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Mary Anne Matyaz Defies Systems Programming Stereotypes

Reg Harbeck talks with Mary Anne Matyaz about her unique journey as an extroverted systems programmer. Listen to the interview via the orange play button or read the transcript below.

Reg Harbeck: Hi, I'm Reg Harbeck and I'm here today with Mary Anne Matyaz, a well-known SHARE volunteer and a systems programmer who has worked for various organizations such as IBM and CA. Mary Anne, maybe if I can start by just asking you to tell us a little bit about how you became a mainframer and then how you got involved in SHARE?

Mary Anne Matyaz: Well I've been coding COBOL since I was 16 years old. In Pennsylvania, they have what they call “vocational technical schools” which are typically auto mechanics and carpentry, but they did have data processing and drafting. I picked data processing. I was very good at it, which I can't say for any of the math and most of English in high school. So when you’re good at something, you tend to stick with it, so I went to Penn State, got a degree and came out. I had two or three jobs over five or six years and then I went to work for IBM, which was the highlight of my career.

Reg: Cool. Now there are a number of different directions one might go in a computer career, both in terms of the platform and in terms of which area. As someone who took the systems programming route myself, I know that it's not a common route to take. What made you decide to go first of all with systems programming versus application programming and second of all with the mainframe versus any UNIX platform, for example?

Mary Anne: Well, I did start out in application programming, CICS, DB2 and the interfaces and then I started installing those products. Then you get to be the MVS people, who were kind of the top dogs. They had all the power. They knew everything about the system and so that was my ultimate goal, to be a MVS systems programmer.

Reg: Now one of the things about systems programmers, in my experience at least, is that they tend to be mighty introverts. They’re amazing people but they're also people who are just heads down and not overly sociable people quite often. We see the other side of that here at SHARE of course, but I'm curious how you found it because I perceive you to be very much a sociable person and somebody who contributes a great deal socially as well as technically at SHARE. How has that played out in your career as a systems person?

Mary Anne: Well thank you, Reg. My significant other likes to say that I defy stereotypes. I wear heels to hockey. It just works for me. I really can't explain the formula. I enjoy people most of the time. I enjoy being back in my cubicle as well. I'm kind of just happy at everything.

Reg: Okay. Now how did you end up at SHARE for the first time?

Mary Anne: I worked for IBM and the IBMers don't get to go too often but I would get to go when it was in Washington, D.C., so I went four or five times before I left IBM. When I did that, the company that I went to work for, a little consulting company was very into SHARE, had people on the project managers so they wanted to step into that role immediately. So I volunteered when I first got here in 2009. That was very well received, as you probably know. Anybody that volunteers at SHARE is beloved.

Reg: Oh yeah. It matters so much.

Mary Anne: Yeah, it does.

Reg: We always need more volunteers at SHARE.

Mary Anne: It's very rewarding to be able to further the mainframe. The very first user conference that ever existed is SHARE, 62 years ago, so it's a privilege. It's kind of like volunteering at a hospital. I really get a lot of reward out of doing it.

Reg: Cool. Now you've done a number of different volunteer roles at SHARE and have probably given some presentations as well I'm going to guess. Maybe if you could just tell us a little bit about your volunteer journey in presenting and volunteering until now.

Mary Anne: Well when I actually signed on to be a project officer, I wasn't really aware of the fact that they really want you to present. I didn't know that I had a whole lot to say but I agreed to it. I tried it out. It was very well received. In fact, for one of the first presentations I ever gave, someone just came up to me this week and said, “I pulled your symbols presentation from you know XXX and I loved it. We're using it. I'm putting it all over the place. I love it.” So that's great feedback.

Reg: Now one of the neat ways as I referred to earlier that your unique personality comes into place is that you are very active in keeping the human side of SHARE active. Just a couple of SHARES ago, you started something brand new called PowerPoint Karaoke. How did that come about?

Mary Anne: That was actually Bruce Koss who found that somewhere along the way. It started in Germany and he liked the idea of it so we thought we'd give it a try and it has grown from there. It’s a lot bigger now. We've included beverages and that makes it a lot more fun but it's a Wednesday night thing that we just use to take the pressure off. SHARE can get you with all these technical sessions one after the other and you just feel like you’re always on the run to the next session. You're missing this one while you're in that one so it’s something to just laugh at yourselves and have fun.

Reg: Certainly, the neat thing is that all the mainframe content still somehow finds its way into even this more lighthearted approach to it. What are some of the other things about SHARE beyond the obviously substantial technical content and influence that you have found to be valuable reasons to be more active in SHARE?

Mary Anne: Well one of the things they did at the opening was the top 10 reasons to attend SHARE. One of them was everyone knows what a mainframe is here.

Reg: Hmm. That's nice.

