Many know Bob Rogers as one of the great minds behind the IBM mainframe, having helped develop operating systems from OS/370 to modern-day z/OS. He retired from IBM in 2012 as a Distinguished Engineer and is still a frequent speaker at SHARE.
But ask Bob who he thinks he is, and he’ll tell you he’s a hacker—or was one, he says, when it meant “somebody who spent a lot of time on problems in the university computer center until 4 a.m. It was more along the lines of a geek today. Then I became a programmer.”
Hacker, geek, programmer, Distinguished Engineer—either way, Bob is a luminary of the mainframe community. Whether that was ever his intention is another story.
“As my wife’s grandmother would say, I fell into a tub of butter.”
After two years at Manhattan College in the Bronx, newly married and looking for work, Bob says he moved back to Dutchess County, NY, “Where Poughkeepsie is. Where the mainframe is. IBM was a huge presence there.”
He found a full-time job as a computer operator servicing the programmers of OS/360 at IBM, despite not having “a lot of respect for computers,” and matriculated at nearby Marist College, where he continued studying mathematics. “I really liked the analytical stuff of mathematics, not the numerical stuff of computers. Of course, I knew nothing about computers,” he said.
Two years later in 1971, he graduated from Marist. Despite his initial disinterest in computing, he had learned to love programming. His long career as a programmer at IBM began.
Learning to Love Mainframes
“I got this very lucky position. I was an operator in a place where they developed the operating system, and I had access to a nearly infinite amount of knowledge,” Bob said.
He took time to take advantage of this and learned everything he could, including how to program FORTRAN—from the error message manual, of all places—and PL/I. But he learned the most from several programmers who mentored him.