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Announcements | Atom language syntax highlighting for z/VM | I Am A Mainframer | Podcast

I am a Mainframer: Jabrell McPherson, Shariif Ali, and Jason Lowe

By | September 22, 2023

On this episode of the “I Am a Mainframer” podcast, host Steven Dickens is joined by Jabrell McPherson, Shariif Ali, and Jason Lowe — all students at Albany State University in Albany, Georgia.

Jason, a senior graduating in December, is interested in the mainframe space and is particularly drawn to the z/OS operating system and COBOL programming language.

Jabrell is a senior graduating next fall. He was initially interested in front-end development, but after learning more about the mainframe at SHARE, he is now interested in exploring the back-end area.

Shariif, a senior graduating next fall, is also initially interested in front-end development. Still, after learning more about the mainframe at SHARE, he is now interested in exploring the z/OS operating system.

Their conversation with Steven highlighted their first-time experience at the SHARE Conference in New Orleans, their interest in learning more about the mainframe, and the potential impact the mainframe can have on their future careers.

The students were impressed by the history and evolution of the mainframe and its importance in the modern world. They were also intrigued by the wide range of technologies the mainframe encompasses and the opportunities for growth and advancement in the field. What surprised them most about attending SHARE New Orleans was how open and welcoming everyone was to them and their fellow students. They all felt it was one of the best experiences they’ve had in their college career and are looking forward to attending again.

When asked about their advice for other college students interested in a tech career, they shared three key things:

  • Explore and research different areas of technology until you find something you are interested in and gravitate towards.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks and step outside your comfort zone — and don’t be afraid to fail — when trying and learning new technology.
  • Stay strong and persistent in pursuit of your goals.

This was an energetic and inspiring conversation you won’t want to miss!

Watch the full episode here:

Or listen to and watch the episode here:

The “I Am A Mainframer” podcast explores the careers of those in the mainframe ecosystem. Hosted by Steven Dickens, Senior Analyst at The Futurum Group, each episode is a conversation that highlights the modern mainframe, insight into the mainframe industry, and advice for those looking to learn more about the technology.

The podcast is sponsored by the Open Mainframe Project, a Linux Foundation project that aims to build community and adoption of Open Source on the mainframe by eliminating barriers to Open Source adoption on the mainframe, demonstrating the value of the mainframe.


Announcer: This is the I am a Mainframer podcast, brought to you by the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project. Episodes explore the careers of mainframe professionals and offer insights into the industry and technology. Now, your host, senior analyst, and vice president of sales and business development at Futurum Research, Steven Dickens.

Steven Dickens: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the I am a Mainframer podcast, brought to you by the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project. My name’s Steven Dickens, I’m your host. I’m joined by Jabrell, Jason, and Shariif. Hey, guys. Welcome to the show.

Jason Lowe: How’s it going?

Jabrell McPherson: Hi, how’s it going?

Steven Dickens: So thank you so much for joining us. We’re here at SHARE in New Orleans. They’re packing up the show behind us. You might hear some random noises as they start to wrap up. But let’s get the listeners and viewers orientated. Let’s go understand a little bit about you and what you are doing, how you’re getting into the technology. So maybe let’s start with you.

Jabrell McPherson: So what we’re doing here is basically trying to get a deeper understanding of the mainframes and what’s going on in the world. They were telling us a lot about how it’s shifting, what’s going on, how it’s advancing, and how it’s just coming to where it’s time for us to step in. They’re saying a lot of it is being developed in a way that they just need us to hop on for them. And so, that’s what we’re here for. We’re trying to understand it and see what we can do.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. And what’s your experience been this week?

Shariif Ali: My experience, it’s been quite interesting. I loved learning about the history of how much these evolved over time. Before, it was the size of towers. But now, you can get the size of the fridge and it’s amazing to see how short of a time it’s changed over time.

Steven Dickens: And you, Jason?

