In this episode of the “I Am a Mainframer” podcast, host Steven Dickens is joined by Meral Temel, Mainframe Platform Leader for JFORCE. Meral has been in the mainframe industry for more than 20 years, starting as a mainframe system programmer and becoming the Director of Systems in the largest private banks in Turkey. She is currently the Mainframe Platform Leader at JForce, a leading technology and software development firm focused on client-centric digital transformation.
During this in-depth conversation, Steven and Meral explore her mainframe career journey, and how she supports and gives back to the mainframe by volunteering as a project manager for SHARE, teaching mainframe courses in universities, mentoring next-generation talent, and speaking at global mainframe events. Meral is well-known in the industry and passionate about technology trends that help organizations get the most value from IT and the mainframe. This is a conversation you’re sure to enjoy!
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. My name is Steven Dickens and I’m with you today on the I Am A Mainframer podcast. We’ve got a fantastic guest in store. Hello Meral, welcome to the show.
Meral Temel: Hi. How are you, Steve? It’s really nice to be with you in this series. Thank you. How are you doing?
Steven Dickens: Yeah, I’m very good. Great to get you on the show. We’ve been talking over the last few months. I think the listeners are going to be really interested to hear about you as a guest on the show, understand a little bit about your background. You’ve got a fantastic story, I think, to tell. So without more of ado, tell us a little bit about you and introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers here.
Meral Temel: Mm-hmm. Thank you so much. So some of you might know about me, but let me start from the beginning. I have been in the mainframe market for more than 25 years. I graduated from computer engineering department of one of the universities in Istanbul, and I graduated that second best honor through the whole university faculty and department. I was a hardworking person in university during those times, and I got my first job as an assistant programmer, VSE assistant programmer, from one of the big banks in Turkey before I was even graduated from the university, so it was nice to have that offer. And then, I didn’t know what the system programmers are doing actually, I didn’t know actually what the market is doing, although I had my preparation in IBM and Netas, one of the biggest engineering companies in Turkey. So, I started working as VSE system programmer and I was lucky that I was dealing with the operating system, network, CICS, we were doing everything, everything related to system administration. So, it was really transform me into…
Steven Dickens: That sounds like a great first job. Come straight out of college, straight into a VSE system programmer. That’s straight in at the deep end, there’s no hiding there.
Meral Temel: Yes, I was very lucky. I was lucky within the team also and within the job that I got, because I had a chance to do network stuff, operating system stuff, CICS stuff, I deal with everything, so it gave me a lot. And then the two big banks merged and then we became the employee of another biggest banks’ IT department, and I worked there for nearly 15 years. And they had this UAce operating system, and during that time we were also dealing with storage, operating system, and only network was distributed, and security was also distributed. And I worked there, I deal with lots of big projects there, the first PPRC command implementation, several first of a kind projects I had to deal with. And then I became the director and manager of the team in İşbank, and I built the team from scratch. And my team was responsible from ZEOS core, storage, network and security. So, I had a chance to deal with network and security again. So, it was everything separated and then everything again other than database and applications.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic. It sounds like straight in out of college into VSE. Pretty soon after that the two banks merge and you are thrown in to do ZOES. It’s networking, it’s security, it’s CICS, it’s system programming. Fantastic first 15, 16 years of your career, what was your reaction coming to the mainframe platform straight out of college? Had you played with the mainframe, been involved in the mainframe in college or was the platform new to you?
Meral Temel: Yeah, it was a story that I shared with my students in universities. By the way, I taught mainframe lessons for four years in Turkey, in two universities under the IBM Academic Initiative. I did IBM Academic Initiative Program, and they were getting teachers from the real market, the system programmers. I was lucky that they have chosen me to be the teacher in universities and I taught for two years, mainframe lessons. It was credit lessons, so it was a nice to have lesson, it was a great credit lesson.
Steven Dickens: Did you have that experience when you were in college or was the mainframe new for you in the workplace?
