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I am a Mainframer: Megan Conklin

By | March 22, 2023

On this episode of the “I Am a Mainframer” podcast, host Steven Dickens is joined by Megan Conklin, the WW Director of LinuxONE and Linux on System Z Sales at IBM. Megan brings a wealth of experience in IBM systems, including more than 15 years of leading large enterprise clients. For the last 18 months, Megan has led the global team that drives innovation with IBM clients worldwide. Under her leadership, the LinuxONE brand has experienced unprecedented adoption and growth across various industries. From architecting digital asset custody solutions to helping clients reduce their data center energy consumption, Megan and the WW Linux team are committed to their clients’ success on the LinuxONE platform.

Megan is passionate about building a better and more sustainable planet and works closely with the global IBM team and customers to adopt the LinuxONE platform, which is more than just a product but rather a solution that solves critical issues in the world – sustainability, security, and scalable IT infrastructure.

During their conversation, Steven and Megan talk about all her family members who worked for IBM and how, even though she resisted following in their footsteps, the summer internship she accepted with IBM opened the door to a lifelong career she truly loves. Megan also shares her advice for those just starting out in their technology career: Trust your instincts, understand that you have value, and challenge others on your team — that’s what makes us all collectively better.

Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.


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 the I Am A Mainframer podcast brought to you by the Linux Foundation. I’m looking forward to today’s episode. I’m joined by Megan Conklin from IBM. Hey Megan, welcome to the show.

Megan Conklin: Hey Steven, thanks for having me. Super excited to be here.

Steven Dickens: So I get to see you twice in one week, does life get any better than this for me?

Megan Conklin: I don’t think so. This has got to be the top, top so far for 2023, anyway.

Steven Dickens: I’m sure, of course. So we can get our listeners and viewers orientated, just maybe introduce yourself, Megan, tell the listeners here what you do for IBM.

Megan Conklin: Sure. Happy to do that. So I’m the worldwide director for LinuxONE, Linux and Z sales leader. Awesome job. I love what I do. My whole career has been with IBM, and I started back as an intern when I was in college back in 2000, and I’ve been with IBM since 2001 and I was always in the mainframe space as a seller and an ESM if you can go back in time to the eServer manager days. I did that for many years and I worked for the brand and then back into the field, always having my finger on the land of the mainframe.

So in my job now, I get to just wrap my arms around LinuxONE and our clients that are embracing the technology every day. So it’s a really cool position, and my favorite part probably, and you can attest to this, is the global piece. It’s nice to be able to travel the world and get exposed to other cultures, see how they do business, what’s resonating with them. It’s definitely the best part of my job.

Steven Dickens: So lots there that describes a career arc. I didn’t know IBM ran an intern program for people who were in kindergarten, so-

Megan Conklin: Steven, you remain so kind. Aren’t you so nice.

Steven Dickens: I noticed the cough when you said 2000, so I’m trying to be super respectful.

Megan Conklin: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: Shall we, all joking aside, Megan, let’s maybe start there. We’ve got a lot of younger listeners to the show, people who are looking at career and this is one of my careers in the mainframe and this is one of my favorite things. We’ve had some younger, early stage professionals. We even had a high school kid on this show who has a mainframe in their basement. So really interested to understand what that early part of your career looked like. So if you can go back… Years, back to 2000, that would be great.

Megan Conklin: Yeah, 21 years. Yep. No, so it’s a very interesting start. So my father was a mainframer.

Steven Dickens: Okay, so you’re second generation.

Megan Conklin: Uh-huh. And he went to school in Sterling Forest, New York. And as this story goes, when I was interviewing for internships summer before my senior year of college, I interned at a couple places and my dad no longer worked for IBM, but he still had some contacts and he wasn’t in sales, but he had this contact and he said, “Oh here, they’re going to take your resume.” And typical college kid like, “Ugh dad, I don’t want to go work for IBM. So sick of IBM,” because of the family history. It wasn’t just my father. My mother worked there at one time. I had cousins that worked there, my brother was working there. Everyone worked at IBM and I wanted to do something different.

Long story short, I interviewed and it’s someone that you should always get on your podcast, this wonderful guy, Dave Munson. And he was a business unit executive for, he had all hardware underneath him. That was back in the eServer days. So he interviewed me and I ended up taking the job because I was a bratty kid and I went for the job that paid the most money per hour because I needed money to spend at college when I went back for senior year. It ended up being one of the best summers of my life and I got exposed to the power side, X, remember when we were doing X, and the blades, all of it and mainframe, storage, Shark back in the day.

