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How Millennial Mainframers Can Solve Technology Problems

In the book “Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers,” author Nat Greene asserts that poor problem-solving skills cost individuals and society incalculable amounts of time and money.

“We waste so much time, money and frustration on bad solutions,” Greene said during a 2017 interview. “I hate that good people have to put up with all that … I want everyone to be able to problem solve—in their personal lives and for society at large. We’d all be much better off.”

Greene’s sentiment resonates with millennial mainframer Byron Smith, mainframe security Engineer at M&T Bank.

(Columnist’s Note: IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z featured Smith earlier this year in “Opening IBM Z to Future Generations.”)

“We are in a digital transformation era. The traditional ways we do things must change,” Smith says. And to Greene’s point, Smith believes one of the necessary changes is inflaming a passion for problem solving in today’s technologists.

Becoming a Problem-Solving ‘Bulldog’

But during these times when foundational (such as the mainframe) and emerging (such as AI) technologies are meshing at an accelerating pace, Smith feels this disposition toward approaching modern tech trials cannot be a simmering passion; problem-solvers must be activists, cultivating a dogged, inquisitive temperament.
“I become stubborn when it comes to problems,” Smith professed. “When there’s a [business] issue—regardless of whether it’s mainframe-related—I take my inquisitiveness and curiosity and act like a bulldog” until a solution is discovered.

So, I ran this quote by him from award-winning author Charles Eaton of Creating IT Futures, a non-profit organization whose mission is “nurturing the next generation” of our nation’s IT workforce: “Technologists don’t see problems as obstacles to avoid. They consider problems opportunities for solutions.”

“I agree 100% with that characterization by Mr. Eaton,” Smith proclaims. “When I’m dealing with problems, I tend to see them as learning opportunities that will become great future success stories.”

Eaton also writes that innate curiosity “drives technologists to confront challenges even when they’re not obvious.” Smith is no exception to this rule, offering this advice to fellow millennial mainframers: “Don’t wait to learn something. Go out and learn on your own. I learn the old school way: If you don’t know something, ask. It’s okay to say that you don’t know.”

Technologists typically show a penchant for tinkering, too—a trait Smith displays when recommending problem solvers explore “toys” for opening up the mainframe such as open-source platforms for IBM Z and software change management products.

Collaboration Over Competition

Smith notes that, from his vantage point, the integration of today’s technologies is not a competition but a collaboration. And adopting a collaborative mindset is critical for solving problems in the “always changing” realm of the mainframe because “even the best problem solvers will run into questions that they can’t answer alone.”

So, being a “bulldog” doesn’t mean searching for solutions in isolation, a posture that curbs curiosity and, in turn, curtails experience. For Smith, “the more experience you acquire, the more prepared you will be to solve problems.”

And while the pace of digital transformation lends urgency to tackling today’s ever-evolving technologies, Smith advocates a patient, deliberative pace to solving mainframe problems. After all, any complications with a system born of 50 years of development should take more than a few minutes examination to sort.

Mentors Matter

In closing our conversation, I asked Smith about his business and technology mentors: What characteristics do they share? His response: “They are all receptive. They are all honest. They tell me exactly what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.”

Byron Smith is a mainframe security engineer at M&T Bank. He also is an IBM Champion for IBM Z and IBM Security, and is active in the Z community. You can connect with Byron on LinkedIn or follow him on twitter. The above article is personal and does not represent M&T Bank’s positions, strategies or opinions.