am I, but Lisa is really championing that effort with Martha and the team. So we got involved with SHARE early and in a number of different ways, and I was asked if I would consider a role on the board. I was already doing quite a bit of volunteer work for SHARE anyway, and so as a result, ended up being appointed to the Industry Advisory Committee and Editorials Committees this year, so it's been an honor.
Reg: Yeah. Now so you get to work with Jim Erdahl and I mean, every time I talk about somebody and say they're one of my favorite people and it's always true, but Jim is certainly one of those people, and so you get to work with him and he's just right on his game right now. It must be so exciting to be part of the current SHARE board.
Jeanne: It is, and Jim, one of my first assignments was to help with SHARE's participation in IBM Z Day and we worked together to create I think a pretty phenomenal panel of mainframe experts as well as newcomers. We had this really great timeline that came to life through the panel of volunteers who have been former presidents or volunteers for 30+ years; actually, I think even 50 years or more to people who are new to the mainframe. And then the today experience as well as the future experience, so it's already right out of the gate. It's just been really fun. I've met a lot of new people. Everybody rolls their sleeves up and really wants to help support the mainframe ecosystem and SHARE and I really understand I think more clearly the impact and influence that SHARE has had on the mainframe industry. So as opposed to an observer of the industry, SHARE is really defining the industry because they do. They represent the vendors, the end users, the media, the press; they really are the embodiment of the mainframe industry, and so I'm more excited than ever to be part of SHARE for sure.
Reg: That's cool. I really enjoyed that panel, too. I know all of us mainframers have been dialing into all these various things that have happened, including that IBM Zed Day, and I quite enjoyed the panel you guys were all on. It was really insightful and so well done. Now that said, there is so much to do. There's—you know, we are really—when they talk about these rock bands that you know take 20 years to be an overnight success, well the mainframe looks like it took 56 years and it's about to hit the world in a way that nobody saw coming except for those of us who are in the mainframe. Between all the various things IBM is doing to really open the mainframe up to all the new cloud activities to all the Linux things, the privacy things. And then there's a number of important organizations including yours that are doing various different kinds of cloud things on the mainframe, and with the mainframe as well, and so I'm going to guess you've probably got some pretty exciting new inspired ideas about where we can look for the mainframe and the mainframe ecosystem to be going next over the coming years and even decades. What are your thoughts?
Jeanne: Well, I think the mainframe is the best kept secret. You and I know that, but with some of the great work that IBM and other ISVs like Broadcom and BMC and so forth precisely are doing to encourage a younger, more diverse mainframe community. And the new entrants that we're seeing, so there's a number of new entrants in the mainframe space, CloudFrame, Model9 and we haven't seen new entrants in the mainframe space to this degree in quite a while, so it's really inspiring and having been to SHARE many years ago and then to SHARE recently, to see the difference in the user community, again, the age diversity, more women, the innovation is driven by diversity and the mainframe is becoming a more diverse community. There is innovation taking place on the mainframe at new levels. IBM did report record MIPS shipments a couple of quarters ago and there are significant innovations taking place in this space, so I believe there's a bit of a renaissance to the mainframe. We still hear companies talking about getting off the mainframe, but I see more of a renaissance of the mainframe and more awareness about the power of the mainframe given the high transactional world that we're living in and the mainframe being the most secure reliable platform. The potential to reincorporate the mainframe into DevOps life cycles and combined with the innovation and the diversity, we're very excited about where we see the mainframe headed.
Reg: Awesome. Well, Jeanne this has been outstanding. Any other thoughts you wanted to make to share before we sort of finish up the conversation?
Jeanne: No. I just would like to thank you for having us on the program, Reg. It's always great to work with you and I'm excited to work with you as part of the Editorial Committee at SHARE as well.
Reg: Yeah, right. That's another thing we're doing together.
Jeanne: We'll have a lot of fun together.
Reg: The fact that you're now leading the Editorial Committee, which is so cool, so yes, I'm very much looking forward to that as well.
Reg: Great. Well, thank you so much, Jeanne.
Jeanne: All right. Thanks, Reg.
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.
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