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I am a Mainframer: Zareen Rydhan

By | June 14, 2023June 21st, 2023

On this episode of the “I Am a Mainframer” podcast, host Steven Dickens is joined by Zareen Rydhan, Software Development Engineer in Test II and Lead Test Automation Engineer with Rocket Software.

During their conversation, Steven and Zareen talk about the mainframe being the foundation of many of the world’s most critical applications and how, as the world becomes increasingly digital, the need for mainframes is only going to grow. Zareen emphasizes that what this means for developers if that if you want to be successful in the tech industry, you need to know how to develop for the mainframe.

Zareen also shares a few reasons developers should consider mainframe development: a high demand for mainframe developers with very competitive salaries, challenging and rewarding work, and long-term career security, with skills that will be in demand for years to come.

When asked for advice and tips for mainframe developers, Zareen shared:

  • Learn the basics. The first step to becoming a mainframe developer is to learn the basics of the platform. This includes COBOL, JCL, and the mainframe operating system.
  • Get involved in the community. There are a number of online and in-person communities for mainframe developers. These can be great resources for learning, networking, and getting help.
  • Stay up-to-date. The mainframe is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay current on the latest trends. You can do this by attending conferences, reading relevant blogs, and taking courses.

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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: My name’s Steven Dickens, and you’re joining us here on the I Am a Mainframer podcast. Looking forward to this episode. I’m joined by Zareen Rydhan from Rocket Software. Hey Zareen, welcome to the show.

Zareen Rydhan: Thanks for having me.

Steven Dickens: So, let’s just get the listeners and viewers here orientated. Tell us a little bit about what you do for Rocket Software.

Zareen Rydhan: Sure. I am a software developer engineer in test, and I lead our automation team.

Steven Dickens: Oh, fantastic. So the show is I Am a Mainframer. So tell us a little bit about your journey. Go back to the first time you got onto the platform, if you will. Tell us a little bit about that first experience working with the mainframe, and we’ll use that as a framework to go forward from there.

Zareen Rydhan: Sure. Actually, my only experience in the mainframe has been at Rocket. I was a software engineer before that, and I was looking for something new. And I got introduced to Rocket in the QA side, and they were looking to basically modernize, bring some automation into their testing. And so I came in with a team of a bunch of newbies, and we all try to push for that effort to modernize our testing platforms. And then that’s been our focus ever since.

I’m lucky enough that Rocket has been making a push towards modern technology and using more open source things that are available to younger people, I would say Millennials and Gen Z generation, things that we learn in school that maybe our seniors might not have. And so I’ve taken a lot of time, it was about four years ago when I joined Rocket, and I’ve taken a lot of time to help everyone on the team get familiar with Git, get familiar with automation, and so that’s kind of been my experience with the mainframe. Being on the QA side as well, I get to see what it’s like to be a database engineer, basically. So I get to use the product that we code in just like a customer would, and then I get to use my background and my perspective to be able to automate or modernize in any way that we can. So it’s been kind of fun.

Steven Dickens: It sounds it. Where did you come from before Rocket? Where were you before you came to the IBM mainframe?

Zareen Rydhan: I was in a startup in the biomed field.

Steven Dickens: Oh, okay.

Zareen Rydhan: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: So completely sort of jump from one to the other. So what were you doing for them?

Zareen Rydhan: I was also doing QA and automation.

Steven Dickens: Okay. So, you’re just bringing really that experience from non-mainframe and bringing that to the mainframe. I’m always interested when people come to this platform, relatively new on the platform. What was your experience when you first came to the 3270 screens? And I’m bringing it up because I kind of knew you would laugh.

Zareen Rydhan: Yeah. Yeah, it’s obviously very shocking, especially, I think, in Biomed, you are using the latest technology, and I’m from Silicon Valley, so I’ve been coding since I was in fifth grade. So to me, I didn’t know people still use the black and green screen. So when my boss now who interviewed me, he was explaining to me what we would be doing. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This isn’t what real people are doing.” And it’s real. So that was fun for me to be able to say, “I’m in the mainframe.” You only hear about it in movies, and who knows what that actually is and what that actually means.

