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Glenn Hanna on Linux Workloads on the Mainframe

This transcript is edited for clarity.

Reg Harbeck: Hi, I’m Reg Harbeck and today I’m here with my friend and colleague Glenn Hanna, who is the director of software engineering at PKWARE and happens to also own his own Rhode Island-based navy. I’m sure that will come up in our conversation. Welcome, Glenn.

Glenn Hanna: Well, welcome. Thank you for having me.

Reg: So, I’d like to start by just getting a sense of how did you end up on the mainframe?

Glenn: Well, back in the eighth grade like you said, before you know when I was knee high to a grasshopper—

Reg: Yes.

Glenn: I started playing around with BASIC, on a DEC PDP-8, which was a lot of fun.

Reg: Hmm. Oh.

Glenn: Then when I went to high school, I went to a tech school and we had an IBM 360 [Model] 30 running DOS—not even DOS/VSE.

Reg: Wow.

Glenn: And you know we learned—I was like, way ahead of the class. I was like give me the manuals and away I went, reading through tech manuals and you know I was doing COBOL. I finished COBOL and people were still like in the second and third chapter of COBOL, and then RPG. Then I’m the only one in the class that actually learned Assembler—

Reg: Wow.

Glenn: Then I wrote my own supervisor. I’m like, I want my own supervisor. I asked my parents for money to buy my own DASD to put on the 3330s and I could spin my own volumes on there and did like system programming stuff before it was even a thing.

Reg: Wow. Wow.

Glenn: So it was a lot of fun back then. That’s how I got into mainframes and I’ve been there ever since I was like 14.

Reg: Wow. That is cool. You know I figure I’ve got a connection with the mainframe because I was born in the same year the mainframe was announced, but that’s a much deeper connection. I’m really impressed.

Glenn: Yeah.

Reg: So 0bviously you were already working on the mainframe before you even had a career on the mainframe. How did you proceed from already being a mainframer and already being a sysprog to being a professional mainframer?

Glenn: So, one of the things that the tech school—the last semester of your junior year, they do job placement and they put me at a company. I was doing operations type work—fronting cool machines like the decollator, the burster, you know feeding cards into the reader and stuff just as a computer operator would mounting tapes and such. But that really isn’t where I wanted to be; I was writing utilities in COBOL for the operations department at the company. Then one day there was an opening in application development and I said I want to go work in this other group, and so off I went.

Reg: What language were you developing in?

Glenn: COBOL at that time—which you know, I never really liked that language.

Reg: No. No, that’s funny. I love COBOL, but I love COBOL in the same way that I love a commercial airplane. It’s nice to fly in a commercial airplane, but it’s kind of big and clunky and not the same thing as personal travel, and the same thing with COBOL. It gets results. I love that, but I’d rather write REXX.

Glenn: Yeah.

Reg: But I also like Assembler and I sense that you might like Assembler even more than I do. Is that a fair guess?

Glenn: I like Assembler. I like C better than Assembler. I learned C later in life, but I like C better than Assembler.

Reg: Do you write PL/S?

Glenn: I did some PL/X debugging when I worked at IBM.

Reg: Ah, okay. So we haven’t got to that place yet. You spent some time at IBM. So okay, let’s go back to you are a COBOL programmer and somehow you got to IBM. How did that happen?

Glenn: So, I was working for a company called Affiliated Computer Services out in Dearborn, Michigan, and they were closing the facility. One day I got a call from a recruiter who says hey, we’re looking for somebody that can install—back then I think it wasn’t even OS/390. I think it was ESA—somebody who can do operating system upgrades and install third party program products and all this other stuff. So I asked the recruiter some questions. He said well, that’s not how it works. You’ve got to send your resume and then we can properly place people, and so I told him exactly what I did. He says I’ve got the perfect job for you, and by that afternoon I was holding tickets to fly to Massachusetts to work for IBM out of Waltham.

Reg: Wow.

Glenn: I said to my boss, I won’t be in tomorrow. I have a family emergency and left [laughs].

