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Glenn Anderson on Why Mainframe Professional Development Skills Are Important

Reg Harbeck: Hi, I’m Reg Harbeck and today I’m here with Glenn Anderson who is a really well known IBM mainframer. He has been involved in education, various conferences and all kinds of other really neat stuff. Rather than telling you about him myself, Glenn, maybe you can tell us, how did you end up on the mainframe at IBM?

Glenn Anderson: Well back in my junior year of high school, I had a math teacher who taught us FORTRAN programming and we had a little IBM 1620 computer in our high school. We carried around boxes of punch cards with FORTRAN programs on them and that was how I got my start. So I went off to college; I got a computer science degree in college from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and I always wanted to work for IBM so as I was winding up my senior year in college you know interviewing with companies for a job, my focus was on interviewing with IBM and getting hired by IBM. I was really lucky that I pulled that off and so right out of college, I started with IBM. Back then, when they hired people out of college, they were putting you into the sales branch offices as sales reps and systems engineers, and so I was a systems engineer helping out a number of the big banks in downtown Chicago where I lived. That’s kind of when I learned the mainframe. For the old, old guys listening to this interview, I started out helping customers with MVT, MVT R21.7 was the OS and that of course turned into SVS, then MVS, and then onto where we are today. So that’s when it all started Reg, 45 years ago.

Reg: Wow. 45 years. Now I feel like there is something deeply appropriate about you graduating from university in the “Show Me” state given where your career went with the mainframe. How did you end up doing mainframe education?

Glenn: Well, as I was a new IBM systems engineer and I was going through the IBM training programs that they sent all the new hires through, I was watching the instructors that were teaching our training classes and I was thinking “Wow, that looks like a lot of fun. I think I would like to do that.” I had always been an amateur actor. I was an actor in the theater program in high school and in college just for fun and so as I got into IBM and got going in my career, it occurred to me that teaching would the closest thing to acting that I would probably find inside the IBM company and so I sort of aimed my career at moving through the different levels of systems engineer. Then I ended up in what was then called the MVS Education Center in downtown Chicago in 1 IBM Plaza. Again, I suspect a lot of the old guys listening to this interview maybe took some classes at that education center back in the 1980s or 1990s.

Reg: Cool. I keep getting this Chicago connection to the mainframe and it is so interesting. I mean those of us today sort of think of Poughkeepsie as the center of the mainframe world but you know going back to I think of Hal in 2001 and all these other really neat mainframe things. In fact I was just talking to another one of our colleagues recently who also had this really deep Chicago experience. What are your thoughts on the importance of being driving distance from Chicago in terms of the history of the mainframe?

Glenn: That is a great question and I have no idea what the answer to that is.

Reg: Fair enough.

Glenn: I mean, obviously you hit the nail on the head that development, mainframe development of both the hardware and the OS  has been focused on Poughkeepsie, it always has, but somehow I guess in the early 80s and late 70s, when IBM started teaching technical training classes, the expertise for the mainframe just ended up in an education center in Chicago and I’m not sure if they just thought it was the middle of the country, you know easier for people to get to, or what.

Reg: Interesting. Now of course you built on that experience of teaching and all that background of learning the mainframe and everything and then started moving the mainframe culture forward in some other neat ways including with various conferences. You know I most often talk to people about SHARE and I know you’ve been involved with SHARE but you’ve been involved with other mainframe conferences as well. How did that all happen?

Glenn: Yeah, well obviously SHARE as a user group and GUIDE for a long time as a user group went way back into the 1950s and 1960s so they had been around but as we were working in the education center in Chicago in the early 1990s we were all kind of thinking “Well, what would be some new kind of educational vehicle that we could create and run out of our mainframe education center here in Chicago?” That’s where we dreamed up the idea of technical events that were focused on MVS and so the first few that we ran, we actually ran in Poughkeepsie. There’s a hotel in downtown Poughkeepsie and that’s where we held the conferences. A couple of hundred people showed up; the speakers just basically came across the street from the development lab and taught sessions at the conference and that’s how it all got started in the 90s. Then they just grew and they got bigger where we couldn’t support them in Poughkeepsie anymore. The hotel wasn’t large enough so we started holding them in different cities around the country and then eventually Europe and other parts of the world. That today is what we call the IBM Systems Technical Universities or TechU. Those all got their start in our education center there in Chicago back in the 1990s.

Reg: That is so cool. Now of course both the user communities and I appreciate you correcting that SHARE is a lot more than a conference. It’s that full year-round user community. Those user communities and IBM Education worked together so nicely in terms of building one’s career. I am kind of curious about your thoughts about the ingredients to using user communities such as SHARE, using IBM Technical University and all these other things as people build their mainframe careers and also as they look to the next stage in their mainframe careers.