So I got to see everyone and I got exposed to all the account teams in the metro area and it was so fun, and right before I went back to college, IBM offered me a job and I accepted it. And probably the best blessing I had was this gentleman, Dave Munson said to me, “What do you want to sell?” Now, I had been exposed to every piece of hardware that IBM was selling at the time, and it had nothing to do with my father, nothing to do with family history, everything to do with the teams I worked with, the clients I was able to sit and work with, Verizon and UPS and all sorts.

As an intern, they welcomed me in. They let me be part of these conversations. Without question, I said, “System/390, I want to sell System/390.” And I thought it was the coolest platform on the face of the planet. And I was not going to college for sales, I was in marketing and business, and in my own way, I was going to go change the world. And here I am now at IBM selling System/390 and that’s how it started.

Steven Dickens: Wow, I didn’t know that. You and I have known each other for a number of years and I didn’t know you started as an intern. I certainly didn’t know you started selling the mainframe as your first job straight out of college. So maybe let’s talk about that then. That’s an obvious place to go next. So you do an internship for the, was that your final summer before you graduated?

Megan Conklin: Yep. Yep.

Steven Dickens: So you graduate, you start day one at Big Blue selling mainframe. Maybe just tell us about those early years. What was that like?

Megan Conklin: It was very exciting. I did not have an engineering background, so it was new to me to go to Top Gun and learn the technology. Sales makes sense to me. Sales makes sense to my personality, because it’s problem solving, because it’s relationship. It’s trying to see where opportunity is, and Megan now will say, “My client’s success is my own success,” but learning how to do that was interesting.

And sales school, global sales school was what it was called at the time. Was very fascinating. So we started, I had the summer, but then every two weeks, I’d leave to go to Atlanta and I’d be in Atlanta for two weeks and I would be in global sales school doing cold calls and all of those fun things. And then I’d go back to the field, and during that time, they shot me around to the sellers on the team so I could get used to, you have the large enterprise clients and then you have some sellers that had a bunch of small accounts, and that’s totally different, and that’s a different day-to-day lifestyle than if you are going to your office at your client’s building every day.

So it was really fun. I got to be exposed to a lot of really great things. I loved global sales school, which definitely is not for everyone, but if you are into that whole scene, I loved it. And for me, it was an extension of college because everyone that was there with me at the time, today’s summit program, everyone had just graduated from college. So we all got to stay on the same floor at the Hyatt in Marietta and we had a blast going through sales school together, and then came the Top Gun portion where that was new to me because I had to understand the technology and that was different.

And I always heard my father talk about MIPS and now I really was getting intimate with MIPS and that was very exciting. So I would say the early on years never detracted me from wanting to get away from the mainframe as I got involved. I never saw it as a place I wanted to get away from because it wasn’t going to be around or it wasn’t exciting. I thought it to be totally opposite. I was more excited to get involved even more once I started to learn about the technology and what it is I’d be doing with clients.

Steven Dickens: So maybe not a conversation for this podcast, but maybe there’s some stories from that Marriott floor at sales school for over a beer next time we meet.

Megan Conklin: Yeah, a bunch of 22 year olds having some fun, yes. But yeah, it was a good time and we learned so much and that is what I think was a good benefit of the program, and I know the summit program is similar. It is like going through school again. So you can study together. You can shoot ideas off each other. That’s a great thing that IBM did all the way back then, and some of the best instructors that I’ve ever had, as far as my four years in undergrad went and then going right into that program, some of the best mentors, instructors came from the IBM global sales school program.

In fact when I became a director, I did another program with IBM and the facilitator was my facilitator from global sales school, and she is just an amazing ma’am with a wealth of information and experience, really talking with you about how you can be helpful and you can make a difference. So that is something IBM did really well. It’s you, the IBM-er, how you have an impact with your clients as well as what is the technology that you can bring to your client and finding a way to marry the two, it really makes you feel empowered to go do your job. So all the way back then, 22 years ago, IBM was doing it and they’re still doing it today. Like anything we do, we innovate, we change, we adapt. And it is the summit program now. It’s not a global sales school, but I think the idea and the concept is the same, and I am sure all those kids are having a great time with the kids from their… I shouldn’t say kids. With their peers.

