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Janet Sun on Her 25 Years of SHARE

Reg Harbeck: Hi, this is Reg Harbeck and today I’m here with my friend, Janet Sun. Janet is, in my opinion, an amazing person. She has been a mainframe volunteer at SHARE, a volunteer, in fact, a past SHARE president. She has been involved in various aspects of the mainframe her whole career and she’s an also an IBM Champion. Well, before I spend the whole conversation telling you about Janet, Janet, tell you about yourself. How did you end up on the mainframe? How did you end up being a volunteer at SHARE? How did you end up being a Champion?

Janet Sun: Wow. That’s a lot of things, Reg, so—

Reg: Oh, and how did you end up being Tigger? All right. Go.

Janet: So go. So we’ll go back to the beginning. How did I begin my career working on computers? And the credit for that actually goes to my dad, who, when I was in college, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, he said, well, go learn something that you can go get a job doing. How about computers? And I said hmm, that’s interesting so I started looking into it. I initially started taking computer programming classes in the evening at UCLA, where I was going to school at the time. They offered computer programming and other computer related classes in the evening for free through the computer club, and I got involved with the computer club also as a result of that. I liked it so much; I enjoyed it so much that I started actually taking the programs in the computer science program at UCLA. So that’s how I got started and UCLA had, and at the time, there weren’t mainframe and nonmainframe computers. There was only one kind of computer, which is what we now refer to as the mainframe.

So I started working on that computer, even when I was in college and then when I left college, I went out and got a job. I started at the bottom of the totem pole as a programmer associate or associate-assistant programmer or something like that – I don’t know, and I basically worked my way up. I started out in an applications area working with aerospace engineers and working with FORTRAN programs, moved into systems programming and I did that for quite a long time, learned a lot of things there. Then I eventually took the plunge into the vendor world and I went to work for Mainstar Software, started over there and then Mainstar was bought by Rocket. I worked there for a long time and then I worked at BMC for awhile but all along, I’ve always worked on the mainframe platform. I’ve always been an advocate and supporter of the mainframe. For somebody that’s never worked at IBM and I have never worked at IBM, I used to joke that I would bleed blue because I was such an IBM supporter.

While I was at Northrop, which was my aerospace years, occasionally I got the opportunity to attend a SHARE conference when it was local. Even a few times, I got to travel to go to a SHARE conference but I didn’t attend regularly. In my next job after that when I was still in systems programming, I didn’t get to attend SHARE regularly but for awhile I got to go more often than not. When I first started going to SHARE, I never knew that other people volunteered for SHARE. I didn’t know what made SHARE tick or how it was run. I didn’t understand or have any knowledge or awareness that it was a volunteer run organization and I never knew that they needed more people to volunteer to do things. It wasn’t until I got involved and I got involved in several projects. I was involved in the MVS SCP project, MVS Storage project and the Performance project because as a systems programmer I did all those. I kind of dabbled in JES a little bit, but not a lot over there but when I was in—I found from one of the—from the project manager who was in the MVS Storage project, I learned that they want volunteers. I was actually offered a ribbon and I believe that next year will be my 25th year as a volunteer for SHARE.

Reg: Wow.

Janet: And so, you know, I’ve been perfectly happy doing various volunteer things. When I was a volunteer—I was a volunteer in the MVS Storage Management project and still am or I am again, I guess we’ll say, because I had a brief break there while I was on the board. While I was a volunteer the first time, I occasionally got offered the opportunity to serve on the SHARE nominating committee—

Reg: Nom Com.

Janet: Yes, Nom Com. I found that very interesting and fascinating, because I learned a lot about how SHARE worked and I learned how to interview people because what you do is, you look at all the potential candidates. You talk to them all; you interview them and you develop a slate for the election of people to run for the board of directors. I did that for several years, and for a while people kept saying, oh, don’t you want to run for the board? Don’t you want to run for the board? Don’t you want to run for the board? I was like, no. I was perfectly happy being on the nominating committee and not running for the board. The reason that that changed and I did choose to run for the board was because at the time the company I was working for which was Mainstar, that year SHARE was going to be in Seattle, and Seattle was the headquarters for Mainstar. I said oh, I want to be Nom Com again. They said oh no, no, no. You’re not going to have time for that, and I knew I would have time, so I said, well if you won’t let me be on the nominating committee, will you let me run for the board? They said yes, but that’s how I started my career on the board and I interviewed for the board and was nominated which was amazing to me. Then I served on the board for a few years, and I did make it up to president of SHARE in 2010, for 2010 to 2012, and then after I was off the board after my term as immediate past president. Well, I still wanted to participate in SHARE so I went back to the MVS Storage project and I’m a volunteer there again. I’ve now worked my way up to scheduler for the MVS Storage Management project so that’s my career and my SHARE history.

Reg: Well—

Janet: In a nut shell. Now—

Reg: There’s more to it than that. I happen to be on the same committee as you that you didn’t mention.

Janet: Oh, the Editorial Advisory committee?

Reg: Yeah.

Janet: Okay, well, there’s another story about that. I want to say back around maybe 2004, I was the editor of the newsletter.

Reg: Wow.