And then when you get to use the product and get to be on the green screen almost every single day, you realize how useful and how every day it’s used and it’s kind of underneath all of this really cool stuff that we get to see in our phones and in our websites and stuff. You kind of make that connection that actually, these are all pointing to these databases and table spaces, and we’re just making changes constantly. And it was a fun learning curve for me.

Steven Dickens: I mean, it sounds like a fun learning curve. What were the negatives the first time on the platform? What were those kinds of friction points or things where it was, “Oh, I’ve got to learn this, I’ve got to dig in, I’ve got to learn new skills.” What were some of those kinds of key learnings that-

Zareen Rydhan: Yeah, I think maybe just the, I don’t want to say age discrepancy, but just the seniority discrepancy with the experience level for the people who were on my team who would essentially be training me. Their level was so far above mine that any kind of training, it just felt like maybe the first year or two, it just kind of felt like I really had to learn. I had to overcome a lot more than I would if I was to go to a software company that uses code that I understood from college. Right? So I think that discrepancy and seniority level, when so much and you’re doing this all the time, it’s hard to train someone and have that fresh mind.

Steven Dickens: So that’s the barrier. I’ve heard that before from other people, so that’s not surprising. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now. So you’re working on that QA team. Rocket’s got a fantastic portfolio of software. They brief me on a regular basis, so we get a lot of the younger listeners that listen to the show, people who are in college. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a college kid or two on the show a few months ago, we had a high schooler who’s put a mainframe in his basement. So there’s a real profile who listens to the show. So, I’m always interested in what does today look like, what you have been doing today, what does a typical day in life look like?

Zareen Rydhan: So, it depends on the day. My role, I have kind of a two-part role where one, I’m doing work in the framework for our automation, and then the other part is where I’m actually testing the product that we use. So, depending on our delivery schedule, if I have to test something that we’re delivering, then I will be doing functional testing inside the actual product itself. So that would involve Db2, SQL statements, and running some changes inside the actual mainframe itself. And then, I’ll find ways to be able to automate that in our Python framework.

So, I’ll be scripting some days, and then other days, like today, I will be heavily involved in adjusting the framework. So, because our framework is a little newer, we just built it three years ago. So I was involved in helping build up the framework for that. And so now that I’m leading that team, we’ve made some enhancements to the framework itself. So I even have my own Epics and Stories. If you’re familiar with the Agile process, then you’re working on those. And so it’s kind of my mini project, and I get to work in Jenkins and the Jenkins script on that. So kind of more aligned with what I would have learned in college and what I have done in the past in my previous jobs. So it really just depends on the day.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. So I mean, that’s really interesting, I think, not as different as maybe you would expect. Yes, the platform’s changed, but the fundamental discipline of QA and code development is pretty similar to what you were doing previously; that would’ve been, I’m assuming, on a cloud platform.

Zareen Rydhan: Right, exactly. Like CICD, the continuous integration the development that’s all translated into this product in the mainframe. You can benefit so much from having those same processes that you would have in a, I don’t want to say, a normal software company, but a typical software company, you would have that here as well. It all translates, and I think it took a couple of years for our team to get really into it. But I think now that we have, we’ve really enjoyed being able to say we’re fully agile and we’re continuously delivering.

Steven Dickens: And I think there’s a lot of rhetoric out there in the industry that sort of mainframes need to be modernized and that modernization translates as you’ve got to replatform and refactor to the cloud because new people can’t come onto the platform, you can’t train these people. It’s antiquated development processes. From our conversation today, I’m hearing almost exactly the opposite to that narrative. Is that how you would look at it?

Zareen Rydhan: Yeah, I think so. It definitely had to come with some perspective changes from especially our more senior engineers. But I think once you start to put it into practice and then you start to realize yes, people can be trained and actually enjoy doing it and then having just that openness of that open mind of being able to accept newer ideas and being able to attend conferences that have to do with the mainframe. I went to two share conferences last year, which was really fun for me. I got to speak, which was really great. And then I got to see what other companies were doing in the modernization front and as much as we hear, “Oh, we need to do it, we need to do it.” And you get the pushback, being able to have that open mind and seeing what you actually can do and see how it’s really translatable throughout any type of programming language. It’s really fun.

