To be a champion in any field, a person has to have the drive and curiosity to strive for more, but they also have to be passionate about their work and advocate for the advancement of the field. This is particularly true in the IT community where technology evolves quickly. The IBM Champions program celebrates those in the IT community who advocate for, and are thought leaders in, the mainframe industry and beyond. They’re not IBM employees, but they can be developers, faculty, technologists, managers, students, and engineers, among other roles.
Theresa Hans, Z Advocacy Program Leader at IBM, says, “The mainframe community has always been a tight knit one, and this program is a way to enable that community to grow, as well as IBM to give back to and partner with many of the leaders of the community.”
IBM Champions Qualifying Criteria:
Typical contributions and engagement fall into the categories below and IBM Champions have active, ongoing contributions in two or more areas: speak at user group meetings and conferences about IBM products; share their expertise and knowledge with the community through podcasts, videos, and more; grow and nurture the community through social media, meetings, and other venues; leverage the breadth of IBM’s technologies; and/or provide feedback on IBM products and features in appropriate forums. Hans says, “There is also no limit as to how many times someone is nominated as a Champion in any given year. The nominations are open every fall, and Champions are announced at the beginning of the calendar year. Our IBM Z Champion class accepts roughly 50 IBM Champions each year with many repeat Champions from the year prior.”
Hans adds, “There are 600+ current IBM Champions and 50 of those are officially IBM Champions for Z. We have many amazing Champions who span multiple topic areas: Security, Blockchain, or Data & AI Champions, who are also representative of the mainframe industry. Our IBM Champions for Z specifically span the globe and represent everything from the financial industry and government, to travel and skills.”
Each IBM Champion receives a digital badge for use on social media and other accounts, signifying the IBM Champion’s expertise and their role as a mentor to the IT community. Hans explains that after being selected, the IBM Z Champions are encouraged to use that status and extra insight to promote upcoming IBM Z products to elevate their typically active role in the community. Many jump in with both feet into new blogs and webinars, while others lean towards facilitation and helping out with student events. She adds, “One of our Champions, Marc Smith, has actively been going into schools local to his Texas roots. He brings a special talk to the students called, IT’s Best Kept Secret. Since becoming an IBM Champion, Marc has been able to share this presentation with the rest of the group and now students all over the world are getting this same great message.”
We caught up with some IBM Z Champions to find out more about the program and their take on it. Dusty Rivers, director of z Systems Software: IMS & CICS at GT Software and SHARE program manager for IMGT, was initially nominated 11 years ago by the program manager of IMS at SVL (Silicon Valley Labs). “I’ve been involved heavily with SHARE in both a project and program manager capacity,” he says. “I’ve also spoken at many IBM and industry events about mainframe integration, as well as presented on mainframe API use.” Rivers is honored each time he is nominated, which he sees as a recognition of his continued hard work. “It’s allowed me to broaden my contacts and work with many people globally, whom I wouldn’t have met without being in the IBM Champions program.”
Janet Sun, a senior development manager at BMC Software says, “I’ve been an active volunteer in the SHARE Association for many years, working in a variety of capacities to grow interaction and participation in the IBM Z community.” She currently serves as the deputy project manager for SHARE’s MVS Storage Management Project, a program officer for the SHARE’s Enterprise-wide Program, and is a member of the Archives Project committee. “I served as the president of SHARE from 2010-2012,” says Sun. “I am a strong advocate for IBM Z encouraging expanded use of IBM Z and helping to protect the IBM Z install base.” She adds, “I am incredibly honored and humbled to have been selected as an IBM Z Champion, and this honor has encouraged me to want to be more active in my support of the IBM Z platform.”
Sun is an internationally recognized expert in IBM ICF catalogs and catalog management. She regularly presents on topics related to catalog management, catalog performance, and disaster recovery at SHARE and the IBM Z Tech U. Most recently, she authored an article on the value of COBOL and the importance of continuing to teach it.
Ezriel Gross, principal solutions advisor at Rocket Software, is a three-time IBM Champion. He says he was originally nominated through the IBM Gold Consultant group as a Champion when the program was first created in the 1990s. Since then, he regularly recommends IBM Z products to clients and speaks at conferences about IBM and its technology, which Gross says helped him earn his IBM Z Champion designation. “Being named as an IBM Champion over the last few years,” he says, “has been an honor and a privilege. To me, it means that IBM recognizes my expertise and commitment to the IBM Z community.”
Gross continues to be passionate about CICS. He spearheaded the development of C\Prof, which provides the added details you need to diagnose problems in CICS applications faster and with minimal impact on business critical applications. “I found the amount of time sysprogs had to investigate and solve system problems with their available tools inadequate. This led me to come up with C\Prof after seeing so many customers struggle with the ability to forensically analyze applications running in their systems,” says Gross.
Reg Harbeck, chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics Ltd. and SHARE Enterprise-Wide program officer, says that he was encouraged to self-nominate by other IBM Champions. He adds that the nominating process requires you to provide details about your support of the Z ecosystem. Harbeck says he has worked on numerous mainframe-related projects and activities, and these led him to still more opportunities. “In addition to my articles, blogs, podcasts, SHARE presentations, and mentoring,” Harbeck says, “I’m also finishing up my Master’s degree, with a thesis tentatively called, ‘The Humanity of the Mainframe.’” He adds that he’s reaching out and building on his Z Champion status to increase value, initiating contacts to build the mainframe ecosystem in Canada. Harbeck is the first and, so far, only IBM Z Champion in the nation.
Even though this is his first year as an IBM Z Champion, Harbeck has taken it as a push to do more and try new initiatives. He hopes to combine his work on his thesis with his new status as an IBM Z Champion to generate new value in the mainframe ecosystem. Harbeck says the mainframe is one example of “underappreciated excellence” and advocating for the ecosystem falls in direct line with his core career values to shed light on that excellence.
Rivers advises others to “be active, be involved, and don’t be afraid to self-nominate. If you are doing something cool in Z you probably need to let others know.” Harbeck adds, “When you find a place where you can pursue your core values without hesitation, this is exactly the kind of program that you can get involved in to take your contributions to the next level.”
Gross explains, “I have been working with IBM for the past 30 years, and I am constantly impressed with the people behind the company. Although the technology is truly amazing, without the people I’ve encountered and worked with, I would never have achieved the level of expertise I have in IBM products.” He adds, “Learn as much as you possibly can from IBM, this will help you grow your own expertise and career.”
Sun adds a different perspective that “the IBM Z Champion program offers a great opportunity to meet and network with IBMers and other users of the IBM Z platform. Effective networking helps you develop a more rounded outlook on the industry and the value of the IBM Z platform, and allows for the discussion and debate of the impact and significance of changes in information technology.”
The IBM Champion program builds on the community involvement that many in the mainframe and IT fields already have, while at the same time encouraging passionate exploration of IBM Z as a platform and ecosystem that businesses can rely on. IBM Champions all agree that their expertise is built on their networking and mentoring (and being mentored by others), as the community at large offers much more than one individual can give.