zLearning – Social (Face-to-Face) Networking

In The UK, it’s that time of the year again where a certain subset of us more mature folks dust down some of our costumes and prepare for the upcoming event.  Allegedly, I’m not sure how true this is, some of us look better in costume!  No, it’s not Halloween, but the UK GSE Annual Conference!  This year, 2014, marks 20 years and the 21st offering of this annual event.  A lot has changed in those 20 years…

In the early 1990’s, I can remember attending GSE user group meetings with many tens if not one hundred plus attendees, the majority being from customer installations.  Not so long ago, I also recall such meetings where there were less than 10 attendees, most of those from vendors.  So, congratulations to all of those hard working UK GSE representatives that give their time, effort, passion and skill to promoting and supporting this event, where the annual UK GSE conference now attracts several hundred attendees.  Maybe the number of vendor attendees now outnumbers those from customer installations, but the realm of possibility exists.

Although it might not be obvious, this arguably unique annual UK zSeries Mainframe user conference is the best if not only multi-faceted education forum for UK based Mainframe users.  With many technical streams, real-life experiences from customer presentations and latest product updates from vendors, perhaps UK GSE is the best “zLearning” opportunity of the year?  If so, I really hope UK zSeries Mainframe user personnel continue to support this great event and attendee numbers keep growing.  Personally, I would like to see user presentations dominate the conference and this can only happen if user personnel support the event and convince their Management Team that they should attend and present.

Moreover, arguably the greatest quality and attribute of the annual UK GSE conference is the ability for face-to-face networking, interacting with industry peers that may have faced and resolved some of the challenges on your to-do list.  For sure, a lot can be achieved with Social Media resources, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et al; but we should never lose sight of that face-to-face interaction.

A recent noteworthy addition to the UK GSE conference is the welcome attendance from University Students, who are the future and we hope they embrace the zSeries Mainframe platform and forge a career accordingly.  Who knows, whether a vendor or a customer, perhaps you might find a welcome addition to your workforce from these talented students?

What will the next 20 years bring?  I hope that attendee numbers are always measured in the hundreds and if there are ~100 Mainframe customers in The UK and 2 personnel from the majority of those customers attended, there must be a great possibility of ~30-40 user presentations per conference.  I also wonder how many students that attend the UK GSE conference, actually go onto find a job and start their career in the zSeries Mainframe world.  I think that might be one of the most noteworthy and legacy achievements of this great UK GSE event and perhaps one worth documenting.  Now there’s a good use of Social Media, a resource where folks can post something like “The UK GSE conference helped me get my first IT (Mainframe) job”.  Enjoy the forthcoming 2014 conference.

A Tale of Two Twittees

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

OK, so I’m not Charles Dickens, but recently I was reminded of this most notable of opening lines from a novel, these incredibly wise words, seemingly timeless, when assisting a recruitment consultant fulfil Mainframe technical positions for one of their clients.

So who are the Two Twittees?  As my social networking is limited to LinkedIn, I’m not sure I understand all the terminology, but my analogy is based upon the inexperienced young entry level recruit to the Mainframe world, and the seasoned Mainframe professional with several decades of real-life vocational experience.  Can and should these vastly different class of technical resources work together in today’s technology driven and seemingly endless social media resource aware world?

The simple answer was forever thus, yes, they must work together, but when we reflect upon that opening line from Charles Dickens, the gap between the young fresher and the seasoned sage perhaps has never been wider.  Why?  Perhaps largely attributable to the question of “common sense”, where perhaps the more experienced sage doesn’t answer questions instantaneously, doesn’t publish all sorts of information on social media sites various, and is used to being a problem solver, and when their career started, perhaps didn’t have instantaneous access to a wealth of electronically stored information (E.g. Technical Manuals, ISV/IHV Problem/Solution Resources, Forums, Blogs, et al).  Conversely the inexperienced fresher has access to all of this information, without having done the job first, and so maybe they can be inclined to think that they can be an expert in weeks and months.  This clearly is not the reality, regardless of IT platform, including the IBM Mainframe.

Recently I observed a quote from such a person posted on LinkedIn, something along the lines of “paper manuals, I heard that they existed, I always thought it was an urban myth”!  Flippant or tongue in cheek maybe, but that’s the way we worked in the 1980’s, paper based, evolving slowly into IBM BookManager resources, initially via PC and CD-ROM!  Additionally, you can witness numerous examples of potential job candidates asking how to prepare for an interview via social networking sites; what crib sheets and FAQ type resources can assist them in gaining a job!  Surely, if you don’t know your subject matter, you perhaps shouldn’t be applying for the job?  However, OK, secure an interview, but “tell the world” that you don’t know your subject matter?  Surely, a modicum of common sense will tell you that this is not the way to inspire confidence in a potential employer, and thus perhaps you’re the one that’s impacting your employment chances, whether as an employee or sub-contractor…

It seems somewhat of a paradox that at 50 years old, most Mainframe people are considered to be too old, maybe being offered early retirement, or perhaps not being considered for any new job positions, because of their age.  One must draw one’s own conclusions accordingly.  Conversely, the younger and eager, perhaps recently graduated student, will be perceived as the future for a potential employer, but they have no experience.  Additionally, such a person might have inadvertently or otherwise harmed their reputation by what they might or might not have posted on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et al.  It is somewhat bemusing to this social networking luddite, why any individual, regardless of age, can’t comprehend that recruitment consultants, company Human Resource departments and largely anybody involved in the recruitment/employment process will perform an Internet and social media search to determine the suitability of a candidate.

In this instance, the experience and perhaps inability of a fat fingered mature Mainframe person, who perhaps can’t or won’t tweet, text, connect, uses their common sense, does their job, and in fact their experience, both as a human being and a Mainframe technician, is best deployed by passing on these attributes to the new Mainframe fresher’s.  Does this always happen?  Once again, ad nauseam, if the experienced Mainframe resource is dismissed or overlooked at the age of 50 or older, how can they pass on such experience?

Shortly and on 16th May 2013, the UK GSE 101 working group is having its inaugural working group meeting at the University of Bedfordshire, Luton.  The UK GSE 101 working group is a new group aimed at those new to system z, discussing a wide range of topics for those new to the environment.  What a fantastic stake in the ground for the IBM Mainframe newbie/fresher to meet with peers and industry colleagues, hopefully both young and old.  I wish them well and hope to see this group go from strength to strength over the years.

So, back to my recent activity with the recruitment consultant!  Their thought processes and tick boxes, pseudo or otherwise for vetting people must be recognised.  Whatever age you are, be really careful how you use social networking sites, but this seemingly is more pertinent for the younger person.  The older person, and seemingly being 50 or over, does have a major challenge in the employment world, but perhaps their best opportunity is being allowed to transfer their knowledge to newer Mainframe recruits.  Therefore, perhaps they have to evolve, participate in movements such as the UK GSE 101 working group, but ideally, employers and those folks in the recruitment industry might look to work together and consider leveraging from the experience of more mature IT personnel, expediting the training of Mainframe fresher’s, but more importantly, transfer their “common sense” aptitude…

So even in 1859, Charles Dickens knew exactly what he was talking about, two sides to the coin, yin and yang, and so on.  For some it can be the best of times, and for some it could be the worst of times, but by combining youth with experience, perhaps these current times can be good for all age demographics in the Mainframe workplace, where everybody wins, and yes that does include the Employer!