Subhasish Sarkar on Being Active as a Mainframer
Reg Harbeck talks with Subhasish Sarkar about how he stumbled into working on the mainframe, how he shares his technical expertise and his interest in quantum computing.
By Reg Harbeck12/01/2020
Subhasish Sarkar: Hey, Reg. So first of all, let me tell you this. It's an absolute honor for me to be on your talk show, the zTalk show. Yeah, so to answer your question how I landed up on the mainframe space. It's a very interesting story. So over here in India, it dates back around 13 years from now when I just finished my graduation degree in one of the colleges, technical colleges and then I was hired by a company. At that time, I'm not sure whether that company still exists, but I was hired by a company named US Technologies which has a headquarters based out of the United States, but then they operate out of India as well. 50 or 60 students from college, we landed up on their campus for two months long training, and then, you won't believe, Reg. Me and three other fellow students, we four of us were the only students who were selected for the mainframe training. The 45 or 46 of the other students were actually selected for distributed technologies, like some of them were put in Java or C++ or whatever. At that point in time, I had no idea what a mainframe was. I mean, frankly speaking, I had no idea. The first day we came out of the training session, we four of us who were being trained on mainframes, were so disheartened. The rest of the 46 guys started pinching us, probably telling us that you four should talk to the company and probably think of switching to something more interesting. I said, what do you mean by more interesting? They say back, probably you guys are not aware but mainframe is already dead. They are just playing with you. Yeah, they're just trying to play with your careers. We were so disheartened, because we had no idea what mainframe was. The first day of the training was just a basic introduction to the COBOL programming language, so we didn't even have any idea what the mainframe box is all about. So on the first day to us, mainframe was all about COBOL. We didn't even have any idea that other programming languages, like PL/I or high level Assembler existed, or JCL existed. It was full COBOL for us on Day 1. We were so disheartened. Then it was with us, that bad feeling about our careers getting destroyed, it loomed above us for the next five to six odd days. Then slowly, we started getting familiar with the different mainframe skills, JCL, PL/I, IMS/DB, so that was when I started really started loving the platform, the mainframe as a whole, still did. IMS still remains my love, if you can call it my love. I have worked on different technologies but IMS still remains my love. Well, so yeah, I'm trying to divert from the topic, but the point remains that after eight to 10 days, we slowly understood as we gradually learned about the mainframe, the power it brings to the enterprise computing world, the astonishment that IBM had built in 1960s and still continues to rule the world. Now when we meet, I am in BMC and the three of us, three of the other friends who were trained along with me, they are into some other companies, but they are still working on the mainframe platform. Now, when we chat over a cup of coffee or something, we laugh out so loud. Probably a very good thing happened that we didn't actually go and talk to the head trainer.
Subhasish: Right. Or else we would have missed working on this absolutely amazing platform. I have keen interest in the other technologies as well, like cloud. I do significant research on artificial intelligence, machine learning and the latest computing wonder quantum computers and quantum computing. That sounds very interesting to me and I read a lot of books on them, including Richard Feynman's lectures on quantum physics.
Reg: Oh, nice.
Subhasish: So yeah, absolutely, absolutely nice. Most of the things I don't understand, I must admit, but yeah, I love reading those.
Reg: Well, Feynman is just such a delight to listen to. He has this wonderful practical understanding of reality.
Subhasish: Yeah, absolutely. That world is so different from what we are used to from our school days. We are so much used to learning the classical physics. It's very difficult for a normal human being to perceive what's going on in the quantum world. Yeah, so that's a different topic, but loving different technologies is a different thing, but probably if I love working on something, it's absolutely going to be the IBM Z mainframes. Nothing better than that, nothing more amazing than that, and I am an absolutely proud mainframer. I must say that.
Reg: Now that said, obviously that was just the beginning of what continued to be a pretty amazing journey. At some point, I mean if I recall correctly you and I are both first time IBM Champions. How did you end up being an IBM Champion?
Subhasish: Right, so that's another interesting story, similar to the one in how I landed up on the mainframe land. So I had basically never heard about this, if I can call it flagship IBM Champion program, so believe me or not, I was not even aware of what this program is all about and who the IBM Champions are. It was just out of passion that I used to share technical articles. I used to publish technical articles. I have a technical blog of my own and I used to conduct webinars, technical webinars for free for anyone who could join in and listen to my webinar. All these things, I used to do out of my passion, beyond my day to day job responsibilities. At that point in time, I had no idea what the IBM Champion program is all about. Then there was this friend in my project, the current organization, who told me, Subhasish, you seem to be pretty interested in doing these things, publishing technical articles and conducting webinars, so wouldn't it be nice if you were recognized for all that you do outside your day to day job responsibilities? I said yeah, it's absolutely going to be nice but then, what is that nice thing that you are talking about? Tell me something about it. Then he was the one, and I will tell his name because I admit to this day that if he was not there, I wouldn't have heard about the program and I wouldn't have even nominated myself for the program in November 2019. His name is Vaiphav Patil, and he is also –
Reg: Could you spell that?
Subhasish: A devout mainframer. Yeah, so it is V-A-I-P-H-A-V. That is his first name, Vaiphav and his surname goes by Patil, P-A-T-I-L, Patil.
Reg: Okay, cool. Go ahead.
