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Marketing Mainframes: A Q&A With Maemalynn Meanor

If you know anything about Zowe, the open-source mainframe initiative spearheaded by the Open Mainframe Project, it’s probably because of Maemalynn Meanor, senior PR and marketing manager, The Linux Foundation. Meanor has been managing Zowe communications since day one and has been helping share the open mainframe story to mainframers, open-source enthusiasts, and the rest of the world. Here are some of her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that she faces when marketing mainframes.
Q: How long have you been marketing mainframes?
A: I’ve been working with the Open Mainframe Project for nearly three years. A lot of my previous tech experience was with IoT and Edge, so mainframes are very different for me. It definitely required a lot of education for me to learn about these amazing systems—and I want to share that with others.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face doing marketing in the mainframe world?
A: I think the biggest challenge is that folks don't realize how relevant mainframes are. When you start talking about a mainframe, people immediately think about two things: the big mainframe that you see in the movies where hackers are trying to get into it and steal money, or they just think of it as this old, antiquated technology that we don't use anymore. It’s sort of like, "We are now in 2021, we don't even use that anymore." There are times when we’re speaking to the general business and technology media, and there’s a perception that mainframes are out of date that we have to fight against.
We have to help educate and share with folks that mainframes are the foundation of enterprises and even though they might be old, they’ve evolved to continue to be the heart of businesses. We remind people that, "This is a real thing. You're using it on a daily basis, you just don't know it." This is probably the hardest thing I go through. When I talk to non-mainframers, there's a lot of unknowns. Either folks think of it as being old and negative, or folks just don't know what to think of it. And so that's where the education has to come through.
Q: Is there something that you know now that you wish you had known when you started marketing mainframes?
A: I keep thinking about the person who doesn't know that he or she is using mainframes on a daily basis, because I was one of those people. When The Linux Foundation approached me to say that Open Mainframe Project needs marketing and PR help I was super confused, and I responded, "Well, why? Mainframes aren't a big thing anymore, are they?" So educating myself about the history and importance of mainframes was a big part of how I started on this project. Then you add how open source plays into it and it has been really eye-opening for me. And as I meet mainframers and learn about the different paths that people took to get into the industry, it's just amazing how diverse and how different they are. Everyone has a unique story about how they got into mainframes.
Q: Do you think that mainframe marketing needs to focus on existing mainframers, or is there a need to go to a broader audience?
A: I would say that reaching out to the broader audience is key. If you're already working with mainframes, you're already passionate about it, so you're already in the loop. You’re probably always looking for training opportunities or career opportunities. But if you're a non-mainframer, how do we reach you? What's the best way to get the interest of people who’ve never heard of a mainframe—or maybe even thought about a mainframe? Is it to showcase how they're using it on a daily basis without them knowing it? Is it shedding light of the people of the mainframe?
We need to reach everyone, including young mainframers and people right out of school. And we need to reach people anywhere in the world, from India to Asia to North America, because mainframes are literally everywhere. The Open Mainframe Project does this on a lot of levels. the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast has really helped shine the light on just the different aspects of mainframe, and the different paths, and the different types of folks who work in mainframes. A lot of feedback that we get from that podcast is along the lines of, "Oh, I didn't know that someone so young could be in the mainframe industry." Or, "I didn't realize that this is what a product manager does, or a developer of so-and-so does this." There are just so many different ways to get to the mainframe. And I think shedding light on all of that will really help engage more people.
Q: What do you think the mainframe community can do better to amplify its message?
A: The mainframe community spends a lot of time talking about all of the great things that these systems can do, but a lot of times it’s in a theoretical way. If we really want to get people outside of our orbit talking about mainframes, we need to show how they are actually functioning in the real world. That’s why showcasing use cases is so important. I think that's probably been the hardest thing to shed light on: where mainframes are working and how they're working. Showing those specific solutions would help us reach the broader audience, but it is definitely a struggle. We’d love to be able to highlight anything that has a broader appeal to it, including gaming and consumer apps. A use case in these areas would be awesome!

Maemalynn Meanor, senior PR and marketing manager, The Linux Foundation, poses for a photo in Sedona.