Meral Temel: No. Yeah, after the work I got the chance to do it. I graduated from university, I worked for nearly 10 years and then IBM come up with this program and as a client system programmer, I went to universities to teach mainframe lessons. So, because we didn’t have the teach license, there was a real professor, but we were teaching the lessons and then we were giving the exams and reading the exam notes and those kind of things. And the nice part is, several of the students that I had were later on, my colleagues, they became my colleagues in the system workplace.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic.
Meral Temel: So, it was really nice to have that feeling. Also, some of them are right now managers in mainframe departments in Turkey, in several banks.
Steven Dickens: There’s a lot of discussion around skills in the mainframe space, it’s a continual thread. It’s probably one of the hot topics, certainly in the discussion around modernization. I think you’ve got a unique experience there, you’ve come through university, you’ve come straight into the mainframe space, later in your career you’ve taught mainframe in university. We’ve not had that many people on the show, we’ve had Cameron Seay on the show in the past, there’s others in the academic community that we need to get on the show. I’m really interested to understand what students think about the mainframe when they’re being exposed to it for the first time. So, maybe give some of your experience of what the reaction is.
Meral Temel: Yes, I am very grateful, I understand the question. I’m very glad that I had a chance to see the both client, customer environment, what the management is struggling with. As a manager, I had the management skills for 10 years, also as a managing the mainframe platform, as a system programmer, I had the experience. As also in universities, I see the view of the new students. And I was also experiencing, first of all, while I started this job, as I mentioned, I got the offer because I was working hard, but I didn’t know anything what the system programmers are doing, at all. So, during this time when I was graduated, it was 1996 by the way, during that time, people are all interested in network system administration, it was very popular during that time and they were also, lots of them are interested in programming. And then when I went to the universities, as you can imagine, let me say from this perspective, while you are in the market, mainframe market date, you would think that everyone knows, hears about the mainframe, but it is not the case.
In universities, several people, students are interested in game writing application and right now the popular things are clouds and other stuff or security, right now they’re interested in. They never heard about the mainframe platform, which is the thing that I experienced myself also. And I told them like this, did you ever hear about the advertisement from the yacht or the big luxury boats? You didn’t hear about them, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, it doesn’t mean that they are not popular actually. So, there are lots of honorariums in the universities and we tried to solve this issue with IBM and all the volunteers at SHARE especially, we had lots of conversations in the closed door meetings about this, what can be done? I mean there were books that is not mentioning about the mainframe platform. So, IBM did lots of things, programs and other stuff, but it is still not enough.
The customers should definitely try to do themself also. The first thing is, the students doesn’t know, but that student also doesn’t know about what to do, they need the guide in general. The first thing is, okay, they don’t hear about it, but it is not the situation that is the real problem, the real issue is the organizations giving importance to the mainframe platform department. As I realized, especially myself also, because I interviewed myself, personally, my three people in my previous department also. And I had eight people there and I worked with several new students in several other clients. When you see a new student, if it is from the computer engineering and electric engineering, you have no problem of having that person understand the importance of mainframe platform.
So, the issue is not actually having the one person going to the mainframe platform as working, but the important comes in the organization’s value to the mainframe platform. So, because the students are brand new, they can hardly know what to do, and the ones that they know, if they heard about mainframe, they like to, voluntarily they want to be working on this platform. So, in other words, you can fill in the gaps of unawareness very easily with the new people. The problem is, the real issue is, the organizations, the executives, the top executives, organizations view to the mainframe platform, in general. So, some of them, when they see not important or giving importance not, assume there’s an executive and saying that, “Oh the future is the cloud, the future is the cloud.” You can hardly get someone to continue working on the mainframe platform.
So, the issue… And the other thing is, in other words, in general, in summary, the hardest part is not to get the new people to work in the mainframe, it is something, okay, it is kind of a challenge, but the most important thing is to show the value of the mainframe for organizations, inside the organization. That way they were motivated more because I believe that as a manager and as a system programmer, it is the self-motivation that makes the people success.
Steven Dickens: I would agree with that. I would agree with that.
Meral Temel: With payment, it is some part, but if you have an assistant programmer that inside knows that it works for himself, herself to make the things better, you don’t need to guide them a lot to get successful.
