For 65 years, SHARE’s mainframe experts have linked arms to educate, network, and support the advancement of technological innovation. From the first meeting in August 1955 in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica to Fort Worth in 2020, SHARE has expanded its depth, but it remains rooted in the motto: “SHARE: it’s not an acronym, it’s what we do.”
At that first meeting, informal members collaborated on code that could ease the transition from the IBM 701 computer to the newer 704. By the end of that year, SHARE was well on its way to becoming a formalized group with 22 installations represented, formalized membership requirements, and established operating procedures.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, SHARE’s membership numbers grew, and soon there were members from England, France, and Canada. During this time, COBOL was emerging as a standard language, growing and developing into COBOL-60. This led to its adoption by IBM to replace COMTRAN as the strategic business language in 1962. As SHARE developed, discussions started to lead to change, including the development of interrupts after a series of discussions regarding floating point overflow/underflow conditions on the 704 and the emergence of FORTRAN, a general-purpose computer language developed by a team led by John Backus.
A Group of Firsts
SHARE's founding zNextGen Deputy Project Manager (2005-07) Dr. Steve Guendert indicated in a 2011 Enterprise Systems Media article that SHARE’s initial meeting resulted in the creation of the computer industry’s first formal user organization. Its main focus was on sharing information and programs related to IBM’s mainframe, and enabling users to influence IBM’s future developments in hardware and programming. He said that early membership responsibilities included having a discussion with an open mind and respect for other members’ competence.
SHARE, Guendert added, has made significant contributions to not only computer programming as a discipline, but also the IBM customer install base and mainframe community at large. Of particular note was the pioneering work of several West Coast SHARE members on programs to manage and allocate hardware and software resources to facilitate the writing and running of application programs (what we now call operating systems). Guendert explained that the first IBM operating system, developed for the IBM 709 and introduced in 1959, was a direct outgrowth of those efforts, and it was named SOS (SHARE Operating System). This was considered one of the first instances of “commons-based peer production, which is now widely used in the development of open-source programming, like Linux,” he said.
In the early 1960s, work began on a Universal Computer-Oriented Language (UNCOL), and the results of the committee meeting were published as ALGOL 58. The objective of the committee was to create or design efficient techniques for producing machine languages from problem oriented languages.
In 1963, SHARE and IBM jointly formed the Advanced Language Development Committee in SHARE’s FORTRAN project, which led to development of the PL/I programming language as part of the “3x3” group (comprising three IBMers and three SHARE people). The language is used by academics and businesses alike today for data processing and more, as its language syntax is English-like and suited for describing complex data formats with a wide set of functions available to verify and manipulate them.
Growth, Influence, and Withstanding the Test of Time
As SHARE grew in numbers and influence, it was clear that sharing information and knowledge was something craved by enterprise IT professionals. Sharing technical information, tips, and tricks began several years before the IBM System/360 mainframe became the foundational platform of corporations and the government. Since its inception, SHARE has become an organization focused on education, support, and networking for mainframe professionals. Over its long history, members have written technical papers, delivered presentations on emerging technology, and much more, some of which has been catalogued by the SHARE archives project.
Reg Harbeck, SHARE Enterprise-Wide program officer, explained that since SHARE predated the IBM System/360 mainframe by nearly a decade, its role in providing IBM with input helped create an invaluable platform for the business community and beyond. Once IBM had created the System/360 mainframe, SHARE’s membership moved to that platform en masse, he said, so that SHARE soon became primarily focused on that platform. Users of that system — which IBM said would enable any program written on it to be run into the future — included government, aerospace, finance/insurance/banking, and health care. Those organizations became key members of SHARE as a result.
Around 1975, SHARE and IBM reached an agreement allowing 370/195 users to distribute the Large System Program Support (LSPS) code, according to a major headline in Computerworld. This opened the floodgates for SHARE, where committee white papers offered new insights, such as Towards More Usable Systems: The LSRAD Task Force Report and A Study of Potential Limitations to Progress, which was based on a report from the SILT (SHARE IBM Liaison Team). SHARE later premiered its Technology Exchange Expo (STE) in the early 1990s, inviting the broader IT vendor community to actively participate and acknowledge the importance of the varied solutions available.
