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20 Years on the Mainframe

Pamela Taylor SHAREs her mainframe perspective

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There was a time when more people tended to stumble by chance into professional IT positions. Going back to the early and mid-1980s, the path to computer science wasn’t as clear-cut as it became a decade later when more schools added IT and computer science curriculums.

In the 1980s, however, IT professionals often had diverse and unexpected career and educational backgrounds that, by today’s standards, would rarely hint at an eventual career in IT. Pamela Taylor, vice president of strategic development for SHARE and a solutions architect for a subsidiary of a Fortune 50 company, witnessed this IT melting pot firsthand.

“There really were—for a particular generation of us—a lot of odd doors we could go through to start down a computing path,” says Taylor. “I remember the first real IT-focused job I had: I had a group of people working for me, and none of them were computer science majors.” Her colleagues’ backgrounds ranged from teaching to chemical engineering and Russian. “So, a lot of us who go back 20 years or more, we really came into the IT space from some pretty unexpected directions and just happened to land on whatever system we landed on.”

As for Taylor, she took one programming course in college, but she says she was really introduced to IT when she went to work for her first software vendor, where she was placed in the position of being responsible for porting the company software to all the different platforms it had to run on, porting any new releases and packaging the software for installation on the customer end.

“At that particular point in time, about the mid-’80s, there were a whole lot more platforms then there are today,” says Taylor. “So, I was introduced to the mainframe there running MVS* and TSO* environments. We also had a version that ran under a virtual machine (VM) in a CMS environment and we had another version that ran under Interactive Computing and Control Facility on VSE, and we had a whole bunch of derivatives of third-party operating systems. I would say I met the mainframe from four or five different angles all at the same time.”

According to Taylor, the Wild West days of IT professionals coming from a broad range of career and education paths eventually gave way to popularizing more finely tuned computer science and IS management degrees offered by business schools. This resulted in a new wave of students coming into IT through what’s now considered a traditional computer science degree. Unfortunately, she also sees a drop in the numbers of students embarking on IT careers.

Taylor says she’s seen many fantastic innovations coming to the mainframe space during her career, but she echoes the opinion of most old-guard mainframe professionals when she maintains VM was considerably ahead of its time and has been a powerful force shaping the IT landscape both on the mainframe, but also more generally as well.

“The whole notion of virtualizing things was very well done and very powerful even in the early days of VM,” says Taylor. “Yet, the world is just now catching up to this notion of virtualizing things across multiple systems to attain the promise that was there even then. I also think, recently, a lot of the things IBM is doing in the mainframe environment in the area of autonomics, the self-healing system, Capacity on Demand and all those kinds of things that make the machines require less system-administrator intervention—they’re all important steps towards simplifying IT, making it less expensive overall and easier to understand and manage.”

Ryan Rhodes is a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine.

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