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I am a Mainframer: Jessielaine (Jelly) Punongbayan

By | August 11, 2020

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with Jessielaine Punongbayan, Senior Software Engineer at Broadcom in Prague. On this podcast, Jelly discusses her journey with the mainframe, the challenges for the mainframe, Zowe, and where she sees the Mainframe going in the future.

Steven: Hello and welcome. My name is Steven Dickens and I’m your host on the I’m a Mainframer podcast. Brought to you by the Open Mainframe Project and Linux Foundation collaborative Project focused on advocating for Linux and open source on the mainframe platform. I’m joined today by a fantastic guest. We’ve just been talking offline and I hope I’m going to get her name right, Jessielaine who, thankfully for me, has agreed to go by the name of Jelly for today. So Hey Jelly, welcome to the show.

Jelly: Hey, thank you. Thank you for having me here and good job on pronouncing my name. I really love it.

Steven: You’re too kind. I know when we were getting ready for the show, you helped me out massively, so I hope I didn’t offend.

Jelly: No, it’s good.

Steven: So Jelly, if you can just maybe give us a brief introduction. Tell us a little bit about what you do and a little bit about your background.


Jelly: Sure. I am from the Philippines. I started off as a, well a mainframe application developer, so basically I have a pure mainframe background where I work for a backing agency in the Philippines and there I learned COBOL and the bank processing like on-call support or recovery stuff. I moved to Singapore to be a COBOL consultant. And there I was exposed to the European way of bank processing and some of these mainframe tools that they have there. Basically the whole first year or the whole 10 years of my experience, it would be mainframe application development. And that’s what I do most of the time. Now, I’m living in the Czech Republic and I transferred here first as a system operation. So I switched my career from application development to system engineering.

And I worked for IBM for two years in the operations team where I do IPLs, just firing commands and just do ingesting. So basically operations stuff. And then after that one, I moved to Broadcom and now I’m a R&D engineer for Zowe Explorer. So I’m exposed now to modern mainframe interfaces. That’s what they normally do every day, all about mainframe and modernization.

Steven: So Jelly, there are some fantastic little nuggets there. Moving around the world, moving to different companies. I think some of our listeners are really interested in how you can build a career that takes you around the world in the mainframe space, especially on a platform like COBOL. So, I mean, maybe if you can just give us a bit of, how did you get started? Sounds like you’ve jumped in and built your career in the mainframe. How did you get started? Give me a view early days how you kind of came out of college and maybe got into the platform. That would be interesting, I think.

Jelly: Well, I started off as a programmer trainee. So after I graduated college, I started looking for a job and I don’t want to go for a real job so I wanted to have a training program and there’s this bank in the Philippines that offers a programmer trainee and they have two paths. One path is for visual basic group. And the other one is for the mainframe group. And there they thoughts about COBOL and JCL, and it was fascinating for me because I understood COBOL immediately because it’s just like writing a paragraph or a sentence. And I got a high-grade there and so they put me in the mainframe path and that’s where it all started for me in the mainframe industry. They put me in this COBOL department and we were working on in-house enhancements for the bank. And it’s mainly focused on COBOL.

Steven: It’s really interesting, I mean, COBOL has been in the press a lot recently with some negative comments, particularly in the US. And it’s really interesting to hear you talk there about how you came to the platform new, kind of loved interacting with COBOL as a language and sort of got the bug for the mainframe if you excuse the developer pun, but just really kind of just got excited. So maybe give me a perspective if you don’t mind for the listeners around kind of what do you think about where COBOL is right now and maybe it’s perspective against other languages and kind of how easy is it from that developer perspective to engage with?

Jelly: When I heard about that COBOL is needed before when COBOL became very famous recently, I was thinking about my experience at that and I think that people are afraid of COBOL because somehow it’s an old language. Sometimes when it’s old, you have this fear of the unknown and you don’t want to touch it. And when I was starting out as a young developer, I was very afraid of touching the terminals and I am afraid that I will break something and my colleagues are not really that helpful because they somehow enjoy that I’m afraid of touching stuff. But as time goes by, I acquired the love bug for COBOL because it taught me how to be resourceful. For me, the logic is simple.

It’s simple how to code it. You can create the program and then you can find resource full ways on how to achieve your goal in COBOL. And the one thing that I love about this language is that you know what’s going inside and what’s going out. You know what’s going to happen in your program and you can expect it. And so if you have an error, you already know how to fix it, or you know what’s going on. So you understand everything that’s happening inside the program. So if I’m going to compare COBOL into, let’s say the modern language that they have, for example, right now I’m coding in TypeScript. And TypeScript is, for me, amazing because you only import packages that you didn’t code and this package helps you in doing this. But the negative side about that is that I don’t really understand what are those packages doing and how they are developed. And so there’s this blind spot for me in these packages. And for me, when you go in mainframe, you know everything, and that knowing part helps me or satisfies me as a developer.