Reg: Now I’m making a mental note of the geography, because of course you started out near the Great Lakes and suddenly you’re not that far from Rhode Island. Of course, as I mentioned in the beginning of the interview you’ve got a really interesting Rhode Island connection. So is this when the Rhode Island connection began or did that happen later?

Glenn: That happened much later, because I was in Massachusetts and I grew up in Massachusetts and ended up in Michigan and then ended up back in Massachusetts. And then I’m in Rhode Island in the summers and Florida in the winters because I didn’t really like the cold weather.

Reg: Oh okay. As a fellow mainframer, of course you know you could be anywhere from 40 to 200 years old and still be working on the mainframe. So I guess maybe you’re not 200—probably people who are 200 would have found another career because the mainframe is 60, but that said retirement is not sort of something they talk about. So you’re sort of moving back and forth between all these popular places, and as somebody who is still active on the mainframe I get a kick out of that, but maybe if we can start then back with IBM and how did you proceed and see if we can find our way to the Rhode Island connection?

Glenn: All right. I was working at IBM and I had a house in Massachusetts and eventually I bought a boat. Once I bought the boat, I put it in Rhode Island because they’ve got more shoreline than anywhere else for such a small state, and I like the area. It’s like when I lived in Dearborn, Michigan—everything was like a 5-minute ride to something, you know any type of store you wanted to go to or people you wanted to see. My friends were all close by, so it was like small, and then in Massachusetts it seemed like I was driving far to go to places. So I checked out several different marinas down in Rhode Island and I picked the one that I’m at. It has got a restaurant on site, it’s got a swimming pool and a bunch of great people that I’m all friends with now, so I like it here. You know I was working at IBM for many years. I started doing operating system upgrades before I ended up in JES level 2, and from there I was working from home. I’m like, you know, I could stay on the boat in the summer time and not actually go home.

Reg: Okay so wait, wait, wait. I’ve got to ask you: Have you done 3270 from your boat as part of your work?

Glenn: Oh, I do that all the time.

Reg: Oh, how cool.

Glenn: So I’m not sure if I’m going to like being on the boat full-time, so I figured I’d give it a try. I spent the entire summer on the boat. At first I wasn’t sure because during the week there’s like nobody there, but then your friends start to know that you’re there and so you’ll get a call—let’s say 6:00 at night or 4:00 in the afternoon. Hey I’m coming in. I was wondering if you give me a hand with my lines as I come in. I’m like sure, I’ll be right there, and I run down to their slip and grab their lines and help them tie up their boat. I did two summers like that and I’m paying all this money for a house that I’m only in for four months out of the year really. I’m like, I don’t really know if I need this house, because I really don’t like the cold weather anyways. I want to be in Florida in the winter, so I decided I was going to sell the house and then I lived on the boat all summer long, which was really nice. Internet was challenging at first. I complained to the marina that their internet was terrible. It was almost as bad a dial-up speed, but then they put this thing in my boat to give me faster internet. That worked one year, and then another company came in and bought that company, so my internet connection then went back to being the same crap it was before. Then I decided I would try the T-Mobile hot spot, which worked okay for a bit.

Reg: Nice.

Glenn: Then Starlink came about. I put Starlink on the boat and I get great speeds. You know sometimes it’s about 250 in and it’s constantly like 30-50 out, and I’m like, this is all I need to do 3270 work.

Reg: Well, you can do that on the water too, can’t you?

Glenn: Yeah, I could if I went and tied up somewhere. Yeah, I could do that.

Reg: I guess if you’re not anchored somewhere. You don’t want to be sitting down doing 3270, do you?

Glenn: Yeah, yeah. I’m saying, is that a boat ahead? Wait, wait. I’ve got an abend [laughs].

Reg: A break, too!

Glenn: Yeah.

Reg: Okay, well that is cool. So basically, you’ve been living on and working from a boat for most of your mainframe career it sounds like.

Glenn: No, that’s only been like a few years. Probably 6-7 years. I’ve only owned the boat 13.

Reg: Okay. So back when you hosted a bunch of people at SHARE in Providence, that was around the time you started living full time on the boat?