Steven Dickens: I understand. I think it’s really interesting the way that… I think from all of the experience, and we’ve had some students on the show here, from all my experiences, if you expose the mainframe platform to these students early in their career in a positive way, they look at it through fresh eyes, they look at it through the lens of, this is technology, I’m interested in technology, I want to understand, I’m curious. There’s an inherent curiosity I think in students, maybe. We’ve had students on, we had one of the guys on, Enzo, who’s built a mainframe from a Z114, in his garage, he’s still in high school. So, I think some of these students are really curious, but as you correctly say, I think you’ve got to show that path to, this is a strategic area, this is something that you’re going to be able to build an interesting career off.
And I think obviously you’ve been involved in the academic initiative, IBM’s got a role to play there. I know Broadcom is doing some really good work with their Vitality Program, and many, many others are. But I think it’s on the whole community, and I think you hit on a really interesting point that it’s as much the companies that have got mainframes as it is the vendors. So, let’s wind forward a little bit, you’ve talked about your early career on VSC, you’ve talked about the work you did as the banks merged and you built ZEOS teams, maybe talk us through the next part of that journey. I think we jumped ahead a little bit to the university piece, but maybe fill in that gap. It’s 15 years into your career now, you are at this bank, tell me a little bit about that time in your career.
Meral Temel: So, one of the things I was so interested in was implementing the new stuff, new things, new technologies. I was really interested in that. I also was so lucky that I have some mentors from US IBM, some big people, Bob Rogers and all other… I had a chance to meet with Bernie Pierce while I was writing a Redbook. I spent my one and a half month in Poughkeepsie, and during that time I had a chance to meet with Bernie Pierce and I had a chance to meet with some other experts also, and Elpida, she became my good friend of mine, and some others, Martin and all other people. So, during that time I realized that, while talking, I mean I didn’t do this network just to network, but I was so interested, very, very passionate about learning the internal software operating system, storage journal, other subjects.
I was so interested, I was looking at some of the potential also, during those times. I was reading Redbooks also. So, the curiosity and the focus on getting knowledge makes me become a little bit more successful and then I continue to learn more while asking also. And also while teaching, I learned a little bit more, because if you are being asked questions, you’ll learn more to deep into details. I had a chance to also have the first new technology implementations. And also I had a chance to how to become successful with yourself being the teacher of yourself. While I started teaching this to my students and also my team, because whether you are working in mainframe platform, in other platform, there is, I believe that there’s a path of being successful. So, there is a path, there are also methods to do what you do in a successful way.
I mean I’m not talking about being respected, I’m not talking about… It is the real success, how to do things successfully. And also for example, how to gain 15 years of experience, although you are working actually 10 years period of time. So, it’s not the years that makes you knowledgeable, it is how you spend your years. And I really see also that in the projects there are two new guys, they both work in the same project, but one of them is much better than the other because he knows where to look, how to look and how to gain the knowledge. So, I try to use this.
Steven Dickens: So, Meral, let’s wind forward all the way to today. Tell us a little about the role you’re doing today. I think you’ve got one of these fantastic backgrounds, you’ve been in academia, you’ve been involved in the operations of one of the big banks, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing today.
Meral Temel: Right now I’m guiding the consultancy in one of the partners of IBM in Turkey. So, one of the nice things that makes me really happy is, Steve, when you ask questions to IT people, there is always one item that makes them really happy, selling a product or improving the systems or learning new things. I was really happy that both implementing, improving the systems and also learning new things and also showing the new. It is also important to learn how to see the effect of the new things, that makes me start working on performance management more. And I’ve been leading the MES Performance Project at SHARE for nearly 10 years. 10 years ago I started, actually 15 years ago, I started digging onto performance knowledge, which actually makes me learn more, improve more.
And during that time I was mostly dealing with the performance analysis, deep into details, and knowledge and other stuff. And it makes me really happy that I have a chance to implement projects with my team also, like data center migration, implementing new items and new stuff and also I had the chance to measure the benefit. One of the important gaps in our market is also implementing the features functions.
