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Emily Drake on SHARE and the IBM Z Community

Reg Harbeck: Hi. This is Reg Harbeck and I'm here with my friend and colleague Emily Drake. Emily is really involved in the SHARE user community and in fact in charge of a lot of making things happen with the editorial committee and just really—well, before I tell you everything, let me ask Emily. Emily, how did you end up involved with SHARE and the mainframe? 


Emily Drake: Well, hi, hi Reg and hi to everyone listening out there. I got involved with SHARE just through my line of work. I studied advertising and PR in school and made my way to—from Michigan to Chicago after graduating school. In Chicago, I used to work with an agency and did content marketing at that agency for corporations, consumer packaged goods. I worked with General Mills brands and Avada and by just serendipitously I found a position, another position that was more on the not—for—profit side. I've been working with SHARE for the last eight years act—eight years as of January, next—this coming January it will be eight years. It's—I still work on content. Clearly, I'm working with the editorial committee with SHARE but in that role or in this role I—it's just content in a very different way. I'm working with professionals and helping elevate industries through the content that I do and do not for profit associations which includes SHARE.


Reg: So, I gather then that SHARE is not the only organization that you have the opportunity to—to work with and help them develop useful communication to the people in their ecosystem.


Emily: Very true, yes. I've worked with a number of organizations and currently I am working with SHARE as well as three or four others—


Reg: Cool.


Emily: I think four, yeah.


Reg: One of the things—one of the reasons I'm happy to be interviewing you is because of the fact that you are very much not a typical mainframer and you are still very much a mainframer. I mean you're not—you didn't come up through being a system programmer and yet you've been exposed to the depth and breadth of the history and the ecosystem, the culture, and the technology of the mainframe for as you were saying almost eight years now and so you know as somebody who has sort of experienced that not from the outside but from a different side of the mainframe, you must have had some interesting experience and observations about the mainframe. What do you recall being one of your earliest surprises about the mainframe that really impressed you about the either the technology or the culture or just the ecosystem?


Emily: Yeah, I think I'm going to go all the way back to early days but I really pride myself whenever I work with a new brand, company, you know whatever it is, I really pride myself in learning as much as I can about it and—and the mainframe and enterprise computing industry was 100% new to me. As someone who grew up with computers for sure I—they were you know the Apple models of the '90s and the Windows models of the 90's and that is what I thought a computer was and so I—I learned more about the history of computing. You know not having studied it when I—when I came to start working with SHARE, I found that I—I needed to dive into the history of the industry to—to just understand what it is that everybody within SHARE does. That was really important to me so that I could relate to all the professionals I was interacting with day in and day out and really get an understanding of the organization itself; SHARE as anyone listening very well knows has a long history. It's been over 65 years at this point, the oldest user group in technology and I had never heard of a mainframe so I found that I—I researched what that was. I remember even just a while back I talked with my mom and I was like well when you were—I went to Michigan State University so to dial back there and so did mom only for a semester. She likes to say she made it famous, her and Magic Johnson. She's only went there for a semester but I asked her—that would have been in the 50's or 60's—60's and I asked her you know what were—what were computers like when you were in school? Did you work with mainframes when you were in computer class and I remember she told me that MSU computer center on campus which was a building that I knew as having a bunch of computer labs. It's where we had a lot of computer science classes which I really just took an intro computer science class that was sort of something every major takes as a part of requirements and my—what my mom told me is that that building used to be a computer so this entire huge building that I knew as many computer labs when she was in school was one computer. She told me a bit about what computer science was like back then and it really helped me level set in some ways what the—how far computing has come and—and with SHARE that it just helped give me a background like oh, this is somewhere I’ve been. This is what it used to look like and I like to—my level—my pitch to anybody who asks me what SHARE is or enterprise computing is or what a mainframe is ever since I worked with SHARE is I like to say this community is—it's all the tech wizards that you don't necessarily hear a lot about and it—it—I feel like it's a career path that I didn't really know was an option but what—what I tell people is what—what the community in SHARE does is protects all of the most important data in the world. It's like the tech wizards in government and banking because mainframes are the most secure computers and enterprise computing is so important. It's something I didn't really think about; I didn't think about it as different than other computers or as having different systems just because it's not what I studied really but that's how I like to pitch the community of people who don't know or haven't heard of mainframes. I say it's all the people who do the most important stuff in tech because they're protecting all the most important data in the world. So, that's a long—winded way of answering that but hopefully had some fun tidbits for people.


Reg: That is neat. Now one of the things I'm sort of taking from that as I think about it is that the personalities because one of the things that has really struck me during my somewhat lengthy career in the mainframe is how unique the personalities of mainframers are from pretty much any other constituency and—and for you as somebody who clearly gets along well with mainframers but comes from a somewhat different than is typical place you must have had some experiences of you know both the rough edges but also the amazing parts of the various personalities you've encountered, maybe commonalities. What are some of the things that have stood out for you as coming from where you're coming from as you deal with the personalities of the mainframers?


Emily: I think the thing that really shines within the SHARE community is just the sheer passion for what everyone does. I—it's—it's very easy to walk around the conference or meet with a volunteer and ask them about what they do and get a very detailed answer where maybe a lot of technology terms might be thrown out that I don't necessarily know what they mean but there is a—there's a clear passion and —and a drive behind everybody in the community and it's always been very friendly and welcoming. I've always enjoyed my time working there. Everyone is happy at the conferences and excited to talk about the mainframe and I mean even just as an example I—we have an article coming out for SHAREd intelligence soon that—which is an interview with Mr. James Babcock who his first SHARE—oh boy I—let me see if I can triple check my facts here but his first SHARE was many, many years back. He is in his 80's or 90's right now and he reached out to our association to share because he’s retired but he wants to keep learning. When—when he did reach out, it kind of—our team just passed it along to us and they were like hey maybe he would want to talk to you about his long career in the industry and what advice he has for people, and why it's important for him to keep learning because I—even just that is just one tiny example of you know he's been out of the industry for a long time, hasn't been to a SHARE since maybe the 80's or 90's, has been in the industry for a really long time, has retired and he's like hey I want to keep learning about what's new in enterprise computing in his 80's or 90's. I mean that's—that's crazy and I—I promise the facts of this will be right in the article so watch out for it everybody listening but he—he’s just gem to talk to and we were so excited to talk to him and just hear like that firsthand account. I thought that was really cool.


