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Jim Michael Embraces Opportunities Throughout Career

Reg Harbeck: Hello. I'm here today, this is Reg Harbeck, with Jim Michael. I like to call him the best president SHARE never had because he was with SHARE as their vice-president and everybody expected to become the SHARE president, but then he had a change at his employer that meant that he was no longer either having a mainframe or supported to continue to attend SHARE. But he has continued to be a very active member of both the SHARE community and the mainframe ecosystem and also has recently retired and wrote a roughly two-years-long set of blogs about the experience of retiring and his reflections.

Well Jim, I spent way too much time introducing you. I should let you tell us about yourself and you know just how you got where you are and begin digging into your own history on the mainframe and SHARE and such things.

Jim Michael: Well great. It's very nice to talk with you today Reg. I've been enjoying following this series of interviews you've been doing and it's an honor to get to speak with you. So I came to the mainframe the way a number of people of my age and generation did. I never imagined that I would work in IT, never took any IT or computer science classes at university. I graduated with a degree in psychology. Just as a side note, I've got a cousin who works for Intel who graduated with a degree in Renaissance art history so I'm one of those guys. So I'm working as a bank teller, which is what your bachelor's degree in psychology qualifies you to do, that or manage a fast food restaurant, and I was looking for a better job. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a computer operator position at our country computer services division, went, applied, took the tests, all that stuff and got hired. There I was working in IT and it has turned out to be the most wonderful career.

Probably about 40 years ago at the university was the first experience I had working with IT, helping them convert to their first computerized library management system, but when I went to work at the county was my first experience with the mainframes. We were running 370s with the OS/VS1 operating system. I was hanging tapes, loading paper and working with punch cards and so forth, and in the process taught myself to program in some scripting languages we were using and then took a class on 370 Assembler. Then on the strength of that and my computer operator experience after about a year and a half, I got my first job as an assembly language programmer at a firm that was serving as a service bureau for the savings and loan industry. That was very exciting. It was almost like a start up, a very innovative environment and with all the turnover, people moving up and on, it was probably less than a year later that I was the senior programmer writing applications for the new what were then called NOW accounts which were the checking accounts for savings and loans, so that was great fun. You end up coming in to do a conversion. I remember once we were called in at 10:30 at night one Friday because things were beginning to go south and I helped pull that out of the weeds and get the conversion done by about 5:00 Monday morning with very little sleep, vice president of the company standing behind me, but such fun. So exciting. I'm glad I don't have to do at 60 what I did at 23, but great fun to do that.

So I'm working as an applications programmer and my first great mentor in IT, Gary Sandwick, reached out to me and said: ‘Would you be interested in coming to work for us as a systems programmer?’ Same company but working in systems and that seemed really interesting to me so I took that job working for Gary and began to do systems programming on the mainframe. That's when I heard about SHARE. Gary was very enthusiastic about SHARE, attended regularly. He would come back with these great stories. I remember once he came back, he had been to session that Sebo Friesenberg had given and he was joking with us about the fact that Sebo had said, you know, all processors wait at the same speed, things like that got me excited about going to SHARE. Gary gave me that first opportunity and I attended the Anaheim meeting in 1988. That was it. I started volunteering with the projects and I was hooked. I wanted to be part of that environment and attend as often as I could. Now working there probably about eight years at the service bureau, I had an opportunity to go to work for the university, our local IBM CE's would come by and say there is this job at the university. You might want to apply. I was like oh, I'm busy. I'm busy. No, you really ought to apply. Last day I go and apply for the job and I'm fortunate enough to be hired to help them migrate from a Cyber system to a 3090 machine. Then I ended up working the rest of my career at the university, 28 years, probably the first 11 with the mainframes before we finally had to lose the mainframe. That's another story and in the process became more and more involved with SHARE, worked at the project level, wonderful support from my wife Sue made that possible and with her support I moved up to volunteer to manage the Windows project after Al Williams approached me about that. Then one day at SCIDS in 2000 I think it was, Frank Rosenzweig came by and said you should think about running for the board. So I put my name in the hat, went to Quebec City as a guest for my first board meeting and ended up making wonderful lifelong friends and working there with the board until as you mentioned, I had to resign as vice-president in 2009.

Amazing experience. I think the other thing about that that was just really crucial was that right around 2001 was also when I first became a manager so we were just getting ready to move off the mainframe. I was just leaving the technical work that I loved, never thought I would want to be a manager, to become a manager. I was just beginning to work with the board and every significant thing I needed to do as a manager I did first at SHARE. I had the chance to work as their director of HR. I had a chance to serve as their treasurer and their secretary. I ended up working with budgets, policies and how to develop people, had the chance to do all of those things and then worked in strategic relationships and strategic planning before I needed to do those things for the university so as I went to do those things at the university, I had the experience of doing them at SHARE and I really think that was one of the keys to my success in my career. Ultimately I ended up being the most senior IT leader at the university, their executive director and after many years of trying to convince them, they finally agreed to hire a CIO. I was fortunate enough to be there for the first couple of years that our first CIO in the history of the university was working for the organization and able to help him make the change in governance from the old model that we had to this new CIO driven model that I was able to step away from as a retiree, just very, very satisfying.

