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Share Baltimore mainframe conference: Reporter's notebook

Mark Fontecchio

BALTIMORE -- The first thing I noticed upon entering the Share mainframe user conference was that I overdressed. In a shirt, tie and dress pants, I was way overdressed.

Two of the three men in front of me at the registration line wore short-sleeve collared shirts tucked into khaki shorts and not-so-new sneakers, along with the almost-mandatory cell phone on the belt clip. One of the men had white athletic socks pulled up to midcalf.

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I adjusted to the dress code (kind of), along with the people themselves, who are a friendly bunch. In the past, social interaction hadn't been the mainframers' strong point, but Share was working to alleviate that with its "professional development" events.

Take one session from Monday afternoon, titled "Genetically Programmed to Annoy me? The Technology of Social Interaction," taught by Vicky Jo Varner, a self-discovery specialist at a Hollywood, Calif., company called Type Insights. Users at the session were there to discover which of four personality types they were. The session also got people out of their seats and talking to one another.

Varner, meanwhile, uttered a Yogi Berra-like quote about nonverbal communication.

"You cannot not communicate," she said. "Even when you're not communicating, you're still communicating."

Communicating and being social is what zNextGen is all about. The subgroup within Share formed during a user event in Boston last year with the goal of welcoming people new to mainframes, whether they were right out of school or from other IT disciplines.

The dearth of fresh mainframe blood is a concern for Share and IBM, and so the two have teamed up to get colleges and universities to offer certificate or degree programs around the mainframe. The graying of the mainframe crowd is nothing new. As a result, said the group's keynote speaker H. Pat Artis, job advancement is a significant lure.

"Ninety-five percent of the (mainframe) people are going to be retired or dead in five years," he said.

Development of new talent will likely be one of the things the new Share president focuses on. Robert Rosen has stepped down, and Martin Timmerman was unopposed in the election this week to take his place. In an interview with SearchDataCenter.com last month, Timmerman said Share needs to continue to develop relationships with those colleges and universities.

In the meantime, Share is trying to keep its aging membership as healthy as possible, which is why it sponsored a run every morning beginning at the convention center. It started at 6 a.m., before the crack of dawn. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday with every intention of lacing up my sneakers, but then saw it was still dark out, and realized I was still tired and went back to bed for another hour. Oh well.

The exercise was meant to wake up attendees for the conference sessions, which usually ran about an hour and were filled with enunciations of tens of thousands of acronyms over a one-week period. Indeed, there is a certain conference-speak that comes out in full force at these events. Examples of nouns mangled into verbs: componentized, rearchitecting, microphoned.

Most of the sessions I went to were interesting and informative. Then again, I might be a techie, but I'm not a techie's techie, if you know what I mean. Some of the more technically inclined of the bunch told me that because Share offers sessions in so many disciplines, not many of them drilled down into sufficient detail. A lot of the events, they said, were like sales pitches from IBM that were better suited for management with buying power.

And apparently not all of the sessions were captivating. The 1:30 p.m. sessions, for example, presented great post-lunch napping opportunities for some. And if you were too hyped up on caffeine to drowse off, there was always hygiene to handle.

One man, sitting in the back of the room during a session, spent a good 10 minutes clipping his fingernails. One couldn't see it easily unless they were being nosy, like I was. But the sound of the nails getting clipped off was quite audible.

I guess it's time for more professional development sessions.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer


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