Monday, February 20, 2012

...Then a Miracle Happens

A favourite cartoon of mine shows two academics at a chalk board, with a complex set of equations on the left hand side and a simple, elegant solution on the right hand side. One of them is saying to the other, "I think you need to be more explicit here" while indicating the bridge between the two sides, which is a cloud containing the words, "Then a Miracle Happens." In many ways the mainframe is like this: with all the wondrously complex things from hardware to applications running together in unison to deliver business value, it's easy to forget that none of it would be possible without that central part that makes everything happen - the people and culture of the mainframe.

Of course, long before the first computer, let alone the first mainframe, there were people. People invented the mainframe, and gave it its culture. People made and improved the hardware, operating systems, middleware and applications. People learned how to use the mainframe, building on their best abilities learned from other contexts, including in the military during the second world war. Those same people worked together to establish the culture of the mainframe, including everything from scrupulous planning and change control to a special way of saying and seeing things unique to the mainframe culture.

If you've read any blogs I've previously written before starting Mainframe Analytics (for example, "How to Talk Like a Mainframer"), you'll know that one of my favourite examples of the culture passed down from WW II military veterans is the words mainframers use for the first six letters of the alphabet: Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox (rather than the current Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot). These were the standard in WW II, and were in habitual use by the earliest mainframers. Consequently, they got passed down through the generations, and continue to be widely used today.

Another thing that came down the generations is SHARE, one of the remaining great mainframe user groups, and in many ways the nexus of the lot. Founded in 1955, nine years before IBM announced the System/360 which is the ancestor of modern mainframes, it was intended to enable users of IBM's business computers, including early mainframes, to share information in order to ease the task of getting value from them. Today, at 57 years old, SHARE is still going strong - in fact, their next meeting will be in Atlanta in March.

Now, there's a lot to be said about the culture of the mainframe and the various generations of mainframers - in fact, I've written quite a few articles on the topic (check out for a good number of them). So, rather than making this post a big long one that talks about all of them, I'll stop here for this week, and pick up next week with a discussion of the state and future of the mainframe workforce.


  1. I enjoy your postings about the mainframe very much and, especially, your perspective on the importance of the culture people working with these systems have created. The culture of mainframe computing is truly one of the key reasons for the outstanding value this platform provides. Great to read what you are writing, Reg. Keep up the good work!

  2. Sometimes I feel like it's a miracle when my code compiles cleanly ;)