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Blog | I Am A Mainframer

I am a Mainframer – Rose Sakach

By | October 23, 2019

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Jeff Bisti sits down with Rose Sakach. Rose is a Product Manager at Broadcom.  Rose tells Jeff about her journey with the mainframe, ZOWE, and the future of the mainframe.


Jeff Bisti: Hi, my name is Jeff Bisti and I am the host of the I Am A Mainframer podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. The Open Mainframe Project is a Linux Foundation collaborative project that was put in place to promote the open-source and Linux adoption on top of the mainframe platform. I am joined today by Rose Sakach, a product manager at Broadcom. Looking through your bio here, I see you’ve kind of touched a little bit of everything – application development, operators, CIS prog, product administration, and consulting services. So first I want to thank you so much for coming on the show and I want to hear a little bit about what you’re doing at Broadcom today.

Rose Sakach: Hey Jeff, sure. I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m a product manager at Broadcom. I support mainframe dev ops and app dev products, and I have to say that my mainframe journey started decades ago in the early 80s when I was bitten by the developer bug in college. And the journey continues as my experience and expertise in the platform has enabled me to achieve professional and personal goals that I never thought possible.

Rose Sakach: And that kind of relates to what I do today. I never ever thought I’d play a role in setting vision and strategy for many of the products I used as a developer way back when. Product management for me, it’s a dream. For someone like me who has a passion to help solve customer problems with technology, that’s what we do, and there’s so much involved in it. There’s technical, there’s operational, there’s fundamental business knowledge that you need to know, and there’s a whole side of it that involves relationships and relationship skills.

Jeff Bisti: And you’ve seen it from all the angles it sounds like.

Rose Sakach: Yeah. I’ve had the good fortune to absolutely see it from all angles.

Jeff Bisti: So being a developer is what got you into it in general, and is that what brought you specifically to the mainframe, or just kind of introduced you to IT?

Rose Sakach: Yeah. Actually all things. I can give you a little bit of history on how I got into it.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah, please.

Rose Sakach: Okay. So I’m blessed to be the first person in my family to attend college and I struggled a bit when it came time to decide on a major. So the guiding principle at the time was to determine what could I study that would be in really high demand? Because I really needed to increase my probability to get a job when I graduated. I had a school loan I had to pay for.

Rose Sakach: But for me, in the mid-80s, the IT industry was really taking off and almost all of the companies out there were looking to build up their internal staff of programmers. Everybody had an IT staff at the time, and that, paired with the fact that I knew that there was a need for developers, it helped me make my decision to add computer science to my studies. Unfortunately, at the time, computer science wasn’t even a major, so I had to minor in computer science. I majored in math, but by the time I graduated, I graduated with a double major because, by the time I graduated, computer science was in fact offered as a major at school.

Jeff Bisti: Well, I was going to say-

Rose Sakach: Go ahead

Jeff Bisti: Some of the people that I work with here at IBM in Poughkeepsie, the time when they got into the industry, there was no CS degree, so a lot of them have interesting backgrounds in things like psychology and mathematics, and I think that kind of a breadth of experience and passions coming into it really gives us a varied landscape of people.

Rose Sakach: Yeah, absolutely. That was not uncommon for me, as well. I sat beside folks who majored in, as you said, things like psychology and chemistry. That wasn’t common at all, but the field was really booming at the time and there were a lot of people that were trying to make the transition to a career that they felt would give them the ability to really move forward.

Rose Sakach: And it was absolutely the case for me. When I started my first job at a local bank, they took us straight out of school. They hired groups of grads at a time and put us through accelerated courses, essentially leveraging what we learned in school and helping us to apply it to their landscapes so that we could become pretty effective pretty quickly. And needless to say, having a COBOL background and having the ability to program in COBOL was definitely a must back then, and it still is today. That’s one of the benefits of the mainframe.

Rose Sakach: But, if you recall, back then, there was, and I can tell you this now, that Y2K, I was actually one of the developers who could have contributed to a Y2K problem, not accounting for a four-digit year and some of my COBOL programs. But I actually helped to resolve it on the other side of that, as well. So I worked in IT as a systems programmer through the Y2K challenge.

Jeff Bisti: Oh, wow. And that always strikes me today when I see people writing things down with a two-digit a year thing. I’m like, “Put four digits just in case. We need to save the world 8,000 years from now.”

