In this edition of I am IMS, we sat down to chat with one of the newer members of the IMS Development team: Blake Becker, who is in his first year with IMS as a Cloud Native developer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Austin, Texas, and came to Silicon Valley for this job, just two weeks before I started in February of 2019. I went to school at Texas State University and got my undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics.

How much of your education curriculum was focused on mainframe technology?

Absolutely none (laughing)!

How does one learn how to use a mainframe? That question might produce images of a room-sized box with a user interface that is difficult to master.

A lot of it was trial-and-error. I was able to pick up quite a bit in the Master the Mainframe (MTM) contest, which was very helpful. Even with that, there are still gaps to having a full understanding, especially in troubleshooting issues. There’s a lot to cover. I completed Part 1 and Part 2 of MTM. Part 1 was a basic introduction to the platform with some “hand-holding” as I navigated the interfaces, submitted basic batch jobs, and read the resulting logs. Part 2 expects understanding of the material covered in Part 1.

Part 2 of MTM includes several challenges that students work through sequentially, such as completing TSO (Time Sharing Option) tasks, using ISPF, viewing JCL job output, understanding and allocating z/OS data sets, the differences between hexadecimal, EBCDIC, and ASCII, copying and deleting data, using JCL for Unix shell processing, and more.

I’ve been working more on system programmer tasks; Part 3 is geared more towards application programmers.

How did you make the adjustment to a brand new job working on technology that runs only on the mainframe?

In addition to MTM, I did have a bit of a baseline of understanding of mainframe technology, mostly as they relate to modern day clusters. The only time mainframes were discussed during my education was in a lesson about the development of the Beowulf cluster, invented to provide high performance computing using a group of low cost systems without the need for traditional “super computers” or mainframes. This lecture gave me the understanding that mainframes were very powerful systems used as an industry benchmark of performance.

Getting to learn how to use a mainframe was a very different experience. The interface was quite different from anything that I’d used previously.

What is your role in IMS?

I work on the Cloud Native squad in provisioning; we’ve been looking at how we can modernize how we do provisioning with the mainframe, so it can fit into the cloud native model, which is where the industry is moving. We ask ourselves how can we use the mainframe like any other computer, no matter what the cloud is, like IBM Cloud Private or OpenShift.

I would say my past experience automating system provisioning on non-Z hardware gives me insight into how best to contribute to the solutions we have on z/OS.

In the future, I can envision a model where we continue to abstract things away from the developer; they would only have to focus on their specific area of technology, without the need to set up systems. That’s taken care of via the cloud. Perhaps even the concept of personal hardware will disappear.

This is a huge area of opportunity for IBM and for IMS. In fact, your team is growing very quickly! What words of advice might you give to someone even newer than you to the team?

I would definitely say take your time and don’t get too stressed about trying to understand everything; no matter how long you’ve worked on this platform, there will always be new things to learn. Just take one step at a time.

The IMS team is great, and they work very hard to provide the best product and best support for our clients and for each other.

And what kind of explorations are you doing outside of IBM, being new to Silicon Valley?

I really like working on my home server; building up experience with different tools. My wife and I really enjoy the hiking out here. We visited a state park that had amazing Redwoods, and we enjoy short walks around Almaden Lake.

Photo credit: Sarah Baugh

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