Steven: I mean, that’s fascinating, Jelly. I’m not a developer, not written a line of code, but I know a lot of our listeners are developers. And I think that just listening to you talk about sort of COBOL versus some of those other languages there was, I could hear in your voice the sort of perspective you’ve got of when you can see your code, you can understand the program that you’ve written. And I could hear that coming through it. Did I capture that right, because I think that’s what I heard?

Jelly: Yes. I mean, that’s what I see as well. In my experience, when I code in mainframe I understand what I’m coding or at least I understand the process of it. And basically what you said is right.

Steven: Obviously you’ve been on a journey, both with the mainframe and around the world. One thing that sort of came through in the bio that I was sent was the work you’ve been doing with Zowe. Lots of our listeners are interested in that project. If you could maybe just explain a little what you’re doing in the Zowe space, that would be fantastic.

Jelly: So in Zowe, I am one of the engineers for Zowe Explorer and we are doing, well I’m doing lots of enhancement in that area. And as well as I am part of the Zowe mobile application. So this Zowe mobile application is an incubation project for Zowe and it was created by me and my team during a project. And this mobile app allows you to access your job spool, your mainframe job spool. So it’s good for reduction support that when somebody from operations calls you that there’s an abandoned job, you can just get it on your phone, and then you can submit that part. I’m also part of the COBOL course in the open mainframe project. And I’m part of the core team and I’m supporting and creating challenges for the learners today.

Steven: So you’re building with Zowe’s ability to be able to see jobs on somebody’s mobile phone? Did I just hear that right?

Jelly: Yes. So it’s one of the incubation projects that was donated this year for Zowe.

Steven: That’s super cool. Would that give somebody, the ability who is not a mainframe expert to be able to just log in via their phone, check the status of a job and be able to sort of kick start a process without having to be a mainframe expert? Am I understanding that right?

Jelly: That’s right, actually.

Steven: Wow. I mean, I think for me, these are some of the interesting projects and speaking sort of from my own sort of perspective, these are why I do the podcast. To speak to the interesting people on the front line developing the modern mainframe. I think that’s super fascinating how we’re changing the dynamic around how people are getting access to this platform. Can you give me a bit of what your experience has been on Zowe and kind of how you see that open source developer model coming through the mainframe, which I know something we’ve kind of not had up until the last few years? How has that been as a developer experience?

Jelly: Before, when I heard about Zowe, I actually have this doubt in Zowe because it says modernization. And as a pure Mainframer, when you hear the word modernization, I don’t want that. I love 32×70, I love the green screen, and I don’t want this new developer experience stuff, but when I was immersed in it, when I experienced how do you Zowe Explore, even Zowe CLI or I started creating APIs using the API SDK that open mainframe is offering. That gave me a lot of ways to innovate. It expanded my creativity and I then begin to ask this question, “What more can you do with the mainframe?” And excuse me, being able to do enhancement for Zowe Explorer and seeing how you can access your data sets or accessing your USS or your job spool using a Viscose editor.

That fascinates me a lot. For me, using Zowe or using these modern interfaces is good because it’s not really what I thought it was before because before I thought that if you do modernization, you’re going to recode your COBOL programs, or you’re going to change everything, destroy everything and build everything from scratch again. But with Zowe, it’s not like that. It’s just giving you a new interface and a new way of connecting to the mainframe that allows you to have this cross-platform interaction with the modern platform and the mainframe platform and making it one, to work together. And that fascinates me a lot. And so when I saw this extension or the CLI, and then even though the web desktop, I immediately thought of a phone. I mean, why not use a phone? And so since we’re firing APIs as our way to interact with mainframe, it allowed us to create a mobile application.

And so it doesn’t stop there since this API technology or these modern technology exists and we continuously improve, or we continuously find ways to have solutions for the mainframe. For me, Zowe has a really great future on how to interact mainframe with other modern technologies. And I like it because it’s something familiar for me as a person who has a pure mainframe background. I don’t really need to relearn much because it’s still familiar for me. I’m still coding my COBOL programs. I can still access it, but it’s just in a different interface. So that was a great experience for me when I started working or started using Zowe.