There are lots of things that hasn’t been implemented yet, it makes me sad because I believe that, I know that how my IBM friends or my other vendors, there’s not only IBM, other vendors, friends, work hard to implement the new feature. And as a client and as a customer, we need to implement them so that we can get benefit in the market.
So, during that time I was very happy to implement, improve the systems, improve items. Then right now I have a chance to effect not only one client but many clients because I’m working in the partner underside. So, right now I’m doing consultancy and trying to help the companies that are having mainframe platform and I’m very happy to do that job also.
Steven Dickens: So, as we start to think about wrapping up here, there’s some really interesting things in what you said. I think maybe you are too modest, but I think why you are sought out and why your experiences is sought out, is because you’ve been on the forefront of looking at new technology. You talked about your work you do with SHARE, you talk about the work you do now advising clients about adopting new technology. I always ask this question and I think with your background you’ve got a fantastic perspective to answer it, where do you see the mainframe platform, maybe not next year, but three, five years out, where do you see the platform evolving to?
Meral Temel: So, it really depends on how the vendors and the customer executives and also the customer system programmers will focus on, it really depends on. But right now I see that with the new System z announcement, because IBMz is our infrastructure. If there’s no infrastructure, there will be no softwares on top of it. There are lots of vendors around, so IBM is doing good. There are other product companies out there doing good, Broadcom and other companies. So, some of the companies work together hard to help the mainframe platform known by more people. But right now, the most important part is we need to guide the clients to implement new features functions, that is actually, some of them are really old. So, there are customers who doesn’t implement the features functions, although they bought the new System z hardware or software. So, we need to guide them, help them as a market, IT market also.
So, some mainframe customers are, I mean, IBMz’s with z16, it is great. So, in the few years there will be implementing phase of the System z parts and also some software upgrades. And mainframe platform is as I see, and also some other vendor executives are seen that way, it is much more active than any other year previously. So, it will be going forward, but the most important problem is the unaware and misconception throughout the mainframe market. So, there are organizations that work hard, there are vendors that work hard to solve this issue. But for example, one year ago everyone was saying, “Public cloud. Public cloud.” And now people start to say, “Oh, this hybrid cloud is the solution.” I mean, “Public cloud is not the answer to everything.” So, there are fancy popular things coming in and going, but finally they find the right way to solve the issues. If there is no big issue, if there is no big unawares and misconception in the future that will be created, I see that mainframe platform will gain much more attraction than any other year.
Steven Dickens: I would agree. I would agree.
Meral Temel: Yeah. Because people see… Yeah, oh go ahead.
Steven Dickens: So, as we start to wrap up here Meral, I mean this has been a fantastic conversation, you’ve got a really interesting perspective. You’ve built a fantastic career over the years here. One question I always ask, and I’m always interested to ask this question, and I’m particularly interested to ask you, you have the opportunity to go back, there’s a time machine in this podcast. You have the opportunity to go back and give some advice to yourself as you are leaving college, what would that advice be?
Meral Temel: I think it would be, find a way to attract more people about mainframe platform, that would be my advice. I mean, I would be telling to young Meral that I would start writing articles, start being volunteering earlier. I mean, I started being volunteer at 2010. I was doing presentations, but it was only, I mean, few conferences and I did write the Redbook. I would be saying, Meral, to find a way to write more Redbooks, find a way… Write a blog and start writing your own stuff too.
Steven Dickens: I think that’s great advice. That’s probably the advice I would’ve given to myself actually, so it’s fantastic that you say that. Meral, this has been a fantastic conversation, I know we’ve been talking about getting this on the calendar for a while. I’ve really enjoyed chatting. I’ve enjoyed our conversations out there on LinkedIn and your support there. So, really appreciate you coming on the show. So, thank you very much for joining us here.
Meral Temel: Thank you so much, Steve. It was really nice to chat with you also. Thank you.
Steven Dickens: Fantastic. Well, you’ve been listening to the I Am A Mainframer podcast. If you like what you hear, please click and subscribe and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much.
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