Steven Dickens: We’re showing our age, Megan, don’t worry, they’re kids. I’ve got a 19 year old daughter and I can’t believe that myself. But yeah, I know what you mean.

Megan Conklin: So yeah, it was a great program, and you have me here om the I Am A Mainframer and we all know that there’s this perception that the mainframe’s dead and I’m living proof that it’s not and that it’s a very exciting place to be. I’ve never left it.

Steven Dickens: So maybe let’s wind forward a little bit. You and I got to know each other when you were on one of those big accounts for IBM. You talked about the big accounts and the smaller accounts. Maybe wind us forward a few years and talk about what you were doing on some of those bigger accounts and what the day-to-day is, because we’ve not had a lot of sales people on this show. We’ve had a lot of practitioners. We’ve had a lot of people who do product management. So maybe give an insight into what the day-to-day is there.

Megan Conklin: Sure. I really thrive in that environment of being at the large enterprise accounts. I love that they welcomed IBM in and gave us an office space and I would badge in there every day. And you learn to become… In essence, you become part of their family. You become very trusted and it’s a great way to understand what’s going on, what the goals are. It’s different when you have a patch of smaller clients and you just go in for a meeting and then you leave or maybe you go to lunch.

I was doing breakfast and lunch, a full workday at these, the one you referenced, and ones prior too. And really for me, I really enjoyed that. In the particular case of what you’re talking about, this is going to bring us in. I’m going to bring us into what’s near and dear to my heart, which is LinuxONE, which is the enterprise Linux mainframe. And it is, to me, IBM’s best kept secret, and my job has been to make sure that I get that secret out there. I want the cat out of the bag big time, and so clients can go and take advantage of this incredible technology.

But while I was there, I would always go into meetings and find out, we talked about this yesterday when you and I were in a meeting. The meetings our clients have in their day-to-day, that drives my conversations with them. So if for me, if I was there every day, you could walk the halls and you could get pulled in and, “Oh Megan, what do you think about this?” Or you could see a couple people meeting for coffee and you could sit down and join the conversation. That was a great way for me to immerse myself in their culture and really understand what it is that was going on, what was in their heads, what are the projects that are at the forefront. Because of course, we go in and we have things we want to talk to them about, but we need to make sure our ears were always open and we’re listening to what is driving their conversations internally.

Steven Dickens: So we’ve got some shared history. You’ve mentioned LinuxONE. I think the person who did your job before did a pretty average job of it from what I hear, maybe doubled it in revenue maybe over a three year period. But all joking aside, tell us a little bit about what you do now. You’ve been in this role, what is it, a couple of years?

Megan Conklin: 20 months. 20 months, yep.

Steven Dickens: How many days and hours?

Megan Conklin: It’s only because I love it so much, and I really do love it so much. It’s a different job. Let’s call a spade a spade. It is a Linux only mainframe. So you either have your mainframe lovers or your mainframe haters and I have the Linux only version of the machine that you either love or you hate. And it does have a really… We say sweet spot a lot right in this industry. And there certainly is a sweet spot for this technology. And that is my goal, is to make sure that our clients see that and take advantage of it.

So when I started this job, this role, and my predecessor did do a phenomenal job in this role and set me up with a great opportunity to take forward into the future, and it was a wonderful thing to be trusted with that, because I understood the gravity of what I was taking on. And also the fight you have to have, because you really, and whether you’re on the mainframe side of the house or you’re on the LinuxONE side of the house, we do still have a fight on our hands, because we are a mainframe, and the mainframe’s dead and the mainframe is not innovating and it’s not cool and it’s not all these things.

And part of my challenge is to get clients to understand that we have been innovating all along, just like they have. They have the cornerstones of their technology, or of their business, rather, some of these companies. And that stays tried and true to who they are. We don’t ask them to not take what is that cornerstone and abandon it because it’s not cool anymore. It’s trusted. It’s what we look for. We look for them to have advancements in what they bring to the table to match the world today. But we do look for that tried and true characteristic of a company. And I would say, in the infrastructure business, IBM mainframe is exactly the same.

So here in this role, I got to do something that I’ve never done before from this side of the table table, which is be part of a product launch, and holy crap, that’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of work doing a product launch, and I had no idea what I was in for. And my manager said to me, “This year is going to be a lot of work.” And I had no idea what that entailed. And we did something really new. I worked with the best product management team in the world and we got together and we talked about sustainability and how that was driving a lot of the conversations and the job that I was in before that where you and I crossed paths, sustainability was really starting to resonate, and we could start to see the tie turning where this idea of green IT was becoming more of a have to have instead of a nice to have.