Steven: You can hear the passion there, Jelly, coming through. And the show’s called, I’m a Mainframer. You’re a declared COBOL programmer, but you’ve then built a mobile app using open source. I mean, for me, that’s the perfect journey on the platform. What would be your recommendations to people looking to get involved in Zowe? How would you recommend they sort of getting started and dive into the community effort?

Jelly: For me, what I would really suggest is just to try it out. I know that each and every Mainframer has their doubts. Maybe it’s not going to be like this, this and that. So try it out. And it’s just using the CLI. Check your jobs through the CLI or check your jobs through the VsCode extension. And then if you like it, try more components. And then after that, I would suggest joining the Slack community that we have and contribute there. Not contribute by asking questions, contribute by understanding what Zowe can do like providing use cases. And as a developer, for me, I’m here to help you to understand what the product does and also it will help me to understand what are your needs.

And so by just trying it out or being a witness for Zowe itself is already helping out. And if you have experience in Typescript or any of these modern technologies or interfaces, then you can check out the GitHub repositories and contribute your code. Or if, or you can just contribute your knowledge to all these new learners that we have, especially in the COBOL course. There are lots of people who joined there and they’re just contributing their knowledge as a COBOL developer and how they will code in COBOL or how they will handle these processes. And by sharing knowledge, we are already contributing to the community and we are helping each other to improve this open mainframe project.

Steven: Jelly, I think that’s been fantastic to hear you talk about the community that’s being built around this codebase. I think the mainframe always had a strong community ethos, but I think at the various conferences, I know you’ve spoken to  Europe in the past. There have been strong mainframe gatherings. I think what we’ve seen with the open mainframe project is just harness that community and then they believe to come together for the common good. And hearing you talk about it just sort of fills my heart with joy about the platform that we’ve been able to build with the open mainframe project and how that really sort of gives this ability for people like you to develop, interact with colleagues and peers and new people in the industry, and sort of pull all that together. So Jelly, as we start to think about wrapping up for our guests here, I try and catch our guests out with one question.

So I gave you a bit of warning when we were getting warmed up. You’ve given me a really interesting view of the mainframe platform. You’ve traveled the world with COBOL; you’ve seen and started to leverage an open source community to build on the survey platform. Where do you see the mainframe in three to five years if you were to look into your crystal ball?

Jelly: If I were to look at my crystal ball, I want to see the mainframe as something that is in a cross-platform environment. So for me, I want to see mainframe using these modern interfaces, but as well as running in the mainframe. So basically what mainframe is doing right now, but with more modern interfaces for us to use. And as well as I want to see the mainframe community be more diverse with young developers and experienced developers working together, because for me, Zowe and this open mainframe project, it allows us to be all learners. As an experienced developer, I am learning new stuff. I am learning modern stuff. And as a modern developer, as a new grad, I am learning about mainframe and I want to see that mainframe community working together, learning together, and sharing their experience together. And for me having that makes mainframe, that forum, even stronger because we’re working together to improve mainframe, to be a better platform. And combining those two different worlds together, For me, it makes it really stronger, makes it better.

Steven: So, Jelly, you mentioned something there “As a new grad.” If you could go back to you to your younger self and give yourself some advice as you were coming out of college, what would that advice be?

Jelly: My advice for myself is to stick to what you have done. Stick to the mainframe. I think the mainframe has given me a lot of experience and a different perspective. It allowed me to think differently, to be more creative in my way of thinking. And so my advice is to just stick with the mainframe, learn it, and as well as continue learning, continue to search for more because there is so much more in the mainframe. You can do more in the mainframe and it’s a very interesting language and exciting language. It’s not a dead language, honesty. COBOL is not a dead language. The mainframe is not dead. And for me, it’s a very wide platform, you can learn a lot from it. And it’s very interesting.

Steven: So jelly, I can’t think of a better set of sentences to start to wrap up our podcast today. It’s been fantastic talking to you. I feel like I’ve journeyed around the world. I feel like I’ve seen and heard about your journey and you’ve been a fantastic guest. So thank you very much for joining us today.

Jelly: Thank you so much as well.

Steven: So you’ve been listening to Steven Dickens and Jelly S Sr. software engineer at Broadcom. Thank you for joining us on today’s show. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, click in the links below and subscribe, or ideally write us a review as well, and give us five stars or whatever you have on your podcast platform. We’ll be bringing you more shows from the I’m A Mainframer Podcast series, where we talk to the most interesting guests around the world who are developing and advocating for the mainframe platform. So my name’s Steven Dickens, I’m signing off and we’ll hopefully speak to you soon.