Janet: Okay, and I hated it because what was really hard is we had to come up with content and trying to get anybody to volunteer to write content was really difficult. I did that for a couple of years or so, I don’t even remember and then I think that changed or morphed in some way, and I didn’t do that anymore. Then a few years ago, Harry Williams asked me, when he was president, he asked me if I would join the Editorial Advisory committee. I said as long as I don’t have to be the editor and I don’t have to write content. I said I’m happy to edit, but I don’t want to write content. He said no, that’s fine, so I’ve been doing that now for a few years. I don’t know. I don’t know how many I’m doing and I know we’re both on that same committee.

Reg: Yeah. It’s a lot of fun.

Janet: Yeah, and then another thing that is new is apparently last year, I was nominated to become an IBM Champion, and I was incredibly honored to have been selected as one for IBM Z.

Reg: Yeah, yeah.

Janet: For 2020 and I was just so humbled by that honor, and—

Reg: And yet so deserved, and you are definitely one of those among us who really—it fits you.

Janet: Well, I suppose you could say that from the standpoint of, I’ve always been a big fan and advocate of the IBM Z® platform even before, when it was called Z, and I bleed blue. Remember I told you that? So in that sense, it fits, but I never felt that I was an extraordinary advocate compared to other people so I was incredibly honored when I was selected for that.

Reg: Well, this is one of the things I get a kick out of about you, Janet, is because you’re so … I mean, humble almost seems like the wrong word. Humble seems too unhumble, because you don’t focus on being humble. You just are Janet, and one of the fun things about Janet that I get such a kick out of—I mentioned this at the beginning is that you’re also Tigger. When you first became president and I was chatting with you because I was on the board at that time, and just kind of get to know you better, you gave me your wonderful little Tigger poem. It’s like, that explains so much. So how did you end up being Tigger, and what does that mean in your life?

Janet: Well, so one of my good friends is Anne Caluori and I know you’ve probably talked to Anne. We’re both big Disney fans and one of my favorite characters in Disney is Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and one of the things I like about Tigger is that he’s bouncy. He’s energetic. He’s nonstop. He goes nonstop and he always laughs, and so I relate to that a little bit. When I was president, I believe Kristine Harper (now Bastin) was the Director of Volunteer Relations at the time, and she presented me with a plush Tigger. Which, by the way, I still have sitting on my desk to this day with his SHARE ribbon. That was from the 2011 SHARE in Anaheim and that Tigger went to the board dinner with me and he was my buddy, so—

Reg: Well, one thing I have to say is cool about that is if you look at all the characters in Winnie the Pooh, every one of them seems more appropriate to be a systems programmer than Tigger. Tigger is like the least, the one you would guess least, and yet you are such a perfect fit for both.

Janet: Well, I can probably also related to Eeyore a little bit.

Reg: Can’t we all?

Janet: You know, thanks for noticing but no, I like multiple characters. I just like things that are fun, so.

Reg: Well, and that makes such a difference. Now that said, would you be willing to share that poem that you recited to me when we were talking about your role—

Janet: It’s actually Tigger’s lines.

Reg: I figured that.

Janet: It goes something like, “the wonderful things about Tiggers is Tiggers is wonderful things. The tops are made out of rubber, the bottoms are made out of springs. They’re bouncy, trouncy, pouncy, flouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, but the most wonder thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one.”

Reg: Bravo. So that said—

Janet: I don’t know if I got it exactly right, but it’s close.

Reg: Well, that’s certainly close enough, and it makes an impression. Now that said, of course not only is it not the case that you’re the only one because you’re have so much in common with all of us. In fact, one of the other great mainframers that you and I have as a mutual connection happens to be your husband, Ray, and that’s just sort of neat connection as well. Maybe if you could just kind of give us insight into how you guys ended up as a pair of mainframers being married.

Janet: Well, we were both students at UCLA. We were both computer science majors and we were both working at the same summer job in the registrar’s office working on doing work on the mainframe, actually. That’s where we met, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Reg: Cool.

Janet: We got married and we’ve been together ever since.

Reg: Yeah, well, that is so cool. Now, I mean, there’s much else—

Janet: He’s smarter than I am, by the way.

Reg: That’s the kind of thing a smart person would say. I personally would not be in a position to judge that either way, but I’ve been quite impressed and honored to know both of you. That said, there’s so much else that one could say about your journey on the mainframe. We’re kind of getting close to the end of our time. Are there other things that you wanted to share about it?

Janet: I don’t think so. I really have always enjoyed the work that I’ve done. I love to learn things. I like solving problems. I like making people happy, and there’s an element of that in working on the mainframe and working with solving the problems, whether it’s writing code and doing something there or working with a client to show them how to use a software tool, for example. There’s so many different things and I really enjoy all aspects of it and learning new stuff all the time is fun. Never stop learning. That’s my motto.

Reg: Well, that sounds like a great motto for a mainframer.

Janet: Yeah, and I recommend to everybody else too. Never stop learning.

Reg: Excellent. Well, Janet, I kind of feel like we could do this for another three hours and not run out of stuff. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much.

Janet: Well, you’re welcome, Reg.