Mary Anne: It's kind of like everybody knows what you do. You don't have to explain what you do. You don't have to battle the “mainframe is dead” common media type stuff so I like that. It's people I know that I've been at this conference with for years and years. They're all friends and we help each other out all year long. I have no trouble sending emails to some of the really deep technical IBMers that I've met here. They’re very receptive to my stupid questions so contacts are good. The technical sessions are awesome, deep and varied.

Reg: Now I'm sure that in addition to SHARE you have a number of other ways you move your career forward and decision points you made in your career based on those. What are some of the other significant aspects or milestones in your mainframe career that have helped you move forward to where you are today?

Mary Anne: Well, leaving IBM was a really big one and it was a really tough decision. The funny part is I left IBM and went to work for the little consulting company, which then get bought by CA so I went from the frying pan into the fire there. But that's what happens in a career. You need to roll with those changes and be adaptable. I don't know. You just make the best decision you can with the information that you have at hand and you be prepared to deal with whatever happens. If it doesn't work out, I'm going to do something else.

Reg: Well that makes sense. Now working on the mainframe, you've probably been involved with some really significant installations and upgrades. Maybe you can think of one or two examples of really interesting and challenging OS upgrades or something else that was very memorable in retrospect.

Mary Anne: Yes. It was the MVS/SP to MVS/ESA conversion where the catalogs were not compatible and we actually made copies of the catalogs since you couldn't import connect them to different systems. We made copies with the VVDS same name, VVDS pointed back to the catalog and it worked for a couple of months for testing and stuff but the Friday night of the weekend that we were going live, the catalogs just started—I just called it melting and there was no system to get back to, so we were going forward. That's tough to be involved in but you work your way through the problems one at a time. I like the thing from The Martian. You fix this problem. You get to fix the next one. You get to fix the next one and sooner or later if you fix enough, you get to go home.

Reg: Cool. Now obviously you've worked on MVS and probably a few other interesting environments. What are some of the other environments that have been part of your career, both technical and maybe business ones as well?

Mary Anne: That's a great question and something people probably don't know about me. I also do z/VM. I can't say I'm nearly as good as it as I am at MVS nor did I really like it as much but I've done a lot of z/VM and a little bit of Linux underneath it. Back in I want to say '93, I felt like I was at the top of MVS system programming so I took a course at the Washington System Center in the evening, unpaid as an IBMer and it was an AIX course because I thought this is something new. I'm good at what I do but I want to look at something else. I barely made it through the first night. It was just so cryptic and a little, I want to say, like a hacker language. I couldn't believe that everybody was so enthusiastic about it when ISPF was so far superior. People are going to hate that but that was just my opinion.

Reg: Now one of the things that you bring with you that is not just your extraversion, but that you do have a certain perspective that a very large number of systems programmers don't have. A very large number of system programmers traditionally, although less and less often now, tend to be male. That must have had some impact on your career just having to approach it from a different perspective from what has been the majority quite often.

Mary Anne: That's a good question. You know despite coming from a very conventional family, I never felt like anything was beyond my reach. I was always encouraged to go to college. I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted, to reach for my goals so I think that came from the home environment. It was tough in the beginning and it still is sometimes. There are people who just will not listen to a woman. You can tell them over and over again that they need to change this parameter and you know this is causing their performance problem and they just will not listen. You just deal with that so you hand the piece of paper to somebody else and they tell them and the change is made, the customer is happy and things go on. I have quite a repertoire of profanity.

Reg: Good to have language skills.

Mary Anne: By and large I think everybody, more so now of course, but everybody really has been very supportive and the bad parts were very tiny, just one here and then and there is always one right?

Reg: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Mary Anne: He doesn’t like this, he doesn’t like that or she doesn't like you. There’s always one somewhere. You've got to learn to deal with it.

Reg: Fair enough. Now maybe just before we finish up the interview if you could just put on your thinking cap and think about where we’re going in the mainframe both in terms of things that you think we need to not be doing but more importantly things we’re doing that you’re excited to see happen and be part of.

Mary Anne: Well I think the rebirth that has kind of happened with z/VM has been so energizing for the z/VM community and I would really like to see something similar happen to z/OS. I would like to see an influx of more applications and opportunities on z/OS like they had on z/VM. I'm happy for the z/VM people because 15 years ago, it was questionable whether it was even going to live or if IBM was going to try to get rid of it so that has been great to see. They have welcomed people into the z/VM area so wonderfully. You know a lot of people say, “Oh those mainframe people. They're old and crotchety and they don't want anybody.” We do. We want people in our operating systems. We want people in the mainframe working on it. It’s a great challenging platform. SHARE is a great challenging organization so I say come on down.

Reg: Awesome. Well, thank you very much, Mary Anne.

Mary Anne: You're welcome. Thanks, Reg.