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I Am A Mainframer | Podcast

I am a Mainframer: Donna Hudi

By | January 17, 2024

In this month’s episode of the “I am a Mainframer” podcast, hosted by Steven Dickens of The Futurum Group, guest Donna Hudi, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Business Development at Phoenix Software, shares her career journey and insights into the mainframe industry.

Donna discusses her background in enterprise tech, her transition to the mainframe world, and her experience as the Executive Director of SHARE, a nonprofit organization focused on mainframe technology. She emphasizes the sense of community within the mainframe industry and the importance of making connections and seeking guidance from experienced professionals. Donna also discusses the role of open source in the future of the mainframe, highlighting the growth of collaboration and DevOps practices.

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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: Hello and welcome to another episode of the I’m a Mainframer podcast. I’m your host, Steven Dickens, and today I’m joined by Donna Hudi from Phoenix Software. Hey Donna, welcome to the show.

Donna Hudi: Nice to meet you, Steven, and thank you for having me.

Steven Dickens: So let’s get the listeners and the viewers orientated. Dive straight in. Tell us a little bit about what you do for Phoenix and your role.

Donna Hudi: Absolutely. So I’ve been with Phoenix Software for about five years, and I’m their Chief Marketing Officer and head of business development there. So I interact with a lot of customers and prospects as well as the technical staff within Phoenix Software.

Steven Dickens: So Donna, we were talking a little bit off camera. It sounds like you are considering yourself relatively new to the mainframe. We were talking off camera, and I’d love to hear how you started your career in enterprise tech when you were still in kindergarten. So maybe let’s start there because you’ve got a fantastic history from some of the conversation we were having, and I still can’t believe that you started so young, so maybe just get us going.

Donna Hudi: Absolutely. So I started off almost 30 years ago as a developer on the distributed side working in the financial industry in Chicago. And I was there until about 2013, 2014 when I got my last kid into college and I decided I didn’t want to be supporting traders trading in Japan at 2:00 AM and having my phone ring and having to get up and figure out how to fix a problem. And so I decided to try something different. And when I decided to do that, I somehow managed to fall into the world of mainframes and I became SHARE’s Executive Director and not really knowing anything about mainframes, but learning very, very quickly that I was about this close to it the entire time I was in my previous life. If you understand the financial industry, the financial industry is divided between two sides of the street. They call it the two sides of Wall Street.

So there’s the buy side and there’s the sell side. The buy side of the street is all of your investment managers, people who manage other people’s money. And then the sell side of the street are your banks and your broker dealers. Well, the mainframes are employed by the banks and the broker dealers. So your JP Morgan Chases, your Merrill Lynch’s, all of those folks. I worked on the buy side of the street, so I worked for an investment management firm, a series of investment management firms that don’t employ the mainframes. So we use distributed systems over there. However, my job, particularly for the last 13 years of my run in that world, was supporting a global trading desk. And so I, myself and my team were responsible for everything from the point of order entry through settlement, which meant that I was dealing all day long with banks and broker dealers on the sell side of the street globally. And so when I came to SHARE and I started looking at SHARE’s membership, and I’m seeing the organizations that are members of SHARE and then I’m seeing the people within those organizations and I was like, oh my word, I know you. I know you, you, I’ve been talking to you for a decade. I had no idea that they were mainframe folks. So it was fun.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, and that’s what SHARE is like, right? It’s a great community. But maybe let’s sort of pause and double click a little on what were you actually doing as a developer? What was the daily life? Maybe give us a bit of a kind of story arc through that first period and then we’ll get onto the move to Phoenix and the move to SHARE and we’ll go there next.

Donna Hudi: Well, so I taught myself how to code. I didn’t go to college, so I have a high school degree. I fell into a position in the financial world in Chicago, and I got asked to join an IT project one time and it turned out I had a knack for it and I really liked it. And so with a baby in my arm and a bottle under my chin and another hand on the keyboard, I taught myself how to code.

Steven Dickens: What a great story.