Glenn: That was 2017. I was living summers on the boat at that time.

Reg: Oh okay. Cool.

Glenn: I still had my house.

Reg: So were you still with IBM then?

Glenn: Ah, no. I got laid off from IBM in 2012.

Reg: Okay and so you’d been with IBM for a fair amount of time at that point.

Glenn: Correct. It was almost 15 years. It was a few months short of 15 years.

Reg: Wow. Hey that reminds me of the large software company I used to work for. I was just in the same position—didn’t quite get my 15-year watch.

Glenn: Yeah, I didn’t get the 15-year watch and I was short two more weeks of severance pay. I got 28 weeks versus you know, 30 weeks.

Reg: Ouch. I hate that. So that said, what did you do next once you left good old Big Blue?

Glenn: I went to work for CA.

Reg: Oh hey, that’s right. You and I were there at the same time, weren’t we?

Glenn: Yeah, was it CA? No, I went to work at TJX first.

Reg: Oh, okay. Maybe I don’t know. Actually, maybe you joined CA after I left then. I’m giving away a little bit too much information here, but anyway.

Glenn: Yeah, so that would be 2012 I joined TJX Companies. They interviewed me for a project manager manager’s position and then when I got there, they told me I was going to be doing CICS and MQ support. I’m like, that’s not what I interviewed for and it’s not really what I want to do. I’m a z/OS systems programmer if you want to go down that route, or I’m a system software developer if you want to go down that route. So I was there for about a year and a half and then went to work for CA—no, actually my dates are all over the place. You might need to edit this.

Reg: No worries. This isn’t a textbook.

Glenn: Yeah, so it was 2010 I got laid off from IBM, went to work for TJX. I left there in 2012 and went to work for CA.

Reg: Okay, cool. So you started out doing MQ and CICS. I’m sorry—was that at TJX or that was at CA?

Glenn: That was at TJX.

Reg: Oh okay. Got it.

Glenn: It’s not what I wanted to do, so when a development opportunity appeared at CA, I went and snatched that.

Reg: Okay, and so what product area were you working on there?

Glenn: I was working on the mainframe application tuner product—

Reg: Oh, one of the new ones.

Glenn: Yeah, that they acquired from another company.

Reg: Right. Now was that one written in Assembler, or was that mostly in other languages?

Glenn: That was all Assembler.

Reg: Nice. You got to exercise your Assembler muscles.

Glenn: Yes, and 64-bit instructions as well.

Reg: Oh wow.

Glenn: Wow, this is fun. 64-bit? I read about these. I haven’t coded any yet, but I got to code the 64-bit instructions, which was nice.

Reg: Cool. Now what was the most interesting 64-bit instruction you got to code?

Glenn: Well, the one that is really interesting is the PLO instruction, which is almost like a compare and swap. It’s a super compare and swap, and IBM had moved something above the line or above the—

Reg: The bar?

Glenn: Bar. Yeah, I don’t remember exactly but they had the address in three different fields and you had to assemble it—

Reg: Oh my.

Glenn: So you would use the PLO instruction to do it. I spent—you know PLO is a whole chapter in the Principles of Ops, so I had to read all about it. It took me a week to actually understand how the damn thing worked.

Reg: Wow.

Glenn: Then my manager says, well now that you know how that works, why don’t you give us a demo? Give us a little overview class so other people might know how it works. So I had to do that.

Reg: Very cool. So now you were at CA for a while but at some point, you ended up with your current company. What sort of interesting things happened during that journey?

Glenn: So, there was another company in between. I left there because they told me they were eliminating all the jobs out of the Framingham office and they were moving them to the Czech Republic.

Reg: Oh yeah, where all the Sys-Pragues are.

Glenn: So I’m not really sure I want to go to the Czech Republic, and one of my coworkers left and she went to 21st [Century Software]. It was kind of interesting because one of the guys that she worked for called me for a reference, and we just started talking. We closed the conversation with if you ever want to find another job and want to come here, just let me know. We’d be very interested. So I know the Framingham office is closing and with my experience—not that this is the same for everybody who left IBM, but if you ever worked at IBM and you leave, it’s usually easier to find a job somewhere else.

