Reaching Out to the Next Generation: Q&A with James Vincent, Immediate Past President, SHARE

SHARE recently wrapped up its summer conference in Atlanta. James Vincent, immediate past president of SHARE, reflected on the changes that have taken place in the IT industry during his tenure and the key takeaways from the event which took place July 31-August 5. "One takeaway is that SHARE is on the right track when it comes to its focus on the new IT generation, what we call zNextGen," said Vincent.

How have the concerns of members changed since you first took the reins at SHARE?

James Vincent: Some concerns, like the skills shortage, remain the same, though SHARE is continuously making efforts to try and combat that by providing opportunities for emerging professionals. The biggest challenge that ultimately continues to present itself is the fact that, although training is available, many organizations struggle to send staff – especially newer staff – to attend.

Cloud and virtualization is a big area of focus across IT. What are the concerns and opportunities that SHARE community sees with cloud?

JV: The concerns and opportunities that the SHARE community sees with cloud and virtualization is, and has always been, security. This is largely because with cloud services we are told that data is secure, but in today’s society it’s hard to quantify what that means. There are continuing instances of breaches within companies and data brokers where personal information is lost, which people never thought would happen.

You’ve made (and collaborated on) efforts to provide training for a new generation of mainframers. How are these initiatives proceeding?

JV: Two words: With enthusiasm. For those taking advantage of the programs, the response has been extremely positive. We have had people express that this was exactly what they needed. We are aggressively working to close the mainframe skills gap through these development opportunities and are extremely passionate about all of them (New to z Systems, SHARE Academy, participation in the Open Mainframe Project, CA Mainframe Academy scholarship program).

Automation is being added to help professionals who may not have years of mainframe experience under their belts. Is that helping?

JV: There are pros and cons to automation. There are a significant number of pros to young professionals in that they can get work done without knowing the underpinnings of what it takes to do that work… but that’s also a con. The result is that when something breaks, not all of the workforce knows how to fix it. 

Lately, there is also a higher dependency on vendors for automation packages, which means from an organizational perspective, companies are shifting their spend from human capital to vendor tools.

This still does not negate the need for IT professionals to have a deeper understanding of the technology. With all of that in mind, yes, automation is helpful but SHARE remains focused heavily on providing the education necessary for the IT industry to build and support the backbone systems.

What were some of the key takeaways from the summer event?

JV: One takeaway is that SHARE is on the right track when it comes to its focus on the new IT generation, what we call zNextGen. Kicking off the week with keynote speaker Shane Snow delivering a message to the SHARE audience on bigger and better thinking, including the motivation of small wins and sideways moves, was a great message to not only the zNextGen audience but to everyone looking to solve problems. SHARE also started a mentoring opportunity in Atlanta for the zNextGen community that can help with navigating through not only our user group but their own discipline in z technology. Each mentor assigned during the event will be available beyond SHARE to help guide mentees as they need it. The event also saw the second iteration of our “New to z Systems” class, which is focused on professionals who need a quick ramp-up to z technology. We hope to bring New to z Systems to more people and more companies that have indicated they feel there is a mainframe skills shortage.

Another takeaway, for me, was the continued focus on our established IT attendees who desire more in-depth technical education. SHARE held two SHARE Academy classes, one titled "CICS Immersion" that covered the ins and outs of CICS TS Architecture, with a focus on internals, debugging and some of the common problems that CICS system programmers have to face on a day-to-day basis. The other was titled "z/OS Bug Busterz" and was a dive into the concepts, fundamentals and best practices for diagnosing and debugging problems that occur on the IBM z/OS operating system.

Overall, SHARE Atlanta was very successful and we look forward to continuing to improve our user group’s offerings to Members and attendees as we strive to be the main hub for education, networking and influence within the enterprise IT ecosystem.

SHARE's next conference will take place March 5-10, 2017, in San Jose, CA.