Jason Lowe: I’ve had a great experience, honestly, if I may say. Just being here, seeing different companies, talking to different people, networking, and getting my name out there is just a great experience.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic.

Jason Lowe: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: So you’re representing here for your college. So where are you guys at college and where are you in that academic journey?

Jabrell McPherson: We are from Albany State University in Georgia. Albany State University in Georgia.

Steven Dickens: Not Albany in New York.

Jabrell McPherson: Not Albany in New York.

Steven Dickens: Let’s get that right. And the Rams, right?

Jabrell McPherson: Yes, we are the Rams. The unsinkable. So we’ve come here… Can you repeat the question for me?

Steven Dickens: Yeah. So where are you guys at college-wise? Senior-

Jabrell McPherson: I’m a senior, currently.

Shariif Ali: Senior as well.

Jason Lowe: I’m a senior, graduating December. Yeah.

Steven Dickens: Oh, okay. So what’s your view, looking ahead? Where are you starting to look at the job market? First jobs in tech? Are you thinking about the mainframe space?

Jason Lowe: Oh, definitely. Especially now, the further you get to or the closer you get, I should say, to graduation, you start narrowing down your options. You start thinking about what you’re going to do in your future when you graduate. And so, definitely the whole mainframe, I’d say I think of it as a universe. That is something I would definitely want to be a part of. I definitely want to be into. I want to be hip, if you will.

Steven Dickens: Yeah. Fantastic.

Jason Lowe: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: I like it. How about you?

Shariif Ali: Me, honestly, I’m a senior, I’m going to graduate next fall. So at first, I was interested in the front-end development. But now, after hearing about the mainframe and seeing how much it’s actually needed right now, I’m looking into doing research on my mainframe.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, fantastic.

Jabrell McPherson: Same with me. I am a senior graduating next fall. As he said, I was looking at the front-end, and still am, I could dabble with both. But hearing about the mainframe has definitely influenced me to want to explore more and into it to get into that back-end area.

Steven Dickens: So as you said, big mainframe universe, lots of technology. What’s been that one technology? Is it MVS? Is it the z/OS stuff? Is it the KICKS? The Db2? What’s been that thing that you’ve most gravitated towards?

Jason Lowe: I would say the z/OS, the operating system. That and COBOL. I know that one is operating system, one is the software. And it is really unique to just see how those two things play such a big part in the mainframe. Without one part, you can’t have the other. So, I mean, it’s mind-boggling.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I’d agree. I’d agree.

Shariif Ali: Yeah, same. The z/OS is my cup of tea as well. To be honest with you, the COBOL part is new to me, so I am going to research that and see how well I can get comfortable with that.

Steven Dickens: There’s some real pathways. Some of the vendors have done a really good job of making COBOL a lot easier to get into. How about you?

Jabrell McPherson: IBM had did a good job with explaining the z/OS to us with COBOL. And as he said, it was my first time hearing also. Definitely want to get into more dabbling with that and learning about what it’s about. But z/OS definitely is something I’m interested in.

Steven Dickens: I’ve had a lot of people on the show, people with 20, 30, 40 year careers on this platform. I think my advice to you guys would be dig in, get started, get into that z/OS. That’s going nowhere. I was chatting to Matt Whitbourne who’s the guy who runs product management for z/OS, and just brought out a new version. They’ll be bringing out another new version. That platform’s continuing to evolve. So stay involved. 

So as we start to think about wrapping up, you guys are maybe just thinking about finishing your college careers. What advice would you be giving to other college kids who are thinking, “Hey, I’ve got to get into tech. I’ve got to start to pick where I’m going to go next,” maybe they’re looking to start college. What would your advice be?

Jason Lowe: Honestly, my advice would be to, first, explore research. And then, when you find something that you gravitate towards or you’re interested in, go for it. Don’t wait, don’t be, I guess you could say, rocky. If it’s something that you’re interested in, go for it. One of my biggest things is, like I said, I’m graduating in December and I just found out… I won’t say I found out, but I took the interest to explore where the mainframe was with the help of my professor, Dr. Owor, and he’s been preaching it, been talking about it. But it’s just one of those things that was like I had so much things I was thinking about prior. So my advice would be definitely to go for it. You’ll never know until you give it a try.

