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Frank De Gilio and Jeff Bisti on Their Terminal Talk Podcast

Reg Harbeck: Hi. I'm Reg Harbeck, and today I have the honor of being here with both Jeff Bisti and Frank De Gilio. They are the hosts of the Terminal Talk podcast, which is a favorite mainframe podcast of mine and so I have the opportunity to find out how they ended up doing this. Before I tell you too much more about them, I'll get them to tell you about themselves. So Jeff, how did you end up on the mainframe and doing a mainframe podcast?
Jeff Bisti: Thank you Reg. I found out about the mainframe because I went to Marist College where, when I went there, we only have one Token Ring jack per room and some of those rooms had three people in them. I found out that you can't just split this thing. You actually need a MAU, and who knows what the heck that thing is. But somebody said, “You know what? There's this thing called Linux and if you put Ethernet cards into it and plug it into a switch, you can turn it into basically a router.” So that got me to learn a little bit about networking, a little bit about Linux.
I think it also got me on Harry Williams’ bad side for a little while, something about a DHCP server on the wrong interface. Yeah, oops. So I got to know Linux fairly fairly well and at the time I was graduating, I was like “Oh, I need to find a job.” I had an internship doing Linux type stuff with IBM through Marist and it just so happened that the OSA interface networking team doing tests needed somebody who knew Linux in order to test these network interfaces. I'm like “Wow, if this hasn't just landed in my lap, I have experiences in this, and this, and this” and it turned out to be a great fit. I started out in Linux mainframe test and my first real experience with the mainframe was pretty much on my first day of the job finding out what an OSA card is, and what's this thing called a TCP/IP stack and why isn't it just always there like on every other OS?
Reg: Now you mustn't have met Frank right away but I'm going to guess it didn't take you long.
Jeff: Maybe it was five years or so into the company. We became Facebook friends at some point. I forget what exactly about but once we started working in the same type of area, I was like “Yeah, I know Frank.” I know he's not—I won't say he's not a weirdo but you know I kind of know what he's about. I mean if he's a G chord, I'm a D chord; we'll at least work in the same key most of the time.
Reg: Okay, well before I ask you more about the podcast, then Frank maybe you can tell us a bit. How did you end up on the mainframe?
Frank De Gilio: Well back when I started, there wasn't a choice. You could work on the mainframe or you could work in farming I guess. I don't know. So I had always been interested in programming. I actually started programming at a very young age. My dad was a teacher, a science teacher, who was really on the forefront of computers, which back then were mainframes, and I learned about timesharing early so I was writing code starting around eight years old on mainframes.
Reg: Cool.
Frank: So I kind of grew up with it.
Reg: And now how did you end up at IBM?
Frank: It's weird because I didn’t graduate college with a computer science degree.
Reg: Oh?
Frank: So IBM wasn't originally interested in me because I didn't have a computer science degree but the girl that I was dating after I got out of college, her father really wanted me to work at IBM. He was an IBMer and he asked me why I didn't take computer science in school. I explained to him that I had already had all this experience growing up with it. I thought it would be good to learn something else and so he had me write some stuff which then he submitted at IBM. Somebody at IBM said “Oh, this looks kind of cool. We should get this guy.” And that's how I moved from working on Wall Street, which is what I got after college, to come to IBM.
Reg: Cool. Now I'm going to guess that probably you discovered SHARE before you met Jeff. Is that a good guess?
Frank: Yeah, that’s a good guess. Actually some of the people who know me well will probably remember Hilon Potter who was a SHARE attendee and he had a habit of accepting to do sessions and then being on vacation the week of SHARE so he would say “Well, I can't make it but Frank will do all my sessions.” So yeah, so that's actually how I started coming to SHARE is I was doing Hilon's sessions for him and since he knew when they were, he would—at the time we didn't have text messaging but we had beepers—and he would make sure that he would beep me during his sessions that I was doing because he is that kind of guy.
Reg: Like the sense of humor especially when it's technical. So now, back to you Frank—I'm sorry, Jeff.
Frank: We look the same.
Reg: So Jeff, how did you then end up conspiring with Frank to put together podcasts? I assume that you had known each other for a good number of years before that happened.
Jeff: Well I don't know about a good number of years.
Frank: Long, many years.
Jeff: I’ve listened to podcasts for a number of years at this point and it’s something—it's probably bad, but I fall asleep listening to them now. I used to fall asleep listening to the TV but now I just put on a podcast and so we were doing this exceptionally long and boring drive out to talk to a client. It's four hours in a car, in the most boring car in the world, just painfully boring. You know you could only listen to Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel so many times and I'm like “I'm tired of hearing you talk. Can we put on podcast and at least have like a third voice in this car?” What was it?
Frank: We were listening to S-Town.
Jeff: Yeah, the S-Town podcast which is interesting and the more we were listening to this, you know you can kind of just tune out and you mentally picture what the guy is talking about and stuff. I think Frank said we should do a podcast. I'm like “Well who is going to listen a podcast about the mainframe? It wouldn't be good unless we did this.” And I think the first line in the sand was the quality of the sound has to be good. Well, I have some microphones and a mixer. I could bring those in. Okay. The guests would have to be good. We have to set a standard of entry for that. Okay, so we'd say yes to this person, no to this person. It wouldn't have to be too long but not too short. We drew up these things and then we started thinking about people who would fit in there and we'd say, “You know, this could actually be pretty fun.”