Reg: Excellent. Now one of the things that has been sort of a side current or maybe even a primary current in your life that I think has really informed you and supported you in being such a deeply people person is your music. Maybe if you could just give us some thoughts about your music including how that sort of has interacted with your career and with your time at SHARE?

Jim: Well interestingly enough yeah. Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are singing with the family, my mother singing and I loved playing and singing with friends and family. We did that at SHARE. We'd get together informally. We had sing-alongs for a while. At SCIDS we'd do that but then we'd also get together informally and the way it ties into the rest as much as I just enjoy the music for its own sake but it also gives us a way to relax together and to get to know one another better, kind of let our guard down and build stronger relationships. That's really the key for me. I love those relationships. I finally found what my mission in life was as I was writing the blog you were talking about and I figured out it is very simple: I am here to do what is right with love. So you have to figure out what is right. No matter how hard it is, you have to do it and you have to try and do it in a way that is loving, and so much of that is about relationships.

That's where we come back to SHARE, building people up, helping them. So what do you want to do? Where do you want to go? How can I help you technically in your career, personally in your relationships with others, professionally? You know what can we do to help you grow? We got to do that at SHARE and then I got to do that as a manager at the university. In the process, my wife and I met our very best friends at SHARE and we've been dear friends now for years and years. I expect we always will be. That kind of thing really was the great reward of my career, much of it at SHARE and then because of what I learned to do at SHARE, I was able to help people grow as a manager, look for ways to develop them, send them to SHARE and to other professional development opportunities, hire people into more responsible positions, help them grow and it all comes back to that sense of working in relationship with others to help us all serve you know whatever mission we're serving. In my case, most of my career was serving at a university where we were helping students become themselves.

I guess the other thing I'd want to touch on, I wouldn't want to leave this conversation without having said something. Some of the lessons I learned at SHARE were just transformative in my life. Ken Ebbe, one of our past presidents, approached me once. I'm a very positive guy. You know that Reg because we've known each other for years and your listeners will know that from the things I'm saying, but Ken said some people find it hard to believe you're for real. You're so positive. You better learn how to talk to them about the challenges. I know you see them. I believe you see them but you don't say much about them. So thanks to Ken, I learned about balance and I learned to share with people that this stuff isn't just easy but I believe we can do it and so I can be positive while still being realistic.

Then from my dear friend Martin Timmerman, I learned so many lessons. He was such a wonderful leader as SHARE's president. One of the things I saw Martin do so well was help build and support a diverse team, people with different opinions and different backgrounds and help them come together to provide the very best to the organization. I took those things again back to the university and it helped me succeed in my career. I guess the big message here Reg is that I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the mainframe environment where we have these values and beliefs about how people can work together and you know even technical things. You don't IPL the system in the middle of the work day, you know bringing those enterprise IT ideas to the nonmainframe environment I ended up working with in the last part of my career helped that environment be stronger and better. Although I thought that moving away from the mainframe was probably the wrong thing to do, we could still bring those values and that professional approach to doing the work. I'm just so grateful to have had the opportunity to be at SHARE and work in this environment, learn those values, and then apply them both in the technical and the personal side of my professional life.

Reg: Wow. Well this has been really some excellent insights and I really appreciate this Jim. Any sort of final thoughts you have either you know from the perspective of being on the other side of all of these things, you know having been on the mainframe and then moved off, having been at SHARE and then moved on, having had a career and then moved onto the next thing in your life or any other closing thoughts you really wanted to make sure to share with everyone?

Jim: Well I think you've really-you've hit it there. The thing to talk about is what it means when you move on so I moved on from one career to another, one organization to another, from the mainframe to the nonmainframe environment, from working at SHARE very actively to being somewhat less active and then now into retirement. All of those have presented me with opportunities. I wasn't always enthusiastic about some of the changes but if I kept my eyes open and kept the relationships with the people I had come to know, trust and rely on strong, then each of those changes could be an opportunity. Becoming a manager; I wasn't enthusiastic about that but I had a boss that said I think you can do this. Why don't you give it a try? And it worked out and so it is the same sort of thing.

If we all look at change as presenting both challenges and opportunities and we try to embrace those opportunities and help each other embrace those opportunities, then moving through these changes can ultimately be a positive thing. I can tell you from the other side of working everyday being retired today, this is pretty good. I can encourage anybody. Plan for it, think about it, have some idea of what you want to do and you are probably going to find that when the days comes, moving on to retire and finding a way to make a difference, it's different from working in your career everyday. It's pretty rewarding, especially the time with friends and family.

Reg: Well thank you so much, Jim. This has been an excellent interview and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jim: Well thank you, Reg. Great to have talked you and I wish you all the best.

Reg: Thanks.