Amid technological advances and vast industry shifts, the user group’s influence and strength remains brilliant.
By: John Hogan
It is fitting that SHARE – the first-ever enterprise IT user group – is celebrating its diamond anniversary this year. “Diamond,” originating from the Greek word “adamas,” means unconquerable and enduring. SHARE has remained a tightly knit, strong organization through decades of technology advances and industry shifts.
In fact, at 60 years old, SHARE is actually 10 years older than the mainframe. And SHARE has played a significant role in some of IBM’s most notable advancements for the mainframe. Many people do not realize just how closely the two organizations have worked throughout the years, and how much of an influence SHARE has had on IBM.
In fact, as far back as 1955, the user group collaborated with IBM to design the SHARE Operating System for the IBM 704 System. SHARE also helped with the development of program languages, a critical piece of the industry. In its day, the IBM 704 system was faster and possessed more capacity than its predecessors, but it did not have any software. Without software, the only way to write a program was with machine language, which presents challenges because it is not intuitive for programmers to learn or use. The way to overcome this hurdle is to build an assembly language, which is more intuitive.
IBM appointed different subgroups to work on this initiative for the 704, and tasked one of the subgroups with writing programs that could accomplish various tasks. And from there, IBM became more granular, assigning the creation of subprograms to a number of subgroups. Subprograms worked in accordance with assembly language to execute tasks. SHARE helped guide IBM and the subgroups through this process, helping to lay the foundation for programming languages.
In order for the IBM 704 to provide value to users, it required certain types of software to appropriately execute programs. The most important of these was Symbolic Assembly Language, which was largely developed by North American Aviation, one of the founding members of SHARE. The software was then enhanced by a SHARE working group. By playing an integral role in creating this software, SHARE forever changed the landscape of computers and supported IBM’s rise as the leading industry player. In their current iteration, computers execute programs so quickly, it seems like they run multiple programs simultaneously. And through its collaboration with IBM, SHARE was partly responsible for this advancement.
A few years later, the 709, which was essentially an improved 704, benefitted from the programming language as well. As a result, it was sophisticated for its time, consisting of a new compiler-assembler-translator, input/output subroutines, debugging utilities and operating control program.
SHARE was also able to influence certain viewpoints IBM held, something SHARE continues to do today by issuing formal requirements. Some of the user group’s white papers motivated IBM to work on improving issues it may not otherwise have discovered, by alerting IBM to problems members ran into while they used the technology themselves. SHARE members were able to give IBM a true hands-on user perspective. This position made SHARE a good contributing partner for material in a number of the company’s textbooks, as well.
While SHARE has made important contributions to mainframe developments, its core mission is just as critical to understand. Its sense of purpose is perhaps best expressed in the origin of its name; rather than serving as an acronym, founding members chose the name to express what the group does. Since its inception 60 years ago, members have focused on providing education and professional networking opportunities, as well as leveraging industry influence, to support mainframe based professionals. By continuously sharing its expertise with peers as well as IBM, SHARE enriches the IT industry, strengthening existing careers and cultivating newly blossoming professionals.
The very first SHARE meetings – and from the beginning, meetings were heavy in technical content discussions, a distinctive characteristic of the user group – were held either at a member’s site or an IBM site. There were only about 100 members initially, with the number growing as more companies learned about IBM’s computer expertise. Members met more often in the organization’s infancy, as it was necessary to convene frequently in order to make headway on issues. Meeting attendance grew from about 1,000 people to about 5,000 people in the mid-1980s, and remains steady today.
The theory that pressure creates brilliant, durable diamonds has yielded famous sayings about the importance of adversity for strength and character. SHARE has certainly demonstrated these traits – not only surviving 60 years of industry shifts, but adapting and growing to thrive.