Glenn: Yeah, you know it’s so important still today to get face to face interaction with your colleagues that are working in the same area that you’re working and so to network that way, to meet people, to share experiences. I mean SHARE obviously even from its name is terrific at that and the projects at SHARE get people face to face and people are sharing their technical experiences. Then at the IBM Technical Universities, we have clients obviously that attend, hundreds of clients that get to network with each other as well. But in this day and age where education seems to be shifting to web casts and prerecorded videos and this sort of thing, replacing face to face training and maybe face to face conferences,  companies don’t want to send people to those anymore. They’re really missing out because it’s the interaction, it’s the networking that is so unique to those.

Reg: Now I understand that you’re at a critical moment in your career where you’re able to move onto the next level and really take a lot of this and help the mainframe ecosystem move forward productively with some new ideas and initiatives in your own career. Could you give some insights in how you’re making that transition from being an IBM results and communication person to the next phase in your career?

Glenn: Well for those of you listening at home, what Reg is alluding to is that I’m retiring from IBM here at the end of 2018 after 45 years with IBM as we’ve talked about but one of the things that has happened in the last few years of IBM TechU is that I’ve started to, in addition to mainframe technical topics, do some presentations in the area of professional development—so how to be better at giving technical presentations, how to develop your communication skills, how to create a collaborative work environment, these kinds of things and I started giving those kinds of presentations at TechU a few years ago. They’re hugely popular because people need those kinds of skills to be well-rounded professionals in addition to just the bits and bytes technical skills. So when I retire from IBM here at the end of the year, I’m going to pretty much hang up the idea of being a subject matter expert in mainframe but continue to be available to do those kinds of presentations and professional development things  because I have 45 years of experience in the business. I can help people grow themselves as professionals and help them in some of those areas.

Reg: Now you’ve touched on some things that I feel strongly are very important. You know when I got my computer science degree, I didn’t have to take any business writing or presenting or even any business oriented courses and I discovered early on in my degree I could either stay front line techie or I could start developing my other skills and really speak to the organization I was working with but to do that, I had to develop all those communication and business skills. I’m really pleased to hear that you’re doing that. I’m curious what your thoughts are on how to help mainframers and computer people generally become professionals. What sort of specific skills including ones that you’re offering should they be developing to be truly well rounded professionals?

Glenn: Well probably, the biggest one is the ability to get up in front of a room full of people and give a high quality technical presentation. I mean think about one of the big challenges that all of us mainframers have these days—making sure that our companies appreciate the value of the mainframe and what the mainframe can bring to the business. So for you to be able to stand up in front of the business leadership of your company and describe to your executives what the mainframe is doing and give a high quality presentation, I think this is not only important for your career but it’s important for the future of the mainframe. A lot of these techies, you know
Reg.: they’re just not good at this. They might know the technical stuff but you put them in front of a room full of people and they’re just practically incomprehensible and so I have really felt strongly about helping people develop good high energy, high quality presentation skills to both help themselves personally and to help their businesses and their companies.

Reg: Excellent. Now just maybe as a couple of closing thoughts. First of all, if you could maybe offer any other advice. A lot of our mainframe colleagues are reaching the end of their first mainframe career, having the opportunity to retire from their current business and either then come back as a consultant or do something else either with their mainframe skills or their other business skills or some other part of their lives. What advice would you give our colleagues who are all getting to that point in their lives in order to really maximize their enjoyment and value moving forward from their first career?

Glenn: Well I guess I’d come back to the professional development stuff again. It’s hard to be an expert in every area and the mainframe is so huge; maybe if you’re going to move out of your first career into a second career, you want to narrow your focus and say, “What is one small or specific area that I could get really good at that companies need help with?” And then be able to hone your communication skills so that you can go in and deliver that information to a company that needs it. I think it’s pretty hard these days to try to cover the water front and so I would recommend trying to pick one area, narrow down and get into that and something new—you know, Internet of Things, blockchain, how the mainframe fits in developing a private cloud for an enterprise. These are hot new subjects that a lot of executives don’t understand and so if you’re able to understand that little narrow area and articulate it to an executive, I think that’s a really valuable skill.

Reg: Excellent. Now any other closing thoughts just before we finish up here?

Glenn: Well let me just do a quick advertisement for myself.

Reg: Please do.

Glenn: As I said, I will continue to be available doing professional development training and so if you’d like to reach out to me and find out more about that, my personal email after I leave IBM is I’d love to hear from anyone out there challenged in the area of presentation skills, communication skills, things like this and see if I can help you out.

Reg: Awesome. Well Glenn, thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about this. I really appreciate it.

Glenn: Well I really think you’re doing a great thing here Reg.—talking to mainframers, finding out what people are thinking, sharing this with the mainframe community, it’s really cool so I congratulate you on that. Keep up the good work.

Reg: Thank you very much.