So when everything came time to decide, okay, what is our lead value prop for LinuxONE, and now we were announcing after IBM announced z16 and as you know, AI was our lead value prop, and for good reason, the teleprocessor, all the advancements we’re making around AI and how that’s just an emerging technology that we all need to make sure we’re on the up and up with. We decided to do something a bit different and lead with sustainability, because we weren’t going after a marketing campaign. We had real clients that had real proof points that were showing that data center energy consumption is a big factor when you are evaluating your carbon footprint. So we said, “Okay, let’s lean into this really heavy. Let’s take this forward because this server sprawl is out of control.” And little sidebar here, my favorite IBM commercial of all time is the heist. Do you remember that?

Steven Dickens: I don’t remember it. I spent three years campaigning for IBM to reshoot it. I’m with you. That is a fantastic-

Megan Conklin: It was one of the best things they ever did.

Steven Dickens: So just diving in here, Google it, we’ll get it in the show notes, the heist on YouTube. Literally, IBM needs to remake it. I can say this independently now cause it don’t work for IBM. IBM marketing, remake that video. It is hilariously funny, still on message and fits perfectly for the LinuxONE value prop.

Megan Conklin: Perfectly, perfectly. I said the same thing, we should have the heist 2.0. And that really, in a sense, that just sums up where we are. The server sprawl’s out of control. Energy is very expensive. We have a global energy crisis. We have net zero emission goals from almost every business around the world, and as they evaluate their entire enterprise, we know data center energy consumption is an area we can play in and give an immediate result back that’s tangible. And because the technology’s so phenomenal, because even though it’s Linux, it is still a mainframe. It’s got the guts.

I do believe it was one of the… It was a podcast after we had the announcement that you guys did and it said it was all the guts of a mainframe, the LinuxONE server, it has all the guts but it’s Linux only. And I listened to that and I looked at somebody next to me and I said, “Ah, you got to trust your gut.” You got to trust your gut, and we trust the mainframe. It is trusted. That is one of the words I will say forever that describes this platform is that it’s trusted. So you can take this trusted platform and you can put all this new workload on it. You can have improved performances, lower your software costs, all this good stuff. The most important thing is that you’re going to lower your data center energy consumption. That’s less CO2 emissions out there. That’s shrinking a carbon footprint. And that’s a story that resonates everywhere.

And for me when I do this job, I have three children, you have three children, and you know as well as I do, you have a 19 year old, I have an almost 16 year old. This is a generation that cares. They absolutely care. They are aware. They want to know who you’re working for, where you’re buying your clothes from. Fast fashion. I proof some of my daughter’s essays and so much of it is about this. This is a generation that really cares. And I love that, and I love that IBM is at the forefront. I love that this technology is there, and if we do our jobs right, Steven, our kids, they’re going to want to work for these companies. They’re going to take those beautiful brains and they’re going to want to go and go to task with us and all of our clients.

That’s the end goal. If we can do that, then we’re doing something right. So it is humbling to be in this position and it’s exciting because I really do, remember I said, I used to, in my own way, I was going to change the world, and that’s what I feel like we are doing. We’re making a real impact with technology. And sometimes, people think it’s hokey when you do a hashtag of tech for good, but that’s a real part of this world right now. It’s the world we’re living in and we can’t ignore that anymore. We can’t, because if you ignore that, you’re going to ignore all the talent that is sitting in that pool of tech for good.

Steven Dickens: So you talked about how the sustainability message is resonating with clients. I’ve maybe got a bit of an inside track from some of the briefings that IBM gives me of the success that you’ve been on over the last, well, the LinuxONE brand’s been on over the last five years, but maybe you can speak to the last 20 months. What’s been that success and how’s that LinuxONE Emperor 4 message resonated with the market?

Megan Conklin: Someone asked the question yesterday, “Do clients ask you about LinuxONE more or do you have to go tell them about LinuxONE more?” And I would say prior to this launch, we were bringing it up more. The tie back to sustainability is making it something that comes into conversations often. And I think that’s interesting on that side of the house to see how often it’s now starting to come up. But it’s a testament to how important this topic is to them. And it’s, “Okay, that’s something that IBM has thrown up, attached to it. I want to know more about it.” So that’s going to help us with the topic.