Sharing knowledge with the wider community also positions SHARE to help broker peace among disputing factions in the community. For instance, in the 1990s, Edwin Hart, SHARE ASCII-EBCDIC Character Set Task Force (AECS) chairman, and Gary Ainsworth, SHARE’s manager of standards, helped broker a compromise between different groups regarding the ASCII and EBCDIC character set and code page issues.
SHARE members had stated they preferred an international standard that unified ISO/IEC 10646 and Unicode (draft) standards, rather than two incompatible standards. The result of SHARE’s actions in conjunction with support from the ISO and Unicode standards committees led to today’s unified multi-byte multilingual character-code standard. “In response to the ASCII-EBCDIC paper, in 1990, SHARE started participating in the development of a multi-byte standard to encode the world’s characters and subsequently brokered a compromise between opposing standards organizations to produce a unified ISO/IEC 10646 and Unicode standard — the primary standard now used for multilingual text and computing,” says Hart.
SHARE was one of three user groups represented on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) division for oversight of standards in information technology. DECUS (Digital Equipment Corporation User Society) and GUIDE were also members of the parent X3 committee. Since renamed INCITS, this standards committee is accredited by ANSI and operates under ANSI rules and procedures, creating IT standards in the United States and also representing the United States to the ISO/IEC international standards committees. The group is committed to a stronger presence in standards activities and continues to work side-by-side with users and IBM.
During the 1990s, the mainframe was considered legacy technology on its way out, with many pushing for client server and distributed systems as a way to gain greater flexibility. Harbeck noted that, given the mainframe’s unwaveringly consistent reliability, availability, and security—ensuring that the most critical transactions that power the world economy can be taken for granted—it has come to be the most relied-upon system of record in the world. This, in turn, has led to its anticipated longevity exceeding the foreseeable future.
SHARE Executive Director Brian Langerman echoed Harbeck’s sentiment from a wider cultural perspective. “Most tech user groups are relatively young from a lifecycle standpoint. To see an organization like SHARE still carry its value and mission, while evolving with the latest trends in technology, is incredible,” he said. “It’s particularly remarkable when you think about iconic brands that, 15 to 20 years ago, we thought would never go out of business — Blockbuster and Oldsmobile, for example. They had a great presence in the marketplace but weren’t able to withstand the test of time.”
Casting a Wider Net into the 2000s and Beyond
To cast its education net further, SHARE started a series of webcasts in the 2000s, and also formed zNextGen (zNG), a program aimed at helping those new to the mainframe find dedicated training. zNextGen enables newer IT professionals to collaborate and share experiences in the mainframe environment, as well as network with one another and find solutions for issues they encounter in the workforce.
Justin Bastin, current president and CEO of SHARE, recalled his first SHARE in San Diego when he met zNextGen Project Manager Kristine Harper and zNextGen IBM Representative Iris Rivera. Rivera, along with Jim Michael and the SHARE Board, were part of the group that founded zNG. “Every opportunity they had, Kristine and Iris introduced me to SHARE attendees and volunteers. By the time I left SHARE San Diego, I had contact information for about 25 people. I decided right there that I wanted to volunteer for SHARE and I haven’t looked back since,” he said. “What’s amazing to me is 13 years later, I continue to collaborate with most of those folks from 2007 and call them not just volunteers/attendees, but friends.”
“Joining SHARE in 2007 was done for selfish reasons,” Bastin said. “I wanted to grow my professional network. I wanted to enhance my technical abilities. But what I received in return was more than I ever wanted, but needed. About two years into my journey at SHARE, I realized growing was not only about technology but more about the relationships you forge through the organization. The camaraderie with attendees, Delegates, and partners will last after I depart SHARE.”
To further address community needs, SHARE launched online groups to engage with members year round. From the user-driven communities to the SHARE Requirements system (an online advocacy program for members to influence IBM products and services), SHARE remains focused on leading change in IT, promoting diversity, and educating members about the latest technology advancements. Bastin says, “To those that are no longer involved with SHARE, know that I’m smiling because you helped SHARE be what it is today, and I am forever grateful for your contributions.”
SHARE will celebrate its 65th anniversary with a series of SHARE’d Intelligence articles throughout the year. If you’d like to contribute or be quoted in a future story, email the SHARE editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.