Yin meets yang
Blog Authors: Valerie Skinner 060000VKGS is part of the IBM developerWorks team, getting to know the real developers who make up the My developerWorks community and exploring the world of social networking. I'm enjoying learning what makes developers tick! I'm very interested in exploring online communities and social media and understanding real world application - how they can help people solve problems and work together.
vskinner 060000VKGS Tags:  interview mydw system_z mainframe social_networking 3 Comments 4,839 Visits
Martin Packer's got an interesting job as an IBM Mainframe Performance Consultant. Luckily he shares his insights on his blog and with us here in this interview.
Discover more about Martin in his My developerWorks profile, his Mainframe Performance Topics blog, and Twitter.
Tell me about yourself and what you're currently working on...
I'm a mainframe performance guy who's been building skill over the past 25 years to the point where this year I've "gone global". That is, I work with customers around the world, dealing with the thorniest performance issues. It's interesting and varied work: encompassing conference presentations, customer troubleshooting, supporting the implementation of new applications on System z, developing analysis tools, and writing Redbooks.
I'm also interested, as it happens, in web infrastructure (as well, of course, as Social Networking).
How did you get started working in the IT industry?
I think it was inevitable I'd do SOMETHING with IT: My Father spent most of his career working at various levels with computers - so there were always technical computer books around the house. And so I got a master's degree in Information Technology and joined IBM in a Technical Marketing role. (I was a Systems Engineer in the 1980's, for anyone who remembers SE's.) And, while lots of IBMers were "upmarketing" themselves I took a turn for the technical... :-)
Would you have any advice to share with students or IT professionals just starting out?
I'd say the same to them as to anyone starting their career: Follow your heart in what you choose to do. It's probably more sustainable in the long term, you'll sleep better at night, and have a lot more fun doing it! The standard careers advice, I gather, is to think and act in business terms. I'd put it a little differently: While technology is important and fun you have to think of people (and what technology enables people to do) as well.
What do you think is the most under-appreciated aspect of Mainframe?
Because mainframes have been around for a long time, in one form or another, I think people have a "set in concrete" view of what a mainframe is and what it can do. (By the way I like to use the "throw back" term "mainframe" instead of something more modern sounding because I'm actually very proud of our heritage.) So, it's evolved an awful lot, and keeps evolving. Now I'm closer to where the Development action is I can tell you it's going to keep evolving and fast: There's no chance of getting bored of it. So, the most under-appreciated aspect is its continuing evolution, relevance and modernity.
How do you see Mainframe changing - either right now or in the future?
I obviously can't talk about unannounced products but mainframe folks would have to have been living under a rock not to know about some of the stuff on the horizon, to do with enabling hybrid applications to be run more effectively, with the mainframe as the centrepiece.
I also think we're going to see more emphasis on demonstrating all the modern technologies that run on the mainframe (and run well).
In my neck of the woods I'm going to be working on making the instrumentation (the entrails performance people like to pore over) even better. I seem to have an "unofficial evangelist" role for this, and I'm constantly in discussions with Development on how we can improve things. And I'll be sure to blog about it on developerWorks, too. :-)
How do you use developerWorks?
I started a few years ago with developerWorks as the host for my blog: I wanted an external blog, hosted by IBM, having blogged internally a while before that. I'll admit I've not been a heavy user of the social aspects of developerWorks, but that's really because I've been so active elsewhere - for example on Twitter. And, if I was going to have an external blog I really wanted it to be an IBM-hosted one: Most of what I want to talk about at length is work related so I think that's the right venue.
What are you planning on learning about next?
I'm looking forward to learning more about the shape of mainframes to come, and also about the next version of DB2 on z/OS. And, from what I already know, there's tons of it to learn about.
Away from the day job I'm doing a lot of "learning by doing" with web technologies: I have a "personal automation" webserver or two on my (now Linux) laptop so I'm starting to get competent with things like PHP, Dojo and jQuery. Up next is Python (thanks to one of my mentees, Stephane Rodet, who suggested I might like it) :-) and some stuff with SVG that I hope will lead to some nice visualisation tooling.
But I'm easily distracted by new technology, so who knows? :-)
What's the coolest piece of tech news you've heard lately?
Well you'd expect me to say something mainframe-related, wouldn't you? But, while the news I've heard IS very cool, it's not sharable. But actually I think the DB2 for z/OS and Smart Analytics Optimizer Previews are pretty cool.
Why did you decide to start a blog? Does blogging have any hidden benefits for you that you didn't expect?
As anyone who's ever come across me will agree, I like to talk. They might not spot I also like to listen. :-) So, for me, I can reach many more people by blogging (actually by tweeting now) than I could if I had to meet them in person or pick up the phone to them. And I hear all sorts of interesting stuff, too. Actually the decision to blog was a natural evolution (as is my use of Twitter): I'd been using the IBM Internal VM-based FORUMs since 1986, and the Social Networking stuff is just a natural extension of that, for me.
You have a pretty large, active Twitter following - what role does Twitter play for you in work and personal life?
Yes, it seems like a lot of people - around 900 at the time of writing - and the question of what the relationship with each and every one of these is. At one end of the spectrum some of my family now use Twitter. At the other end are almost total strangers. But there are lots of people in between whom I'm really glad to know (and judging by the discourse some of them seem glad to know me). :-)
Working remotely a lot of the time it's a great channel for chatting with people - albeit in a "broadcast" sense. It keeps me thinking - sometimes about aspects of work, sometimes other technical stuff, and sometimes about the human condition. :-) There's stuff I plain need to believe I have an audience for - most notably the bad jokes. :-) And the "distraction" aspect adds A LITTLE :-) seasoning to my day.
I'm also finding Twitter is a great Instant Messaging medium for staying touch, using Direct Messages (or DM'ing for short). As I have twitter clients on almost everything with an (electronic) pulse it has the pervasiveness for staying in touch (especially when travelling) that I want. This IM aspect has surprised me recently - as I was tweeting for almost 3 years before I really got to use DM'ing this much.
What are some of your favorite websites/feeds/twitter accounts to follow?
- Thanks Martin!