But yes, last year, and this is nothing against my predecessors because they were amazing, they teed it up for me. It was the best year the brand has ever had since its inception. And we had a lot of FIE’s, which we call first in enterprise clients come onto the platform, which, that’s telling. That’s really telling to me. And the growth we saw, 64% year on year growth, that’s growth. That’s new growth. That’s existing clients. That’s new clients. That’s, oh, my gosh, we’re resonating. That’s not just one quarter. That’s over fourth quarters, and we were coming off of a real high from the year before and the work all of my predecessors did do.

So we’re seeing it resonate. We’re seeing it as a place for our install base Z clients that they want to expand upon, because you can still put IFL’s onto your mainframe and still have this sustainability story. It’s not an either or. You can have both. So of course, we have our clients that are going all in on the consolidation of x86 and they’re buying LinuxONE’s and that’s fantastic, and leaps and bounds is what they’re doing as far as their carbon footprint reduction is concerned. But certainly there’s a space here for everyone, and that’s our goal. Our goal is to find the sweet spot for you. I never go into a client and say, “LinuxONE’s going to solve all your problems,” because that’s just a big fat lie. But where it makes sense, it can certainly really help out our clients. And you know as well as I do, that sweet spot, when you find it with this platform and your workload, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.

Steven Dickens: So Megan, to start to bring this home here, a couple of questions that I always ask, and I think you’re going to have a fantastic perspective on this, especially as you see so many of those new and innovative clients bringing Linux to the platform. The first question. You get to have a crystal ball, the mist’s clear and you get to look at this crystal ball. Where do you see this platform? Maybe answer that from a LinuxONE perspective, ’cause I always ask people the mainframe perspective. Where do you see from a Linux perspective, this platform going over the next five years?

Megan Conklin: That’s such a good question. It’s a tough one-

Steven Dickens: I get to ask all the good questions. That’s what they pay me for.

Megan Conklin: Well, because honestly five years ago, I didn’t really know if I would be sitting in this seat, so it’s a tough one. But I think if we do it right, right now we are full steam ahead into this hybrid cloud world. We were all cloud first and now we’re taking a step back and IBM’s making some bold statements about how we are your leader. And I do believe that IBM is the leader in the hybrid cloud world. So if I look at the hybrid cloud strategy, the backbone of it in five years will be IBM and the heartbeat will be LinuxONE and System Z, 100%. In five years. If we do it right now and we help our clients build their strategy with IBM, their backbone of hybrid cloud will be Big Blue and the heartbeat will be our platform.

Steven Dickens: What a great sentence. Did you practice that? Did you prepare that and write that down, Megan?

Megan Conklin: Not.

Steven Dickens: I think that’s the soundbite right there.

Megan Conklin: I did not, but that’s my hope, if we get it right, and you know when you say, “If we get it right,” there’s a lot that has to go into it. But I believe, I truly believe IBM has the potential to do it.

Steven Dickens: So final question, and I ask this of all the guests, and I think given your career arc and your story, I think you get to go back to that time when you were just finishing graduating. I won’t embarrass you by saying how many years again, but you go back to 22 year old Megan, what advice would you give? You got the benefit of these years of experience now. What advice would you say to your 22 year old self?

Megan Conklin: Trust your instincts. As exciting as it is to be young and be in the space, you can’t help at times but feel, intimidated is not the right word, but you are around a lot of people that have been in the business for a really long time. That’s just a fact about the System Z business within IBM, whether it’s on the hardware, software, product management. These are people that believe so deeply in it. To me, it can be a very good thing, but when you’re a young person coming in, you have to understand you have value and you have instincts. Trust the instincts and challenge us. That’s what makes us all collectively better.

I had an intern on my team last year and she was phenomenal. She really brought a new perspective that I needed to hear. And get this, Steven, she’s at Wake Forest is studying sustainability. That’s her major. That’s her major. And to hear what universities are doing around this is just incredible. So I love that we have that. But anyone coming in now and my 22 year old self, trust your instincts. Don’t be intimidated by people that have been in this field for a long time. We need to rely upon the 22-year-olds to come in and challenge our thinking, because that’s what makes us better, so trust your instincts.

Steven Dickens: Love that. Well Megan, this has been fantastic, really great to get you on the show. Really great to spend a couple of meetings with you this week. You’ve been listening to the I Am A Mainframer podcast, please click and subscribe. If you like this, give us a thumbs up and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much for listening.

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