Back in the earliest days of business computing, when all printing and displaying of text was uppercase, it became apparent that the users of this technology would benefit from getting together to share their innovations and lobby for the improvements that would best respond to their business needs. Thus it was that, in 1955, nine years before the announcement of the System/360 mainframe, SHARE was born.
57 years later, the semi-annual SHARE conference has now opened in Atlanta with a great keynote by Jon Petz about how to survive and improve business meetings, to be followed by a week full of technical and how-to sessions.
When SHARE was founded, the name was what they did - not an acronym, but uppercase because computers didn't offer lowercase letters back then. One of the most important things that emerged from their first nine years of lobbying for their business computing requirements was the announcement of IBM's System/360, the epitome of business computing and progenitor of today's mainframe.
In keeping with SHARE's business orientation, the Monday and Tuesday of the conference now also include a parallel ExecuForum for key IT decision makers to meet and discuss issues from a business perspective. Many of these folks started their careers as mainframe technical experts before moving eventually to their current responsibilities.
One of the most important things SHARE has always offered above and beyond its sessions is an opportunity for business computing professionals - particularly those reponsible for large-scale business IT that includes mainframes - to network and do dynamic problem solving among peers. This hearkens back to the origins of SHARE, and it's something you'll see and hear in the hallways between sessions, at the various receptions, on the exhibit floor, in the session rooms before and after the presentations, and at meals and coffee meetings between colleagues who only ever see each other at SHARE - sometimes even if they work for the same organization!
While SHARE was the first computer user group ever founded, it didn't take long for others around the world to follow suit, so sister organizations in Europe and Pacific Rim countries have also existed for most of SHARE's history.
However, SHARE is the pinnacle - or, as I prefer to think of it, the nexus - of mainframe and large enterprise computing user organizations. And it's where you'll meet the key players - both people and organizations - in the ecosystem.
Interestingly, while SHARE is now 57 years old, it's actually getting younger. The number of first-time attendees seems to increase each time. Many of these newbies will associate with the zNextGen project at SHARE, but regardless of whether or not they do that, you'll see them taking every opportunity to chat with and learn from the many highly-experienced attendees who are delighted to be able to mentor them.
Of course, the session content is of significant value all by itself, so many people who can't be at SHARE in person are virtually attending SHARE Live! from Atlanta to benefit from the keynotes and other valuable sessions.
However, the opportunities that come from attending in person are even greater, and they include not only networking and mentoring, but also building lasting friendships that can be there for you at a time of need. I have personally experienced this.
Being at SHARE in person has yet another benefit: the Technology Exchange Expo, where you can meet people from just about any organization that wants to be seen as a credible part of the mainframe ecosystem, and learn about the latest in business information technology.
For those who wish to take their benefits even further, there are many volunteering and speaking opportunities, as SHARE is a volunteer-run organization (with the paid assistance of an organization that handles many of the logistical details, of course). That means that, whether you'd like to develop your speaking, people, or organizational skills, there are ways to do so with SHARE.
SHARE also has its share of traditions, from pins and ribbons on badges, to receptions, to group dinners and networking events, to special sessions that everyone tries to attend. One of my favourites has always been "Cheryl Watson's Hot Flashes" which is at 9:30 am on Friday morning, and contains a summary of everything significant happening in the mainframe ecosystem, much of which she has gleaned from the content of the week leading up to her session.
Why all this detail about a user group and educational conference? Because, until you've understood the mainframe community and culture, you can't possibly understand the platform. The mainframe is much more than merely technology: it's at the beating heart of the key organizations in the world economy, and the beating heart of the mainframe is the people that make it run. And those people can be found at SHARE.
In my next blog post, inspired by all the leading-edge technology being announced and displayed at SHARE, I intend to write about some of the important innovations currently happening on the mainframe.