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Jim Erdahl on Connecting at SHARE

Reg Harbeck: My name is Reg Harbeck and I'm here today with Jim Erdahl who is a person who has been very involved with the mainframe and with SHARE, and in fact somebody that I've known for a number of years and worked with at SHARE. Jim, tell us about yourself. How did you end up on the mainframe and at SHARE?
Jim Erdahl: Well let's back up to 1975 as I was entering my first year of college. My father and I disagreed for a while that I wanted to go to college for engineering and he wanted me to get involved in this new stuff that was coming out, IBM mainframe computers. Well the first week I was on campus, I went down to the student job center to get a job on campus and I was assigned a job hanging magnetic tapes in the mainframe data center. I found out years later my dad had arranged all of it.
When I left college I had mainframe computer operator experience so that's the field I went into and then throughout the years I've happened to be in the right spots at the right time. When I was hired as a systems programmer, one of the questions I asked was why was I chosen and the answer I got was because I was reading too many of the IBM manuals and they didn't trust me on second shift anymore.
Reg: Very funny. So now how long ago did you first become a systems programmer then?
Jim: In 1981.
Reg: Wow. Okay, excellent. So that was the year before they declared the PC the "Man of the Year" but for you that was the year of the mainframe already. That's kind of cool.
Jim: Sure.
Reg: Now you've probably done a whole lot of different systems kinds of things on the mainframe over the past nearly four decades, or over four decades.
Jim: I've worked for a lot of different companies both as an employee and, in most of the 1990s, as a systems programmer that was hired out on a consulting basis.
Reg: Okay.
Jim: I even spent a couple of years down the dark road, on the dark side, and worked on UNIX.
Reg: Oh. Well you know it happens to the best of us. Glad to have you back on the mainframe. Now of course one of the many things you and I have in common is that we tend to gravitate toward cold climates, cheese and beer. How did those come together in your journey of being a mainframer?
Jim: Well as a systems programmer in the early days, you worked a lot of nights and of course then there was camaraderie afterwards. I even designed systems sitting in a bar room using napkins. There was a company in Green Bay that was going to convert from DOS/VSE to z/OS and that whole migration plan was documented on bar room napkins.
Reg: The Gilbert and Sullivan approach.
Jim: Yup.
Reg: Cool.
Jim: So I've been at my current position now for 19 years.
Reg: Wow.
Jim: Although I've been attending SHARE regularly since the 1980s, in the last 15 I've only missed two conferences.
Reg: Excellent.
Jim: One was the financial failures in 2008 and the second was when it conflicted with the wedding anniversary of Mary and I but I fixed that. Now I bring her to every conference with me.
Reg: Yeah and that is so neat. I mean you two are always there as a couple and it's just so sweet. You guys are just so neat to see hanging out together. You enjoy your company and everybody else enjoys hanging out with you guys because of that. It's so neat to see that you brought your family into this. Are there other ways you brought your family into SHARE or the mainframe?
Jim: Well I have three children; two of them are involved in the mainframe but more on the development side and I even have a brother-in-law that works on the development side. Although they don't participate at SHARE conferences, they're still involved.
Reg: Excellent. Now you've done a number of things at SHARE. You were a program manager for the enterprise-wide program and then you just recently got elected to the SHARE Board. What are some of the various things that you've done during your time since the 80s at SHARE?
Jim: Well about 12 years ago the MVS storage project manager took me aside and said “You've been coming to every conference. It's about time that you start giving back.” So I spent a couple of years as a volunteer coordinator and I spent a couple of years working with MVS storage requirements to IBM. When I served as a member of the nominating committee, I had the opportunity to attend a SHARE Board meeting and realized that I wanted to do more for SHARE. So that's when I took advantage of an opportunity for a new position they were creating as the enterprise-wide program manager. At the point that my project managers were confident in their role, I realized that I needed to do more so that they could do more. Last August I was elected as the SHARE treasurer and chief financial officer.
Reg: Now this is your first time on the SHARE Board even though you had attended some SHARE Board meetings before. Is that correct?
Jim: That's correct.
Reg: You must have some very interesting impressions. I know there is some confidentiality so you can't tell everything but at the same time I think what you can share about both the Board and the experience of being on the Board is something I think would be very interesting to a lot of people who wonder about that aspect of the SHARE experience.
Jim: Well what I'm finding out is the value of the Board is the same as when I served as a program manager and worked on the Program Council. If you're trying to make a decision of something, of an item, you always think about two things, what is best for SHARE as an organization, and-and I emphasize AND-what is best for the SHARE Members, the corporate members. When you analyze that, it makes the decision making process so much easier.
Reg: OK, well that makes good sense. Now that said, I want to get back to the human side of this because one of things that I've really been struck by is seeing your participation at SHARE. On the one hand, you take this very conscientious approach to everything you do but on the other hand you don't slice that off from the human side of yourself whether it's bringing your wife with you to SHARE or really enjoying a good party. I remember one of the ways you first introduced yourself to me was giving me this giant cheese cowboy hat kind of thing. It was kind of fun; still have that in a special place. Tell me, what are your thoughts about keeping the human side active in terms of being more effective at SHARE or in the computing or mainframe career?
Jim: In a volunteer role, there are always more activities than what you have time to put in and it's my opinion that especially in a leadership role, many hands make light work so using you as an example Reg, showing enthusiasm, showing participation. When I come to you to ask can you help me, I always hear the words yes, what can I do more of. So that's a leadership trait that I try to emphasize. My enthusiasm, my ability to try to understand people and to engage with them.
Reg: Now what sort of activities then do you find especially helpful in order to keep that human side active at SHARE, at work, in these important roles that you've undertaken?
Jim: Well SHARE is more than two conferences or two events a year.
Reg: Good point.
Jim: SHARE is a year-round organization that has many committees serving. I spent time serving on the Editorial Committee. I was a chair person for that so it's not just the two events. It's what we do all year long. You know, still in my role, I have many meetings and telephone meetings with different committees. As treasurer I sit on committees to give financial advice for projects that they have going on and I really truly enjoy the camaraderie that is built around people that I've known for awhile and the meeting of new people knowing that I have an opportunity to build that teamwork.
Reg: So it's relationships established, taking good care of established ones and building new ones. Is that a good way to summarize it?
Jim: I think that's a great way, Reg.
Reg: Excellent. Now we're past the ten-minute mark here so I want to tie up a little bit. Are there other things you wanted to talk about or thought you wanted to share for people to keep in mind about these things?
Jim: On the event side, engage. If you’re in a session as the speaker, and someone asks a unique question, engage with them and start developing those relationships. And to enhance the year around experience, become a volunteer. Serve on some of these committees. Spend a couple of hours a month for example on the Editorial Committee reviewing publications, articles that we put out. I think it is every two weeks now. SHARE's mission and the networking side for me is so important. Someone’s manager is sending them there for the technical information, the education, but also to engage and to network year-round not only benefits the employer and the member of SHARE but the added value to each participant for their own professional career.
Reg: Excellent thoughts. Thank you so much Jim. It's been a real pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for taking the time for this. I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to share these insights with everybody.
Jim: I really enjoyed the time Reg. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Reg: You bet. You take care.
Jim: Yup. Goodbye.