Steven Dickens: So it’s interesting, probably you weren’t working with COBOL previously. I mean, have you had to sort of get into COBOL and PR1 and some of those maybe more mainframe centric languages as part of your work?

Zareen Rydhan: Not for me. I maybe had to do update a Rex job and our product-

Steven Dickens: You don’t have to learn JCL?

Zareen Rydhan: I did. I do have to deal with JCLs a little bit. But again, just getting over that little learning curve, I think it’s all translatable. It’s just debugging in any other sense. You can look at a job, a JCL job and think of it in that way that you’re just debugging some code. It’s just a different language.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, the concepts are the same. Maybe the language is different, but you can quickly get your head around it and bring that same sort of development mindset to it. I mean, as I say, that’s not a narrative. We hear that much in the market, but it’s on some of these conversations where I have the opportunity to speak to people like yourself, I kind of pick that up so it’s reassuring to hear.

Zareen Rydhan: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: So, I think as we talk about the platform, I always ask a couple of questions towards the end of these discussions, and I’m always interested in the answers. They always come back with very different responses. So the first question is, you’ve got a fresh perspective on the mainframe. What do you see as the mainframe looking forward, going forward, maybe five years? So you get to get a crystal ball and look, the mist is clear; what do you see as the mainframe in, say, five years’ time?

Zareen Rydhan: Well, hopefully, it’s still something that I can work in because it’s been really fun learning about it. Definitely in more translation with the modernization that younger people are probably more familiar with. Personally, what I have seen in our product using Zowe and being able to use things in Db2 that we can create and actually translate into an API. That has been kind of fun to wrap my head around and also see how it can bring even more possibilities to what we can do in the mainframe as well—just having that API and having that UI just be a little bit more but also knowing the background of how it’s built in Db2, in COBOL and PL/I, just seeing that a little bit more translatable throughout more products.

Steven Dickens: So the second question I always ask, and again really interested in your perspective. You’re a little newer in your career, but you’ve obviously gained some hindsight and some experience. You get the opportunity to go back and speak to 22-year-old Zareen, she’s leaving college; what advice would you give? What would the hindsight that you’ve gained, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Zareen Rydhan: Definitely be sure of yourself, and don’t be afraid to speak up. Yeah, I think just coming from a woman’s perspective, and I graduated right after the first recession in 2008, so it was a little bit harder to look for jobs, and so I think just having that woman perspective of needing to minimize yourself in order to allow people to see you, that’s just never going to translate. It just doesn’t work. It’s kind of like an opposition in itself. So definitely stay sure of yourself, but also be willing to learn more from your seniors for sure.

Steven Dickens: Well, I mean, hopefully, this has given you a platform. I’m really, really fascinated by that answer. As a dad to four daughters, just about the oldest is sort of in college, in the second year of college. I think that’s some fantastic advice. I think I always bring that authentic self, and I think that’s always really great advice just for anybody, maybe through a female lens that I don’t obviously have, but I think it’s fascinating some of the comments there. Anything else you’d maybe think about that we’ve not talked about that I should ask you before we look to wrap up here?

Zareen Rydhan: I don’t think so. I mean, we talked a little bit about the perspective of coming into an industry where there are a lot more seniors than there are mid-level or beginners. And I just hope more and more teams and more and more senior mainframers will have the openness that I’ve seen in my own team—just that open mind to listen to new ideas and learn new things at any age. I hope I as well, am willing to learn things at any age.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I think that’s a great way for us to wrap here. I think being curious and looking to always sort of open yourself up to new ideas is a great way for us to start to think about wrapping up here. So we really appreciated the conversation. This has been fantastic. Thanks for joining us.

Zareen Rydhan: Thank you.

Steven Dickens: So, you’ve been listening to the I Am a Mainframer podcast. I’m your host, Steven Dickens. Please, if you like what you’ve heard today, please click and subscribe. We are always looking for people to give us the thumbs-up button on those various channels, and please share this with your network. We’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks very much for listening.

Announcer: Thank you for tuning in to I Am a Mainframer. Like 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 professional.