Glenn Anderson: How Improv Can Improve a Career in Mainframe

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Glenn Anderson, corporate events speaker, started as an IBM systems engineer trainee right out of college. By the early 1980s he had moved up the ranks to an IBM Systems engineer in Chicago, supporting large IBM mainframe customers. Anderson, a graduate of the well-known improv center the Players Workshop of The Second City, took a different path than most toward a mainframe profession.

“I’ve been an amateur actor for most of my adult life,” says Anderson, “and a member of an improvisational comedy troupe that performed in Chicago for many years.”

He attended his first SHARE conference when one of his customers, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, invited Anderson to come along. “Back then, an IBMer who was not speaking had to get special permission to attend, like a customer had to invite you. I was honored to be able to attend at this early stage of my career,” he says.

Anderson was inspired by the speakers and made the commitment to himself that someday he, too, would present at a SHARE conference. “It was an amazing experience. To be with several thousand mainframe professionals, and get to hear presentations from the leading customer and IBM mainframe experts,” he recalls. “Even at that early point in my career, I knew I wanted to someday be involved with SHARE, and be one of those expert speakers myself. Which turned out to be true!”

Later in Anderson’s career, he became an IBM instructor in the MVS education center in Chicago. This propelled him into his role as the IBM tech training representative to the MVS Program at SHARE, a position he held for over 25 years.

“I really enjoyed being an IBM instructor. I got to meet many different customers in one class, as opposed to just working with one customer at a time as a systems engineer,” Anderson recalls. “I got to spend a week with these customers in a class, teaching them and working with them. I love teaching! I love presenting and answering questions. I really enjoy explaining complex technical material in a way that students can understand.”

His first day as an instructor was easy because he was part of a teaching team. “There were three of us teaching a five-day class titled ‘MVS Measurement and Tuning.’ So on my first day, as the new guy on the team, I only had one lecture to deliver,” he says. “I was able to gradually build up my teaching expertise.” Anderson’s expertise in MVS performance and tuning at the IBM education center enabled him to become a regular speaker at SHARE. “I was honored to become one,” he says. “I'm sure there are a lot of older MVS sysprogs who will say they learned the Workload Manager (WLM) from me, year by year and SHARE after SHARE.”

As mainframe technology evolved, SHARE’s programs evolved too, and Anderson says it was always exciting to return to SHARE conferences to hear the latest news from top speakers. “Back in those days, speakers were expected to bring printed handouts with them to distribute to the attendees at their sessions,” he explains. “I was often presenting six to eight different sessions at a SHARE [conference], and so I had to ship multiple boxes of handouts. I have fond memories of crawling through the ‘handout room’ at SHARE on Sunday afternoon, locating my boxes to make sure they had all arrived.”

Some of his most rewarding moments at SHARE were when he received the Best Session Award. “It was an honor to know that the attendees at my many sessions rated the value of my presentations high enough,” he says, especially since there were so many talented speakers who were the top experts in their field.

Anderson attributes that success to his training and experience as an improv actor. “It allowed me to feel very comfortable in front of audiences large and small. It gave me strong stage presence, and a comfort level in interactively dealing with audiences, Q&A sessions, panel discussions, etc.,” he says. “My skill as a classroom instructor, and my speaking ability at professional conferences like SHARE, GUIDE, CMG, and IBM Technical Events, owe a great deal to my improvisational acting training and experience.”

 

Why Mainframe Skills Are in Demand

Some IT shops now run IBM Z mainframe business applications in the public cloud, but Anderson says mainframe systems will never be replaced with all-public cloud implementations, even if shops implement a hybrid cloud approach. This is why he emphasizes there will always be a need for mainframe skills in large corporate data centers at Fortune 500 companies.

“The mainframe is constantly under fire today from CEOs, CTOs, and executives who do not understand the value and cost effectiveness of the mainframe to provide IT services to their companies. IBM Z SMEs need to be able to articulate the value of the mainframe, and this requires skills in presenting and communicating,” he notes.

“Younger technology students simply need to have the value of mainframes properly explained to them, along with the leading edge technologies that mainframes represent. If that happens, there should be no problem getting young IT professionals interested in mainframe careers,” says Anderson, who also believes this is where SHARE can play a vital role.

SHARE enables professionals to grow their expertise and solve current issues at their shops by learning from and meeting top mainframe experts; it also helps them build a network of other IT experts, whom they can call on for assistance. Additionally, Anderson says that professionals can grow further by volunteering with a SHARE project or volunteering to present their own mainframe experiences in a SHARE user experience session. Anderson—now a corporate events speaker—adds that presentation and communication skills are vital parts of IT professional development and growth, particularly for mainframe systems programmers and architects.

 

To get in touch with Glenn Anderson about professional development advice, you can reach him via email at glennanderson99@yahoo.com.

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