The first guest was Anthony Sofia and he's the prototypical person we want to have on who has their own thoughts about subjects but is very knowledgeable about the technical bits behind it. It really just went from there. I'd say the formula hasn't really deviated all that much since we started it. I mean we've gotten better at reading each other's cues about, you know, come bail me out here. I'm out of steam, or, wrap this thing up. It's been a learning experience but ultimately I love the podcast medium. We were talking a little bit about this downstairs. If someone says, “Here is a half hour video of somebody talking about RLS,” I'm probably not going to click on that because if it's a video there needs to be video elements. If there's a guy talking, it's going to demand my audio attention as well and that's my full attention right there unless there is smell-o-vison involved. A podcast, I can separate that one ear, two ears enough so that I can listen to this and take in the information while I'm doing other stuff—usually a half hour drive to work—and it's just been a great medium for us. I don't think it would work if we said “Let's do a weekly TV show ,you know?”
Frank: Yeah. No, we've got faces for radio.
Jeff: Right, or if we said “I want to write a blog.” I mean there's something about the immediacy of recording something.
Frank: Well I like the fact that it's not just us right. I mean I have learned so much on this podcast because we've gotten really, really smart people and people who really understand their field very well. They come in and they show the excitement that they have for what they do on the mainframe and it's really been easy for us. Really, all we provide is the box, right; they come in and they do what they do well. All we do is ask the right questions and you've got to play off of the cool things that they do.
Jeff: Everybody has one or two things that they wish everybody knew about their component and that's what usually bubbles to the top. The one that we keep coming back to is the mainframe packaging engineer. There's so much in there that I just had no idea it was even a thing. Now I think about it every time I see a shipping crate.
Reg: Yeah.
Jeff: It comes back to—it's a lot of the people. It's the environment. It's welcoming but, you know, it's just so much fun.
Reg: Now of course one of the neat things that you've done is you've begun to combine your podcasts and recording your podcasts with SHARE as well as other user conferences but Frank, maybe if I can get a sense of your feeling of how SHARE and this podcast just play together in the same space.
Frank: It's really kind of important. I remember at the last SHARE having a conversation with Brian Peterson about it. SHARE has a group of people who have made a big imprint on not only the usage but the direction of the mainframe. I think it’s really important as those of us who have been doing this for a few years start to age out and maybe we should think about retirement. It's important to get those voices and to get that perspective before it goes away so we're really trying to connect with SHARE and some of the other conferences to make sure that we get those voices, to make sure that we get the personalities that have really been shaping where the mainframe has been going.
Jeff: We want people. If the price of SHARE is whatever it is, you could almost sell a ticket for SHARE for maybe half that and say you only get to hang out in the hallways because you can learn almost as much just by hanging out and listening. Those people are talking about VSAM. I overheard a conversation. I sat down; I had a drink with this person and I learned a whole bunch. So we wanted to create that hallway or bar at a SHARE type of environment that anybody can get. I've had guests say that people who they don't know have come up to them at conferences just because they've been on the podcast and start asking them questions. They said they wouldn't have felt comfortable doing that unless they said “Oh, this is a cool person. I've heard them talk before.” It makes the topic and the person that much more accessible.
Reg: Excellent. So now I know we're starting to run out of time here but if I could get you each to think about if you had a desire for how your podcast, the greatest value it would bring from you know 100 years from now looking back. Your podcast has become a document in the history of computing. I'm sorry. It's going to happen right? People look back on your podcast and they say this is really what it brought to the history of computing. I'd like you to each just tell me. I'm going to start with you maybe telling me what would you like your podcast to have as an important role in the history of computing?
Frank: I would say if that were a thing, it would be the bridge. What we've been trying to do is bring mainframe to people who don't know it or don't know much about it and for them if they're walking away going “I understand this piece a little bit better,” then I think we've done our job.
Reg: Okay cool. Thank you Frank. Jeff?
Jeff: I'm a big fan of the movie “2001 A Space Odyssey” and whenever one of the giant glyphs, monolith shows up that represents a point in human evolution where you know something happened that shifted the course of human evolution—
Reg: —an inflection point.
Jeff: —yeah, an inflection point, and I believe the mainframe always feels like we're in an inflection point. But the transition, you know, cloud is a huge inflection point for mainframe. However we end up five years from now is going to be drastically different from where we were five years ago and to be able to tune in and say, how did the mainframe manage to alter course and adapt to this thing, that seems like it’s just a bullet headed straight toward the mainframe's head, how did we adapt to that and succeed is a valuable record. Some of the guests we have on, they talk about, this is the challenge we have. This is how we’re adapting to it. This is what our clients want to do and this is why we're doing it. You know getting that on record I think is pretty important.
Reg: Cool. Excellent. Well any last thoughts either of you have just before we finish up?
Frank: Well first of all thank you very much for letting us talk about something that we've very, very excited about. I would really recommend that we add to the six people who actually listen to our podcast. Hopefully some of your listeners will come and join our podcast and we'll direct all six of ours to yours.
Jeff: Oh man. I don't think I can add on that. I mean yeah again I'm happy to be here. Anytime, it's the same pattern for me before I come to SHARE every time. It's “I'm nervous, I'm nervous, I'm nervous” and then five minutes into each speaking presentation, whether it be in the classroom or something like this, I'm like “Man this is fun.” I'm glad I get to do something like this. I forget what the question is and I'm just going to end on happy note and say thank you very much.
Reg: Awesome. Well thank you both very much. It's been a real pleasure. I'm so glad we got to do this.
Jeff: Thank you.
Frank: Thank you.