The mainframe programmer and the process auditor

In this humor piece, see what happens when a mainframe programmer is forced to work with the non-understanding "Windows" world.

“Today is going to be a great day,” Bob thought to himself.  He had dispensed with the morning e-mail and his first cup of coffee was steaming cozily next to the keyboard. Now was his chance to code the exit he had been planning for a couple of weeks. He leaned forward, carefully tapping out the necessary entry-point logic.


He jumped in his seat. He turned to his left to see his boss, Stan, at the entrance of his cubicle. Standing behind Stan, a young, fresh face was beaming at him. “Bob,” Stan repeated in his gruff voice, gesturing at the man behind him, “this is Christian Plage. He works for Agiliflexidigm. Our company hired Agiliflexidigm to do an audit of our processes that’ll be compared with other companies in the same industry.”

Stan motioned Christian to stand beside him. “The director suggested you should be our interface for the systems area.”

Bob wasn’t good at this kind of stuff, but he would try. He stood up and offered a friendly smile and handshake. “Nice to meet you, Chris.”

“Christian,” the young man helpfully corrected.

“Um, sure, Christian. Listen Stan, can I talk to you a second?”

Stand nodded. Bob told Christian, “I’ll just be a sec. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home.”

Bob followed Stan to his slightly larger cubicle. Bob began in a loud whisper, “Stan, what did I do to piss you off? I don’t want to deal with this guy.”

“I know you don’t want to do this, but management likes to benchmark us against other shops,” Stan said. “They want the people with the most experience and knowledge to help them out. Nothing but our best face for this one.”

“But Stan…”

Stan returned an icy glare. Bob capitulated and slumped back to his cube.

Christian managed to find a spot in the cube between the credenza and a bookshelf, his messenger bag at his feet. Bob hoped he sounded cheerier than he felt. “So, Christian, looks like I’m all yours for the day. What would you like to see?”

“I want to see where you keep the registry.”

“Eh, the registry?”

“Yes, you know, the database where you keep all the systems parameters and configuration values.”

“Oh, you mean like on Windows. Well, you see, we don’t have one.”

“Don’t have one?”

“No, the mainframe is a little different. We keep that information in parameter libraries -- PARMLIBs for short.”

Christian smiled. “Now Bob, don’t tell me that. Everyone knows Bill Gates got rid of CFG and INIT files back in Windows 98. They don’t exist anymore.”

“Seriously, the big machines don’t run Windows, we don’t keep that stuff in a registry.”

“So you’re not going to show it to me. Why are you blocking my audit? I’m sure Mr. Grosskase would be interested in hearing about this since the audit was entirely his idea.”

Mr. Grosskase was the CIO. Bob tried to sound reasonable and not raise his voice. “Listen, Christian, I’m not blocking anything, I’m just trying to explain…”

With that, Christian snatched up his messenger bag and huffed out into the aisle. Bob stepped out of the cube and watched him leave.

“Wait for it,” he told himself. Sure enough, in about five minutes, Stan’s phone rang. Thirty seconds later Stan was at Bob’s cubicle door, mad as hell. “What do you mean by denying Christian access to our system? What does he mean you refused to show him anything?”

Bob made patting motions with his hands. “I didn’t refuse him anything. He started out saying he wanted to look at our registry and I tried to explain to him we don’t have one on the mainframe.”

Stan chewed on this for a couple of seconds -- a rare instance when he didn’t have an immediate rejoinder. “Registry, eh?" Then he turned on his heel and yelled over his shoulder, “I don’t care what you do. Just show that kid a registry so he can get out of our hair.”

“'Show him a registry,’ how in the hell...?” Then an idea formed in Bob’s mind. He quickly signed back onto TSO and went to work. Thank God for Rexx,” he muttered.

When Christian returned to his cubicle, Bob made sure Stan was with him. “Hi, Chris,” Bob began amiably.

“Christian,” came the somewhat frosty correction.

“Right. Sorry. At any rate, I wanted to clear up our little misunderstanding from this morning. You see, you were asking to see the REGistry. Well, on the mainframe we call it the regisTRY. You can see where I got confused.” He looked at Stan for confirmation. Stan nodded woodenly.

“After I figured that out, I realized this is what you wanted to see.” Bob tapped a few keys on his terminal and a crude, pre-graphic tree diagram came up. There were boxes made of dashes, plus signs and vertical bars connected by arrows of dashes and greater-than signs. Inside each box was one word, like “System” or “I/O.” It was the best Bob could do on short notice.

Christian lit up. “Oh, cool.” He walked forward, intently reading the screen.

Bob looked at Stan and made a “whew!” motion across his forehead when Christian said, “How do I navigate it?”

Bob’s hand froze halfway across his forehead. Stan looked stricken. “What do you mean by navigate, Christian?” Bob asked.

“You know, in Windows you double click on the folders and the attributes and subfolders appear. Oh, I bet I know. I put the cursor on the block I want to expand and hit enter.” Christian tapped on the arrow keys and pressed enter. The screen disappeared.

Bob felt his stomach drop and Stan started backing out of the cubicle as Christian knitted his eyebrows in thought. Just then Bob’s PDA buzzed with a meeting reminder. Bob quickly snatched the device off of his desk and held it to his ear.

“Er, yes, Bob here!” There was no one on the phone, so Bob counted “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” to himself. “Hello? Oh, you’re from Operations. You say someone deleted our production registry?” Christian looked up from the screen as the blood drained from his face. Bob counted before continuing. “You say we have about 15 minutes before the system goes down?”

Bob brought the phone down from his ear and covered the microphone. He spoke urgently to Stan. “Ops says someone deleted the production registry and we need to recover it fast.” 

Stan was quick on the uptake. “Oh my God, we have to hurry! Quick, declare an XJ-97 alert and get down to operations and restore that registry!”  Bob snapped the PDA back to his ear. “Listen, we’ve got an XJ-97 emergency here. You get the restore tapes mounted and warmed up. I’ll run down there and get things going. It’s going to be close, but I think we can do it.” 

Bob smartly turned off the BlackBerry and strode out of the cubicle in the direction of the cafeteria.

Christian had his face in his hands, nearly ready to cry. Stan walked over and put a gruff hand on his shoulder. “Listen Christian, Bob’s a crackerjack systems programmer. He’ll get the thing fixed and no one has to know what happened.”

Christian looked up hopefully, “You sure?”

“Well, of course. We’re proudest of our recovery processes.”

Christian nodded sagely.

A month later, Stan showed up at Bob’s door. “Here’re the results from the audit. Seems our mainframe administration group was rated one of the highest in the industry.”

Bob shook his head. “I always knew we had world-class processes.”

The two of them were silent for a moment. “Do you feel a little guilty for taking advantage of that kid?” Stan asked.

Bob shook his head, “A little, but hopefully he’ll understand it was a ‘teaching moment.’ Besides, when you get to know him you find out Christian is actually pretty smart. He’ll be OK once the shine wears off.”

Stan smiled and lumbered back to his cubicle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For 24 years, Robert Crawford has worked off and on as a CICS systems programmer. He is experienced in debugging and tuning applications and has written in COBOL, Assembler and C++ using VSAM, DLI and DB2.

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