Subhasish: Yeah, so that was how I got introduced to Master the Mainframe – I mean, sorry, not Master the Mainframe.
Reg: That's also good.
Subhasish: Yeah, that's also important. That was how I got introduced to the IBM Champion program and it has been a roller coaster ride after that, meeting, getting to know people like Reg or Dusty or Mark, who are legends in themselves. It’s so much fun. It's so much pleasure and we get to learn so many things from seasoned professionals like you, the real experts of the platform. I mean, I am just someone with 13 years of experience working on the platform and I basically, until this day I call myself a learner. I'm a child, basically. Getting to know people like you who have worked on the platform who have seen probably all the things, the entire evolution of the IBM Z mainframes, it's a real privilege. It's a real honor for us young generation people to work with people like you.
Reg: Well, that's one of the funny things about the mainframe. I get such a kick out of it. Somebody with ten years experience is considered a neophyte, and when I had 10 years experience, I felt like a neophyte as well, but for a neophyte you are just incredibly active. I have never seen anybody so active in this space. I mean, you are obviously a right person to be an IBM Champion. You're always writing papers and doing webcasts. Maybe if you can give me a sense of just some of the various activities you're involved in that really are so visible.
Subhasish: Yeah, so that's a good question. I think when I basically started and I didn't even know about the IBM Champion program, I basically started with writing technical blogs, technical articles. Sometimes I used to write those, you call them "thought leadership" type of articles, but I have written very few of them because with my experience, thought leadership articles don't lend much with my level of experience that I'm in right now. I'm more comfortable writing technical stuff since I do technical work, and that's how I started writing technical articles. Then slowly I thought about—I was actually part of one of the forums, technical forums, mainframe technical forums which is quite popular over here in India, and not only in India. I mean, many people from different parts of the world are actually part of the forum. I doubt the forum exists now. It was almost five years that I'm talking about the existence of the forum, but I saw so many questions come up on that particular forum, technical questions. People were probably trying to find a space where experienced mainframers could guide them, so I thought why not try to answer some of the questions and why not try to share my knowledge, whatever limited amount of knowledge I have, why not try to share them with the broader mainframe community? That's when I slowly and gradually started thinking about my own webinars. I started, maybe I used to do once in a month or once in two months, but then gradually I try to spread out. I started out with technical articles, then spread out to technical webinars and then very recently after becoming an IBM Champion, an IBM Champion has so many opportunities. You are the perfect person to be knowing about that, so after being an IBM Champion, I have started writing some, publishing some technical scientific papers. Very recently, I was doing quite a study on quantum computers and quantum computing, and I have published six different research papers on them.
Subhasish: Yeah right, so and then I tried to expand my technical articles to as many renowned technical website out there. For example, I am right now, for the past five or six months, I am a regular contributor to the Planet Mainframe blog. So it feels really nice and obviously I write a lot on the IBM Z and LinuxONE community, which was introduced to the world very recently. I try to keep myself busy doing these things and very recently since the launch of Master the Mainframe 2020, which is fabulous. I’ll say I have been attending Master the Mainframe for the past two years and this year's Master the Mainframe is absolutely fantastic.
Reg: Hmm. I've heard that.
Subhasish: Yeah. I have been very lucky to complete Level 2 and Level 3 already.
Subhasish: I'm guiding the students in the Master the Mainframe Slack. I do that quite a lot, and then I get a lot of offers to be guest speakers for mentoring the IBM Z ambassadors who conduct Master the Mainframe workshop, so I have recently completed, just the previous week I have completed one workshop where I was a guest speaker and a mentor for one of the IBM Z ambassadors for students from the country of Tunisia, Africa.
Reg: Oh, wow.
Subhasish: Right so yeah, these are the type of things I love to do the most. It's ultimately, I think that working on any platform, be it mainframe or any other platform, probably the greatest contribution that we can do is not only to our day to day job responsibilities but also how we are contributing and mentoring the overall technical community as a whole. I feel that everybody should have some technical responsibility towards nurturing and mentoring the community. That’s what I try to do, actually.
Reg: That is so cool. I wish I had like another hour to continue this interview. My mind is boggled with all the stuff that you're doing. That said, I guess we need to kind of finish up, but any closing thoughts that you wanted to share?
Subhasish: Yes, so I'll say this. The IBM Champion program nominations for 2020-2021 are now open and there are so many awesome technical experts out there who do so much for the technical community all the year around. Probably not all of them are aware of the IBM Champion program, exactly as I was not aware of the program for maybe three to four years, and then one of my kind friends introduced me to the program. Probably considering the fact that the IBM Champion program nomination is open, I think that the best thing right now we can do is to champion the program to the world, spread as much news about it as possible so that we have more awesome Champions being a part of this group.
Reg: Cool. Well, thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation, Subhasish. Or I guess you pronounce it Shoo-ba-sheesh. Is that right?
Subhasish: Yeah, that's correct. As you know Reg, many people do call me SS, so—
Reg: SS. Okay. Well thank you so much for—go ahead. Sorry.
Subhasish: Yeah, I mean, feel free to call me SS if you like.
Reg: All right, great. Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.
Subhasish: Absolutely. It was an honor for me, Reg, to talk to you. It's an absolute pleasure.
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.