zNextGen Takes Off at SHARE

More zNextGen grads were in attendance at last week’s SHARE get together than at any previous user conference, SHARE officials say

Mainframe simplification wasn’t the only news of note out of last week’s SHARE conference. IBM Corp.’s zNextGen initiative—and the SHARE user community’s involvement with and nurturing of zNextGen—was also on display: more zNextGen grads were in attendance at last week’s SHARE get together than at any previous user event, SHARE officials say.

Many expect zNextGen involvement will continue to grow unabated. As Kristine Harper, zNextGen project manager and an associate developer with mainframe ISV Neon Enterprise Software Inc., notes, "I was encouraged [when], at our opening session on Monday, we had almost double the [number of attendees] from our opening session last year. We had a lot of new faces as well as a lot of returning faces. We’ve also signed up quite a number of new faces here at SHARE, too."

At first blush, Harper looks like a zNextGen proof-of-concept: she’s a 23 year-old assembler programmer and a graduate of the University of Arizona; in other words, just the kind of young technologist IBM and SHARE hope to attract with zNextGen. Harper isn’t a zNextGen product, however; instead, she followed a somewhat unconventional path to Big Iron: both of her parents are assembler programmers, so Harper was exposed to mainframe concepts and methods at an early age. She took only a single mainframe-related course while in college (Assembler) and during her summers completed a series of internships with Neon Systems, which ultimately hired her after she graduated.

Harper attended SHARE events through college, so she’s familiar with the mainframe user get-together. zNextGen novitiates, on the other hand, might find the experience a little overwhelming. That’s why Harper and SHARE created a host of zNextGen-friendly events, such as mixers or meet-ups to help introduce zNextGeners to one another and acclimate them to the SHARE experience.

"As far as the social networking opportunities, we do try to go to lunch as a group, and we’ve had a couple of dinners together, which has been a great opportunity for people to check out our table and come get to know us," she says. "Also at SHARE, we [had a] zNextGen event [last] Wednesday … which is an opportunity for zNextGen members—including new people and mentors—to just get together and hang out and have a good time. One of the things that comes out of this are new people who found contacts at SHARE in the areas they are interested in."

If new zNextGen attendees are curious about (and perhaps even a little awed by) the exotic world of the veteran mainframers attending the conference—including SHARE Treasurer Jim Michael—they’re unfailingly curious about the zNextGen crowd, too.

"A lot of us are really interested in what zNextGen are doing. We’re encouraged by and in some sense we rely on them to follow us up in terms of supporting this platform," Michael indicates. "But among [all those] zNextGeners, there’s probably at least a couple of dozen of us signed up on Kristine’s SHARE list who are long-time mentors who want to be involved and want to share tips with the zNextGen folks so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel." In this respect, Michael says, mentoring can go both ways. Call it cross-pollination of a sort, with mainframe veterans getting a quick education in open source, Java and SOA development, and other cutting-edge topics.

"They see [the mainframe] with new eyes. They’ll look at this platform and see its existing traditional strengths—[such as] Assembler language and incredible reliability, the place to keep the data that the business absolutely counts on. They also see a way to bring in more of the open source technologies, so they bring this new awareness and understanding of technology to [the mainframe]."

Michael relates a conversation he had with one zNextGen-er early last week. "There are a couple of sessions on PHP here at the conference on z, and we got to talking about it, because I know very little about PHP. He explained to me the benefits [of using PHP on the mainframe] and said he was going to go to those [conferences] because those were the technologies he was comfortable with on z. So he was going to go … [and] see if he could help."

Of course, few zNextGen attendees emerge from college with fully-formed mainframe skill-sets. As a result, one of SHARE’s most important roles is as a source for continuing education. In this respect, Harper says, the zNextGen program helps steer attendees to the most informative or otherwise most valuable SHARE educational resources.

"We create what we have dubbed a grid of recommended sessions which is a list of all of the introductory and intermediate sessions at SHARE that we think would most benefit our new members to attend," she says. "This year, we’ve color-coded it so that if you’re just out [of college] and you’re looking at getting education on basic CICS sessions, [you’ll be] looking at the red sessions that CICS is under. We’ve tried to make it simple like that."

SHARE also sponsors a "zNextGen Certified" initiative. At this point, "zNextGen Certified" has more cachet than professional value, Harper concedes, but—at the same time—it should provide the attendees with a solid crash course in Mainframe 101. "[This] says that if you go to 10 out of these 26 selected sessions you can become ‘zNextGen Certified.’ It’s not anything like a degree, but it’s something you can take home to your boss and say I got a really good introductory education on the mainframe by attending these sessions," she says.

Nor is that all. zNextGen also hosts monthly conference calls—in which Harper, Michael, and new zNextGen attendees participate—and is in the process of constructing an online forum, too.

"This [online communications forum] should really give the mentors and our new members a chance to communicate," she says.

Next week we feature our conversations with attendees of share about the organization, zNextGen, and why mainframe professionals such as Harper are excited to be working with Big Iron.

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