Reg: That is cool. Now one of the things you sort of alluded to a couple of times is just the really deep history of SHARE which of course was founded in August of 1955 and so you've got a 66—year—old conference here or is coming up 66—no, that's right. August is behind us so yeah. I'm curious about some of the other interesting things because you've done so much research about SHARE in order to—to really fill in your own understanding. What are some of the things that have really stood out to you as you've really gotten to know the history of SHARE and the whole ecosystem in context?


Emily: Oh boy, that's a good question. I—I—one of the first projects I ever worked on for SHARE was actually building a timeline for the 60th anniversary a couple of years back and yeah, I just think like the biggest thing that stood out to me about the history is just how long it is and how—how much longer it is than I thought computers were around so I think like just being a child of the 90's, born in the late 80's myself I—I thought the computer that I grew up with like I said earlier was the only computer. I didn't know there were others for a long time really and I—I think—the biggest thing that stood out to me is just what a long career it has been and how much progress has been made and how I think I've always found it really cool how IBM had the foresight to set this up and allow for the constant influence that the community had on what—on how the technology was evolving and I find I know that that is—it was a lot more rapid and leaps and bounds bigger in a way back in the day because it was changing things in such a different way and I feel like now the changes are a bit smaller because it's almost—it's more constant in a way so it feels smaller but—but that is something that I found really interesting. I remember we had a keynote in Seattle in 2015 who was sort of a hacking security expert. I remember him being a bit controversial and he talked—he's the Soldier of the FORTAN I remember was his nickname.


Reg: Oh yeah: Phil Young!


Emily: Yeah, Phil Young so I—so—and I remember I was like oh FORTRAN that thing that was invented in the 50's like that is really interesting to me that like some of these things that have been around for so long are still so important to securing our data today.


Reg: Cool. Now if you were to think about the role of the mainframe and its ecosystem as you look to your own career, what are some of the ways you sort of can see yourself building on the experience you've in the editorial committee and research and all these other things you know just working with SHARE that you can see the mainframe technology and ecosystem being part of your personal career going forward? …deep thought…


Emily: This may take me a second. I—I mean the mainframe is a technology that I'm pretty sure something I do interacts with every day. On a personal level, I don't—I don't necessarily know that the things I'm doing work wise are touching a mainframe directly other than obviously working with the SHARE community and talking about the mainframe and—and sharing updates and tips and cutting-edge information on—on how to maximize the system in different ways but I—I think I see it as more of something that I just now have the knowledge that it's something I interact with every day when I'm making any transaction. My assumption is oh, this is like hitting a mainframe in some way. Any login that's through like a health system or a bank I think of—I think about it now because it's something I wouldn't have thought about before so I think that's my—that's my answer for that.


Reg: I'm going to ask you a couple more questions before we wind up. One of them is just if you think about the experience, you know the people, the technology, SHARE, you know your employer, all of these, is there anything that just jumps out at you as one or two of your most favorite things of the whole experience?


Emily: Working with SHARE, it's got to be the people. That's such a cheesy answer but it's got to be—


Reg: Hey, it's valid.


Emily: I'm a people person in general and I—and I love—I love talking to people about something that they're passionate about and I think like I said the SHARE community is definitely that. It's—it's really—it's really fun to SHARE your stories everyone out there and I think—I think it has a bright future. I mean for—it's been around a long time. It's still really important and I—I—my favorite thing when we have like a new team member join is I always tell them to watch Hidden Figures. 


Reg: Oh yes.


Emily: Like if you really want to put this technology into context, I'm like watch Hidden Figures because I remember—I'm a big movie buff and I remember seeing that in theaters and immediately when she grabbed the book that I think was the FORTRAN book, I was immediately like oh, that's SHARE so I think about it now because I know and yeah, I remember that being very exciting like seeing that in a movie and I was like oh. That's what I always tell a new person I work with. I was like if you need to put this industry into context, watch this movie.


Reg: Excellent. Before I let you go, just I'd like you to put your prognosticator hat on although I like to say I'm not about predicting but prodicting that is you know the best way to predict the future is to make it happen so if it were up to you, what would you do either with SHARE or the mainframe ecosystem or just the enterprise computing ecosystem or what do you hope to see happen that—that you know make for a brighter future in some way?


Emily: I think we're doing a lot of work on SHAREd intelligence with several organizations in the industry that are really investing in the next generation and that is the key. I—people have been saying it for years and open-source is also big and—and you know the open-source group through Linux Foundation—is it Linux?


Reg: I say Linux but I think other people—I mean you think about it, it's named about Linus—


Emily: Okay.


Reg: So, I’m guessing probably there's a lot of people in Europe who call it Linux is my guess, but I don't know that for a fact.


Emily: Well, I hear it both ways and I always like say things wrong the first time so sorry everyone if I'm pronouncing it incorrectly but yeah, the future is really the next generation and investing in programs at universities. I think that will be really—really big. It's always been important and it will remain important.


Reg: Awesome. Well thank you so much Emily. This has been absolutely wonderful and I'll be back—


Emily: Thank you.


Reg: Excellent. 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, e-books, Solutions Directory, and more on the subscription page. I'm Reg Harbeck.