Donna Hudi: My son, that baby is now an actual Software Architect, so hey,

Steven Dickens: He’s come…. He was watching obviously when he was under your arm, he was watching.

Donna Hudi: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I taught myself how to code and I did a lot of front end development at first. And then as I progressed and changed positions, I started doing a lot more backend development. So I’ve coded in things like visual basics, C++, C#, I’ve done a little bit of Java, some JavaScript. I’ve done a lot of SQL server work. When you’re supporting a trading system, a lot of those trading systems are obviously built on big databases, and so you have to be very comfortable with working with that data in the backend and then also creating interfaces and third party pieces, if you will, that interface with your trading system. So I’ve done a lot of that, a lot of hands-on with that. I’ve also learned some proprietary stuff over the years, report writing languages, things like that.

Steven Dickens: You touched on it, but we’ll go back to it. You told us a little bit about how you bounce from that into the SHARE role. So maybe talk through that transition and what you ended up doing for SHARE and what you learned from that experience.

Donna Hudi: Yeah, it was kind of interesting. I had decided that it was time for me to change roles and do something different. I left my previous position and I was doing some consulting work to fill the gap and I got a phone call from someone who said, Hey, we have this really interesting position, it’s to be the Executive Director of this nonprofit organization. And to be honest with you, I had no idea that that whole world existed. And the person I’m speaking to said, oh, I think your skills will, they’ll cross over. And I’m like, okay, I’ll…

Steven Dickens: Take your word for it.

Donna Hudi: Well, no, I didn’t quite take their word for it, but one of the things about me that maybe we haven’t touched on a little bit was not only was I in IT, and did I know how to code and taught myself how to code, but I was also licensed on the business side. So I spent a lot of time on the business side and I understood how the business side of the financial industry worked. I actually had my series seven, my 63 and my 65, which made me a registered rep, which meant I could actually sit down at a trading desk and trade, and I was a registered investment advisor. I never actually performed those roles. I got those licenses so that I could understand the business, and it allowed me to be able to sit with, let’s say a bond trader or a stock trader and understand what they were saying to me and then turn around and take it back to the IT side and translate it. So I kind of straddled both sides, which meant that I had this kind of unique skillset that allowed me to understand the business and the technical and manage anything that fell in between the two. And so when someone said, your skillset, your unique skillset will cross over, it actually did. But it took me a little while to wrap my head around it and I had to do a lot of research to understand what this whole nonprofit world was and how that would work. And so when I got hired for the position, we were about six weeks from SHARE’s summer event of that year in 2014. And by the time I got there, I had been drinking from a fire hose essentially, and the staff was trying to keep me up to speed and I said, listen, you all know what you’re doing, just do what you do and I’m going to run behind you and try and keep up. And it worked out really well. I met a lot of….

Steven Dickens: All you can do is break things that close to an event. You can’t actually do anything to make it better.

Donna Hudi: Exactly. Just help me not break anything and we’ll be good. And it worked out really well. And I met a lot of amazing people and I had a great run at SHARE, essentially working with the board of directors, working with all of the volunteers, helping to run the organization on a day-to-day basis, as well as getting things together for the two main events that they do a year and any year round offerings they do. And it’s definitely a SHARE is a full-time job. It definitely is a full-time job.

Steven Dickens: It’s a vibrant community. I think people see the two events a year and they think that’s all it is. They don’t realize how many working groups and things that are going on throughout the year to not just put those shows on, but also just the work the community does just in general.

Donna Hudi: And it really is a community. Steven, I think that that’s really an important word when you’re talking about these folks in this world. It is a community. And I was recently at the IBM Tech exchange and I participated as part of the Open Mainframe Summit, one of their keynotes on diversity. And one of the things that I said during that was when I was in the distributed world, it’s not a community, it never felt like a community. But when I came to SHARE at that first event, that was the first thing that just kind of slapped me in the face was how much of a community this is and how welcoming and embracing it is. And I jokingly said that from day one when I started meeting people, they just really, they embraced me and sometimes literally embraced me.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I’ve had that on the floor at SHARE.