Steven Dickens: That’s great advice.

Jason Lowe: Yeah, so go for it.

Steven Dickens: That’s great advice.

Jason Lowe: Yeah.

Shariif Ali: My advice I would say is, as he said, definitely explore your options, see what you’re comfortable with. Because, for me, personally, I was interested in cybersecurity at first in my freshman and sophomore year, but then I got to realize it wasn’t my cup of tea. But I got into front development, “I actually enjoy doing this.” So aside from exploring your options, actually testing what you like, I would say-

Steven Dickens: Try things out?

Shariif Ali: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to fail, I would say. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Steven Dickens: That’s good advice. And yourself?

Jabrell McPherson: I would just tell them to just stay strong and stay with what they’re doing because you may not start off the strongest, but you’re going to end at the highest point. Because coming into here, I was scared, I was afraid, and I was really nervous, thinking, “Oh, I may not make it, I may not do it.” But hearing so many people’s success stories and how they started off from nothing to be CEOs of companies, VPs, and just these big name titles-

Steven Dickens: There’s such a path.

Jabrell McPherson: Yes.

Steven Dickens: There really is. Especially in this community, there’s such a path for you guys to grow.

Jason Lowe: I’ll add that I didn’t realize that there’s a lot of people in this industry now that they say they’re here by accident. They had no intentions, no plans to be working in the mainframe. But now, they’re here working with mainframe stuff and they love it. So that just inspired me because I’m like, “Where do I go?” I was feeling out of place when I first got here because I didn’t know. I felt like I had to come here with some stuff. Knowing COBOL, knowing how that mainframe works, knowing how the pitching and selling or whatever as far as sales goes, so I feel like I have somewhere to stand firm now.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. So one of the questions I ask all the guests on the show, and I’m really, really interested in your perspective. Where do you see the mainframe five years from now? You guys are coming in, you’re exploring the technology, maybe seeing some of the things for the first time. Where do you see the platform five years from now?

Jason Lowe: I’ll say, honestly, the platform is going to be bigger than it is now. I honestly agree that the more people find out that what I do every day is no longer taken for granted because it needs a mainframe. That Amazon purchase, swiping your card, going to Starbucks, buying the coffee. When they started to figure out… Well, the mainframe is what’s allowed me to walk out without being in trouble. So I think when people will start to gravitate towards mainframes and understanding what the mainframe is, at least that’s what I did when I found out.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. And yourself?

Shariif Ali: I feel like, five years from now, it’s hard to even say where to be at because technology evolves so fast, and it’s one of those things where you don’t have to technically be an expert to make it evolve. It could be someone, a freshman in college, and he’s playing around and figure out something maybe NASA can’t figure out themselves. And behold, it’s a new opportunity, new development.

Steven Dickens: And yourself?

Jabrell McPherson: As they said, it’s developing at a really good rate right now. It’s going to expand. It’s going to be one of the biggest things. And some people say that it was dying out at one point. I believe that we’re just now beginning to see what it really can be.

Jason Lowe: Definitely, definitely.

Steven Dickens: Well, guys, thank you so much for being on the show. Thanks for putting up with the background noises as they’re tearing up, but really appreciate you being on the show and great to hear your perspective.

Jason Lowe: We appreciate the opportunity.

Shariif Ali: Thank you for the opportunity.

Steven Dickens: You’ve been watching the I am a Mainframer show. Please click and subscribe and do all those things to boost the algorithm, and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much for watching.

Announcer: Thank you for tuning in to I am a Mainframer. Liked what you heard? Subscribe to get every episode or watch us online at Until next time, this is the I am a Mainframer podcast, insights for today’s mainframe professionals.