The First IBM Lifetime Champion for Z: Dusty Rivers

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Whom do you call when you learn you’re an IBM Lifetime Champion? Your spouse, of course, and that’s exactly what Dusty Rivers, an 11-time IBM Champion, did. Even though Rivers, director of z Systems Software: IMS & CICS at GT Software and SHARE program manager for IMGT, has been an IBM Champion for more than a decade, he was genuinely surprised during the monthly IBM worldwide Champions call when his name was announced as a Lifetime Champion by Libby Ingrassia, program director for the IBM Champions program. Not only that, but Rivers is now the first-ever IBM Lifetime Champion for Z.

“I was surprised, honored, and humbled all at the same time, but excited. Actually, it was a little surreal to hear my name included in the list,” he exclaims.

In his home office in Alabama, Rivers called a number of other IBM Champions and Theresa Hans, IBM Z advocacy program specialist, but they already knew about the honor. “The first person I told was my wife, Betty (married 43 years), and she was super excited,” he says.

For the Love of IBM Z

After Rivers graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, he started his career at a company that had an IBM Z mainframe. “Of course, at the time, it was not called a Z, but it was an IBM mainframe,” he says. “I had a huge interest in database technology and started in IMS, and then when DB2 was released, I picked that up. IBM Z was always about scalability, security, and dependability, and I was drawn to that. I’ve always liked seeing technology work for customers.”

“I moved from a DBA/Sysprog role into an integration role that helps tie things together,” says Rivers. “I see the IBM Z as being the central component of a company’s architecture.” He adds that Z continues to grow as “more innovations move to the mainframe, and many of the perceived roadblocks fall away.” Rivers points out that over time, there are more instances where the mainframe system is fully integrated into modern banking, insurance, manufacturing, and airline applications to fully encompass mobile and new application infrastructures. “The ‘it takes too long on a mainframe’ argument falls away when you see new applications that start and finish from idea to production in less than two months,” he explains.

What Being an IBM Lifetime Champion Means

Rivers says that being the first IBM Lifetime Champion for Z was the result of hard work, but that’s never a one-way street. “It’s not just hearing from IBM,” he says. “It’s telling them what we’re hearing from the community so we can represent the community at large and tell IBM what they need to focus on. That’s the important part. We represent the community, and I think that’s why a lot of us have been picked — because of our involvement in the community.”

“For me,” he says, “I look at all the IBM Champions, most of whom I know not just from work but who are also friends — they’re all amazing people. To be selected from that group of people is one of the highest honors I can think of and symbolizes a great privilege to me.” Part of that privilege is to remain active in the community. Rivers says he will continue to help the community and keep it thriving, and part of that is his continued volunteer work with SHARE.

What’s Next?

It’s a great time to be involved with IBM Z, Rivers says. “I don’t see it on the decline, but on the way up,” he adds. “I’m not looking back over the last 40+ years. I look to the future, and all of its potential.” The future of Z is exciting, Rivers says, especially with the new open systems coming out, all the OpenShift cloud native offerings, as well as the new Z15 hardware — those are the things that we’ve been focusing on, not the 56 years that have passed.

Many of the technologies that Rivers works with today were not there when he started, but he learned things from his alma mater that he carries with him even today: the ability to think; the ability to analyze and solve problems; the ability to adapt; and, finally, the ability to communicate. “And, what my college CS Department head (Danny Carter) reminded me ‘Be Kind,’” he adds.

Rivers says, “Many young Z professionals are getting involved with new Z professionals, zNextGen, and other organizations as they see the opportunities on the [IBM] Z platform.” Like in our past look at the IBM Champions program, Rivers advises those in the mainframe community to “be active and be involved” at their company, in user groups, and with SHARE. He says that is a surefire way to become champions in your own right.

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