Donna Hudi: Exactly. And it was something, it was so different than what I was used to in the distributed world. It really is a vibrant community.

Steven Dickens: Well, I mean there’s a number of dynamics there for me. We did some work when I approached one of my crowning glories in my career is working with the Linux Foundation to set up the Open Mainframe Project when I was at IBM. So that’s why I’m still doing this podcast. I feel the need to continue to contribute to this project. But when we did some analysis and looked back, SHARE was the first place to be doing open source sharing tapes, sharing JCL, sharing Rexx back way before the open source movement as we know it today started, SHARE was, I mean it’s in the name, but sharing code, sharing scripts, sharing tapes, that was where the community started. But

Donna Hudi: Then, so SHARE is not an acronym, it’s what they do.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I And that kind of format’s baked into the DNA, but then you just look at, and the interesting thing for me at SHARE is when you’re doing the sort of booth drinks on one of the nights, the amount of people who are from competitive firms, and you must see this with Phoenix, they’re from firms, but they’re there chatting on a booth as if they’ve been friends and they have been friends for decades. The vendors move around the community, people who are sort of, you just don’t see that at any other tech event.

Donna Hudi: You really don’t. I mean, we have friends across the entire ISV community and I know that if I’m struggling with something or I have a customer or a prospect that I’m working with who says, we have this competitor product and we want to make sure that this still works when we do this and that kind of thing, all we have to do is reach out to our friends across that aisle and shoot ’em an email and say, Hey, we’re working on this. And everybody jumps on board. Everybody helps everybody else out. It really is a community all the way around.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, it’s very, very different to anything else. I think it’s the people have moved around that community, and I think for me, there’s just a shared ethos of this platform is so important to these customers that we need to figure it out. We can’t draw the battle lines and go to war. Ultimately, we’ve got to service these customers supporting the most mission critical applications in the world and the vendors figure it out.

Donna Hudi: Yes. So you mentioned that one of your crowning glories was Open Mainframe Project, right? Well, I was still at SHARE as SHARE’s Executive Director when the Open Mainframe project was formed. And I was still SHARE’s executive director when they launched Zowe.

Steven Dickens: I still remember that room where they launched Zowe. I remember having to bang heads with some of the vendors because they were saying, well, the roadmap’s going to be this. And I remember what I said to a room of probably a hundred people. I said to the three vendors who were sitting on the top table, I went, guys, you don’t own the roadmap for this. And there were kind of stunned silence in the room. And I went, all the people that are sitting in front of you own the roadmap for this. This is a community project.

Donna Hudi: Exactly.

Steven Dickens: And the room just kind of went quiet. And I think Rocket, IBM and Broadcom kind of went, ah, he’s right. This is going to be different. So I mean, the success of the Zowe Project has been just fantastic these last few years really, really done so well. What are we five years of that project now? And it’s huge.

Donna Hudi: Yeah, it’s five years. It’s huge. And I’m very proud of the fact that I was involved from a SHARE perspective when Zowe was launched and when it was announced. And then when I came to Phoenix Software, I was able to get Phoenix Software involved with membership in the Linux Foundation, the Open Mainframe project. I’m actually a member of the marketing committee for the Open Mainframe Project and have been for the last several years. And Phoenix Software was, we like to call it the first fourth when it comes to Zowe because we were the first non founding member of Zowe to have a Zowe interface.

Steven Dickens: Oh, fantastic. I didn’t know that.

Donna Hudi: Yes.

Steven Dickens: I didn’t know that. So maybe that’s a great pivot. Tell us a little bit about what you do at Phoenix and what your role means now that you are kind of their Chief Marketing Officer.

