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Troy Crutcher Helps the Next Generation Master the Mainframe

Reg Harbeck talks with Troy Crutcher about the next generation of mainframers, the Master the Mainframe program and other opportunities available for learning and playing on the platform. Listen to the interview via the orange play button or read the transcript below.

Reg Harbeck: Hello, this is Reg Harbeck and today I’m here with Troy Crutcher who is with IBM and is charge of the Master the Mainframe contest. I’ve known Troy for a number of years now and he has been a very active participant in the mainframe culture but rather than telling you about it myself, Troy, could you introduce yourself to us? Tell us how you got onto the mainframe to IBM to Master the Mainframe.

Troy Crutcher: Absolutely. Thanks Reg. I’ve been looking forward to doing one of these talks with you. Yeah, so I started my mainframe career about 10 years ago. I graduated from Illinois State University not really knowing what I wanted to do my senior year but actually, the Academic Initiative through IBM started a class at Illinois State University so I ended up taking that class. They offered a six-month co-op where I got to move from Illinois out to Poughkeepsie in New York. Doesn’t sound that exciting but it was a lot of fun for me back then. I really got to see like six different areas within IBM, everything ranging from testing to installation to learning how to work with records, working with documentation, so it was really awesome. At the end of that, I really loved the dynamic workplace of IBM so I went to my manager and I said I would love to work for you full-time. She said, ‘Well I’m glad that you asked because I have a job offer ready for you.’ So I ended up going back to school for the last six months and then I moved right out to New York.

Reg: Cool. Now how was Poughkeepsie compared to Illinois where you grew up? I mean Poughkeepsie is sort of that inevitable place for us mainframers. It is sort of this different place in some ways and yet it is so similar to everything we sort of expect.

Troy: So Illinois is very flat. The tallest thing is I believe like an anthill if you want to put it that way.

Reg: And the Willis Tower.

Troy: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So then coming out there in the Hudson Valley where it’s just gorgeous; it’s beautiful and I’m literally right in the valley. I look at the mountains from my apartment.

Reg: Now were you initially working primarily in technology or did they have you in a people centered role right away at IBM?

Troy: So my first five years, I worked in what was then called the build and installation so my clients, if you will, were internal IBMers so they would basically give me the built code and then I would install it into various test environments. I worked with a lot of PTFs. I did a lot of SMP work so I really did that for five years maintaining multiple systems at once on varying levels. That way they could test, you know the new fixes and the code that came out.

Reg: Now how would you make the leap from doing what was obviously very technically centered role to this deeply people centered role that you have now? How did that happen?

Troy: So those that know me know I’m a people person.

Reg: True. Very true.

Troy: Sitting behind the desk just was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to move up very quickly. I wanted to do big things and make a name for myself in the IBM community. So I was-you know after five years, it is almost time for a change anyway so I kept asking around and the Academic Initiative was one of the hottest, hottest places to work because everybody just loved the travel, loved the variety of projects, and the different client facing stuff that we got to do but it is a very small team so you basically have to wait for somebody to retire or die. So yeah, I was offered a position right away and I said yes. Then they moved me right over.

Reg: Now having moved into that position, I mean one of the first things you encountered was SHARE. How unexpected and different was that?

Troy: That was epic because I had, sitting behind the desk and my customers being internal IBMers, I never got to face with outside IBM clients so literally I think it was in my first two months on the Academic Initiative, they sent me to SHARE and I think it was in I want to Anaheim but it could have been even before that. Yeah, they sent me out to do a presentation. They sent me by myself so that was weird in and of itself, so to get to meet everybody at once. It was just an incredible amazing experience to be around all of these like mainframe evangelists.

Reg: Now I’m thinking that one of the big insights you probably had as a relatively new mainframer yourself was the big difference between the average SHARE attendee and the zNextGen’ers who you fit in with right away.

Troy: Yup. Yes, correct. Yeah, actually one of my job roles was to take over as IBM rep for the zNextGen project so to get to actually hang out with the younger people, the younger crowd was just so much fun because I really thought it was going to be a lot of older tech people that were just looking to gain some new skills but there was a huge variety. I was very surprised.

Reg: Now at some point you started bringing the Master the Mainframe into this. Was that part of your work responsibility when you first came onto the Academic Initiative or did they add that on after you were at SHARE?

Troy: So the Master the Mainframe contest has been going on-we’re in our 13th year now-

Reg: Wow.

Troy: With that and I took that over four years ago.

Reg: OK.

Troy: So there was somebody else from the beginning until then and then I was able to take that over and really make some changes and make this a huge contest.

