Industry Leader Q&A with SHARE President Harry Williams

At the SHARE summer 2017 event in Providence, RI, Harry Williams, SHARE's president, reflected on the changes taking place in the enterprise technology ecosystem, and what's ahead for the IBM users group and the industry overall.

When did you first join SHARE, and what kinds of benefits have you personally gained from your participation?

Harry Williams: I attended my first SHARE in August 1985, SHARE 65 in New Orleans.  It was overwhelming.  Here I was a kid from a small town in upstate New York and a small school, and there were thousands of experts on hardware and software of all kinds.  It was a blur.  But growing up, I was one of those who took things apart to see how they worked.  Door locks, bicycles, clocks, toys, etc.  You name it, I’d take it apart and here was a group of people that did the same thing with VM and MVS.  Though it was intimidating, here were people I wanted to emulate, and they welcomed me and made me feel at home. I could ask questions and they would help me find an answer. I have gained a network of individuals that I can learn from and share my knowledge and experiences from my participation in SHARE.

What do you hope to accomplish during your term at SHARE and which initiatives do you feel particularly close to?

HW: Because of the peculiarity of the tax code, and some specifics of SHARE’s history, we currently pay both federal and state income tax.  Things have changed over the last 30 years, SHARE is a broader-based enterprise IT association and we are transitioning to a tax-exempt organization, in order to be able to use all our funds in supporting the ecosystem.  It’s been a long road, started a couple years ago, but I will be glad to see it completed in the next year.  We’re reaching out to other organizations,including the Open Mainframe Project and local user groups, and we plan to expand that over the next year.  We’ve also expanded our relationship to academia, providing a forum for faculty and students and hope to continue to provide support to people wanting to learn about enterprise IT.  One project that won’t be completed while I’m president, but which I have a lot of hope for is LEAD-IT [Leadership, Empowerment, Apprenticeship, and Diversity in Information Technology] and the idea of a registered apprenticeship program.  Ginni Rometty [chairman, president, and CEO of IBM] highlighted that on Monday at our general session and we’re looking forward to helping establish a program where industry skills are gained, but not necessarily require a college degree.

What are SHARE's greatest challenges today?

HW: As any technology group, remaining relevant in the internet age and being available whenever, wherever; and, in an age where people change employers frequently, getting a commitment to attend in-person events and getting people to volunteer are probably some of the biggest challenges facing us.  We are working to address all these challenges and more.  We’re providing current content such as the recent 1-day deep dive on Blockchain and z/OS Security; making the latest in content during the full week available, both in-person and online;  and providing the opportunity to talk to industry leaders, to submit requirements to vendors that represent 1,000 members, and to help develop position papers.  We’re actively recruiting volunteers, so if you are interested in helping to set the agenda for the future, contact us.  We also believe that a registered apprenticeship program has the ability to change the dynamic of job recruitment and retention in the future.

Cloud and virtualization is a big area of focus across IT. What are the concerns and opportunities that SHARE members see with cloud and how is SHARE helping?

HW: SHARE has been involved with virtualization since the 1960s.  On August 2, 1972, IBM announced Virtual Machine Facility/370.  SHARE has been activity involved with VM since then, helping to drive innovation with VM by supporting a VM Technical Steering Committee to give guidance to IBM, we have a Requirements process that gives technical-based business requirements for the future, and we have a strong program in both Linux and VM.  SHARE members are also working with IBM and the Open Mainframe Project to develop requirements for orchestration using OpenStack on VM.  z/VM and its ancestors are the original cloud, now we just need to integrate into the modern toolset and show what a powerful platform is easily available.  But being part of the ecosystem isn’t all dry work.  We have fun too.  The Linux and VM Program at SHARE threw a 45th birthday party for VM/370, and announced the latest knights of the Order of Knights of VM, recognition by the peers of significant contribution to the VM on Z ecosystem.

Blockchain, the open, distributed ledger technology, and data security and integrity are two additional areas gaining attention in the IBM ecosystem and in the market more generally. What is the level of interest among members and how is SHARE helping them gain more information?

HW: The interest is high.  Blockchain is an exciting technology that for the right application, can lead to new business opportunities for our members.  It isn’t a replacement for traditional relational databases, but in a distributed untrusted environment, it provides the proof necessary for transaction verification, with dependence on encryption, the Z is an ideal platform.  Trust is going to be the demand of people in the future and Blockchain, encryption and security are going to allow the verification that is the linchpin of that trust.  Besides having many sessions on these topics during the week in Providence, there is a 1-day SHARE Academy in both topics.  We believe that this is so important to the future, that we offered them as a member benefit for Providence.

For years now, there has been concern about the mainframe skills shortage. SHARE has been leading the charge in recruiting the next generation along with IBM. How are those initiatives advancing and is the problem abating?

HW: Doing well.  I doubt there will ever be a silver bullet, but in addition to the active zNextGen community, Student Career Day was a big success and we see more of that in the future.  The day allowed students to learn more about the industry by connecting with professionals, completing hack-a-thon challenges, and discussing career paths. We’re hoping to have a hack-a-thon again in the future.  We’re reaching out to faculty in both higher education and secondary education to assist with access to content and offer steeply discounted registrations.  We encourage our members to assist IBM is getting schools into the academic initiative and to offer internship programs.  Internships are a good chance to test-drive students, but also a chance to sell your organization to the best students who often end up with multiple job offers.  LEAD-IT and a registered apprentice program also have the ability to dramatically change the number of people with skills, and to create a path for getting more.

What are some of the key takeaways from the SHARE Providence event?

HW: The mainframe is a strong dynamic platform and the ability to drive innovation. SHARE is still the best place to meet the people involved.  There is an exciting future if you want to participate.

Following the SHARE summer 2017 event in Providence, the next SHARE conferences will be held in Sacramento, California, at the Sacramento Convention Center, March 11-16, 2018, and in St. Louis, Missouri, at the St. Louis Convention Center, August 12-17, 2018.