Donna Hudi: So obviously Chief Marketing Officer for a software development company, it is what it is. You’re running around telling people, tooting our horn and saying Phoenix Software we’re great and we are great. We have a lot of great customers. And I was once told that Phoenix Software was the industry’s best kept secret. If you knew us, you loved us. If you didn’t know us, you didn’t know us. And my goal was to change that. And I think that in change that in that I wanted everybody to know who we were. And I think I’ve done a fairly good job of that, of trying to broaden our reach and our profile. And that comes from things like being involved in the Open Mainframe project and being that first fourth with Zowe, those types of things. And then I’m also head of business development, which is sales. So I handle all of the relationship management with our customers as well as prospecting and that kind of thing.

But the two would tend to go hand in hand. Marketing and sales really are hand in hand. I do represent Phoenix Software within the Open Mainframe Project and the Linux Foundation. I’m part of, as I said a minute ago, the marketing committee for the Open Mainframe Project, which is a lot of fun. And right now we’re looking at how do we take the Open Mainframe Project and its messaging out to more the local user base, if you will, by getting involved with local user groups and regional user groups. And so we’re kind of working on something for that, and I am very excited to be involved in that. And all of that is great for the industry because I think it’s where it’s going. It’s great for the mainframe. It’s also great for Phoenix Software, so I’m kind of killing two birds with one stone, if you will.

Steven Dickens: A rising tide lifts all boats, I think is the phrase when, so Donna, we started to think about wrapping up here, fantastic career arc, really great experience getting your investment and trading licenses, being a front and backend developer, working in a nonprofit organization and now working for a software company in Phoenix. What would you say to yourself if you had the opportunity, I’m giving you the DeLorean space traveling time traveling machine, you get to go back and speak to yourself when you’re starting out on your career. What advice would you give? We’ve got a lot of younger listeners on the show, they’re trying to think, how do I navigate into this technology? Basically just what would you say to yourself? You’ve got the opportunity to go back.

Donna Hudi: If I had the opportunity to go back, even back then when I was in the distributed world, it would be work harder to make more connections with the people around you. That sense of community is really strong. And just because it doesn’t exist already doesn’t mean you can’t help create it or at least create your own community. And that is by reaching out and making those connections to people and finding those people where you can ask questions, people that you can reach out to when you’re struggling with something who can give you some guidance and give you some advice. I think that’s, pardon me, I think that’s the most important. And I’ve said that to young people when I was at SHARE who are coming in. Don’t be afraid to walk up to a group of mainframers who are standing there and just join in on the conversation and ask a question. No question is stupid. And I guarantee you that those people will welcome the opportunity to not only answer that question, but to bring you into the fold. And I think that that’s something that I wished I had done more of when I was younger and that I probably could have gotten a lot farther and learned a lot more quickly.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, makes perfect sense. Donna, the other question we always ask the guests, and I’m really interested to get your perspective, is obviously the mainframe’s got a storied history. We’re coming up on 60 years next year, but the platform’s still going. We are still seeing development. I was out with the IBM product management team just recently at a conference. They’re talking about the next three boxes they’ve got in development. But I’m interested to get your perspective of where do you see this platform maybe three, five years out? Where do you see the mainframe going from here?

Donna Hudi: I do think that open source is the key, right? So not just because I’m involved in the Open Mainframe Project, but I do see that evolution continuing, right? I see more and more customers who are, if they’re not already involved in open source, they’re looking at it. And so I do see the mainframe is going to maintain its critical place within the infrastructure, and it runs the world’s economy. That’s not going to change. It’s really not. And so what I see changing is I see more of that open source, more of that collaboration at that level. I see it going there. So a lot more of that DevOps, a lot more of that open source. I think that that’s where the growth is going to be and that’s where the change is going to come, and I’m excited about it.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I would agree. Well, Donna, that’s been a fantastic conversation. Really appreciate you coming on and spending your time with us and telling us a little bit about your story.

Donna Hudi: Thanks for having me.

Steven Dickens: So you’ve been listening to the I’m a Mainframer podcast. I’m your host, Steven Dickens. Please click and subscribe and do all those things to help the algorithm and we’ll see you on the next episode. 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.