Reg: I certainly have been really impressed with how you’ve you know had it active and also woven it into SHARE in so many different ways. You sort of introduced some new activities in SHARE. I remember in Anaheim with the pizza thing and all that. Maybe some thoughts about how you sort of brought the Master the Mainframe contest and SHARE together.

Troy: So like I said, my job role is very unique in that my clients now range from university students, high school students, professors, IBM clients, business partners, ISVs. I get to work with absolutely basically everybody that has an interest in the mainframe platform, so to be able to bring this contest and use it more than just a contest, actually use it as a learning tool. I know I think I’ve been asked to be in a lot of people’s presentations in Providence just to talk about the contest and how different companies can actually utilize the contest materials. While they know they can’t win prizes, they love using this as a learning tool.

Reg: So it’s a great on-ramp even if you are not entering the contest then.

Troy: Absolutely.

Reg: That’s cool. Now of course as I mentioned to you before we started the interview, somebody I care about is considering the possibility of a mainframe career. If I wanted to encourage her into that and she was interested in maybe the Master the Mainframe contest, how would you recommend somebody who is either in high school or university or recently graduated from university and thinking of a mainframe career to take advantage of the Master the Mainframe contest as an on-ramp?

Troy: So we do have, and I’m proud to announce as of I believe a month ago, we have a brand new IBM Z Academic Initiative website that literally links to every program and every resource that we have available for our department.

Reg: Now what’s the website again?

Troy: I knew you were going to ask that. It’s

Reg: OK. Cool.

Troy: It’s a brand new revamped site so we’ve got everything there. We talk about the Mainframe contest. We’ve got other free learning. We’ve got links to all the different universities that we work with that teach so there is a lot of great stuff in here for somebody to go check out.

Reg: So this is a good place for any of us mainframers who have somebody in our lives that is looking at a mainframe career to send them as a first step towards that career then?

Troy: Correct.

Reg: Excellent. Now that’s pretty important because as we referred to earlier, the demographics on the mainframe are not exactly balanced. We haven’t been very good at developing a new generation and that is just changing over the past half-decade or so. You’ve been right in the middle of that. What are your thoughts about where we’re at in terms of developing a new generation and getting it stably in place on the mainframe?

Troy: So we do have a long way to go but we have definitely been making strides over the past few years even just, we see it when we bring in new universities that really they grasp the importance of the careers that are behind this technology so and then even just getting them involved in the Master the Mainframe contest. We actually just released a brand new contest for the developer community so I definitely wanted to give that a little plug here today. That’s called You can actually go out there and that’s more for, that’s not even for students really. We wanted to aim that more toward the developers that really have never heard of the mainframe before but want to do some really awesome things with it.

Reg: Cool. I’m going to guess there’s a lot of Java in that one.

Troy: There it’s really whatever they make of it.

Reg: Oh, OK.

Troy: We’ve got-I don’t want to-I could talk for like three hours on that, but, yeah if somebody just goes out to, definitely go check that out. There are some hot technologies out there that we’re really giving them free run of challenges that we’ve created for them.

Reg: Awesome. So what are some of the other important things from your perspective that are happening on the mainframe and where we are going that are really to be excited about?

Troy: Oh geez. So I’m such not a tech person. I’m so not probably the one to talk about this.

Reg: OK, well fair enough. You know not just the technology but the social aspect because I mean obviously you know building the culture for it is so important. We’ve got this wonderful culture that has been established over millennia, certainly over the last half century and we’ve got new people coming into that. You know how do you see that sort of supporting the world of business?

Troy: So it’s really, I think it is really important and tell me if I’m answering this correctly, but I think it is important for everybody in the community to get involved with these user groups so SHARE you know is next week. I’m about to jump on a train in a couple of days and head over there. We’ve got z Councils. We’ve got tech universities. There is just so many great little two- or three-days even workshops just to go and check out. We’ve got some amazing young talent now that is going out and helping teach with us.

Reg: Cool. Excellent. Well Troy this has been great. Any final thoughts you had just to make sure people keep in mind as they think about the mainframe culture and the future of the mainframe, their future on the mainframe.

Troy: Yeah, well we’re always looking for advocates so actually on our website, we would definitely love to get as many advocates as we can. By being an advocate, you are really kind of, you’re evangelizing the mainframe and helping us spread the word, letting people know that this is not a dying technology. This is very much alive and well and it’s going to continue to grow over the years.

Reg: Great. Well thank you so much Troy. I really appreciate you taking the time for this. This is exciting stuff.

Troy: Awesome. Thanks for having me.