Reg: Yeah. It’s a pedigree. I like to say that IBM’s least appreciated and most valuable product is ex-IBMers.

Glenn: Yeah, exactly. So I figured you know, I have plenty of time to find another job. I will try to find jobs for some of my other coworkers. I noticed there was a position that was open at 21st, so I started just asking questions. I was like interviewing the boss, but he said do you mind talking to Rebecca [Levesque]? I’m like, I don’t care, I’ll talk to anybody. So I talked to Rebecca and she offered me a job. I thought about it for a little bit, saying, do I really want to leave now? I decided I would take it and then I went to work at 21st for a little bit. But I had the opportunity at PKWARE to be the director—I would be the manager, the architect, and get to design stuff and build stuff from the ground up, which was a really great career opportunity for me versus just being a developer working on code that’s been in existence for 20 years. Just adding little features here and there.

Reg: Now I’ve got to take a bit of a side trip to PKWARE, because I’ve known about PKWARE much of my technical life, but it’s only when you showed up that I discovered they were also a mainframe company. How is that?

Glenn: So PKWARE—you know Phil Katz started the company. Everybody knows PKZIP and unzip for the PC coming in line program type thing. Then somehow or other there was a company—I forget where it was. I don’t know the whole history but they had a product that was similar and they were writing the code under the direction of PKWARE.  I probably don’t have these facts straight. Eventually we wanted the code back but they wouldn’t give it to us, so we started hiring a bunch of people at PKWARE—this is all well before my time—and we developed the product from scratch and created the Zip and Unzip product. We put a lot of other stuff in it too—like you can do field level encryption. There’s a lot of security type stuff and we handle various different file formats like PGP and others with that. Then we have a new product that we’ve been working on the last couple of years that’s being released in beta.

Reg: Cool. So, we’ve had a really good conversation here and I think we could keep going, but since we’ve been at it for a little bit, maybe this is a good time to start winding down, but I really want to make I’ve got everything that you have to share with us. Is there anything you had in mind that you sort of wanted to tell everybody about, either from your journey or observing the mainframe, or especially if you could maybe tell us how you see the future of the mainframe if you have anything to say about it.

Glenn: Well, I think the mainframe is going to be around for a long time. It may not be running z/OS as we know it today, or it may be running z/OS, but I think Linux is going to start taking over soon and running Linux on z in LPARs. We’re getting a new z16 next year and I’ve already laid out all the LPARs. I was talking to our sys prog and I said I want you to create four Linux LPARs. He asked don’t you want those running under z/VM? I’m like no, I want four Linux native LPARs, so that’s what we’re going to do.

Reg: So, they’re not running on a hypervisor at all. They’re just directly on top of LPAR.

Glenn: Just a straight LPAR running—probably running Red Hat.

Reg: Oh wow, interesting. That’s especially interesting because Red Hat is sort of the company that effectively acquired IBM. I mean everybody assumed it was the other way around, but it’s sort of neat to see that synergy they’ve got sort of just immediately was implicit on the mainframe showing up in other parts of the mainframe ecosystem as well.

Glenn: Yeah, so I think that’s what is going to happen. You’re going to see more and more native Linux LPARs and environments, LinuxONE type things on the mainframe, and you know you can also then start running containers. I think containers are going to start taking off soon on z, which is just Linux running on top of z and an initiator. We’re going to be exploiting that technology, so I think it’s going to be around for awhile.

Reg: Cool. Very cool. Well, this has been a lot of fun. I’ve really have enjoyed this opportunity to get to know you better. It’s been a fun journey you’ve been on and it’s certainly fun to know you as well, so thank you so much for this.

Glenn: Oh, you’re quite welcome and thank you.

Reg: You bet. So I’ll be back with another podcast next month, but in the meantime check out the other content on TechChannel. You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletters, webinars, eBooks, Solutions Directory and more on the subscription page. I’m Reg Harbeck.