“I had dozens of mentors because I demonstrated interest. All of these people liked what they were doing, and when they would find a young guy who was interested, they were willing to invest some time to give me more knowledge,” he said.
His affinity for computing and the mainframe only increased as his knowledge, skills and career grew at IBM, a contrast from his early college days as an aspiring mathematician. This trajectory of transcending one’s unawareness of, or even apathy towards, the mainframe to find a deep passion for the platform is reflective of many next-gen programmers today. They see the mainframe as an outmoded black box of legacy esoterica until they begin working with it and realize its power and vitality.
Shifting Mainframe Mindsets
Today, many next-generation mainframe programmers—generally those under the age of 35—studied programming on other platforms and didn’t know what a mainframe was before starting their careers. Yet, through mentoring and real work experience, they’ve come to understand what it is—just another platform, but a unique one at that—and why it plays a huge role in our digital economy.
The inability to proliferate this message—that the mainframe is vital, and you can build a great career participating in its future—is what has always been the bane of the platform and its community. Bob remembers the low point of this conversation, as do many others in the industry.
“In 1992, people were saying the mainframe was dead. It was even on the morning TV talk shows. So, I went to Guide, at that time an organization like SHARE, and instead of going out to dinner one night, I stuck around asking people what things they knew that were important or interesting that ran on the mainframe,” Bob said.
Here’s what he found out:
“Desert Storm logistics was run on a small air-cooled 4381 mainframe that was flown to the battle theater. The assignment of all 800 numbers. Every ATM transaction, and so on. To a first order of approximation, meaningful computing on this planet is still done on the mainframe. The big banks, insurance companies, governments still run on MVS.”
But how does this community get those outside it to understand the importance of this? Bob made two points.
The Need for Prestige