Rose Sakach: Yeah, yeah. There certainly was a lot of investment around the possibility of what could go wrong with accounting for the full four digits of the year back then, for sure.

Jeff Bisti: Coming from a programmer background that you do, how do you see things going into the modern dev ops mechanism paradigm that we’re going into today? Where programming used to be, you open up the dataset, you make your edits, and then physically move the file, maybe. And today there’s a whole development pipeline. You get all sorts of people involved. How do you see that changing today?

Rose Sakach: Yeah, it’s interesting. We have a whole wave of young engineers coming on board at Broadcom and the manner in which they approached their job is completely different than the manner in which I had approached my job when started I decades ago. And it really is all about finding ways to do something automatically as opposed to manually, they have access to a whole array of open-source products and tooling that I did not have access to.

Rose Sakach:  When I started my job in the financial industry, we had a specific set of approved tooling that we could use, and that was the only tooling we could use. In fact, if you wanted to use something else, you had to have it approved through special process and procurement.

Rose Sakach: Today, engineers and developers have the ability to access, like I said, anything in the open-source world, and it’s all about automating not so much the coding part of it, but testing and deployment and promoting all the way up to production is very much an automated process, and it’s very much a build it according to what’s most comfortable to you so that you can be most efficient and effective. So I think, in a sense, the IT world has turned itself more towards ensuring that developers and engineers are very comfortable and competent in their environment.

Jeff Bisti: And I’ve seen a lot of news lately about how Broadcom is getting involved with the Zowe Project, and that’s obviously a big collaborative effort. Have you been personally involved with that at all?

Rose Sakach:  I have, more recently. I was not involved when Zowe was first introduced in August of 2018, obviously, I was involved because I was a part of Broadcom, and Broadcom is one of the primary contributors to several of the components associated with Zowe.

Rose Sakach: Now, I’m very proud and happy to say that I product manage the Zowe CLI component. But I have to say that when Zowe was announced and the announcement happened at one of the very large mainframe conferences called SHARE, I was never more elated or more proud to be a mainframer.

Rose Sakach: This is, in my opinion, a very historical time for anyone in the mainframe. We’re at this crossroads where we’re turning over the reins of the mainframe to a new generation of mainframers and, at the same time, we’re sort of changing the paradigm on how people perceive the mainframe because it’s sort of been known as a very closed and somewhat ambiguous platform. Now, with Zowe, we’re opening it up and, essentially, any vendor, any person, anyone interested in contributing to this framework can do so and can be a mainframer.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah. And what’s kind of interesting is that the people that are joining on as new mainframers right now, they have so many more options for what areas they’re going to get into, what they’re going to excel in, where they’re going to make the deep part of their broad T experience, and they’re going to be learning it in a way that’s fundamentally different than previous generations have. And like you said, the collaboration model and the tools available are completely different. So it’s such an important time right now because this all has to work.

Rose Sakach: Absolutely does. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t. I think that’s really a fundamental benefit that Zowe brings to the mainframe world. In the past, as I said, many of us were restricted to using tools that were approved and tools that were unique, if you will, to the platform. Zowe, that paradigm, opens it up and gives folks the ability to use tools that they’re familiar with, tools that they’re comfortable with, and bring it to the mainframe.

Jeff Bisti: Now, I’ve heard a lot of people like to focus on the GUI aspects of Zowe, but you mentioned that you work on the CLI aspect of it. Can you talk a little bit about that, as well?

Rose Sakach: Yeah. So command-line interface, right?

Jeff Bisti: Mm-hmm.

Rose Sakach: Initially, when we started introducing and interacting with customers to obtain their feedback on the command line interface, traditional mainframers, folks that have been working with mainframe for most of their lives, would look at that and be somewhat confused over why would a mainframe person want to go back to using what people refer to as a DOS prompt when they’re interacting with the mainframe when we have a UI that we’ve been using called ISPF for years?

Rose Sakach: And from that angle, it made sense, but what they weren’t realizing and what they didn’t understand is that the power behind a command-line interface is the ability to utilize it in the form of scripts that can be translated into automation on any level of interaction and activity within the mainframe. And as they became more and more aware of that capability, the mindset started to shift.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah. Especially if you go into a room full of programmers, you’re going to see a bunch of monitors filled with a bunch of text and that’s kind of the way that a lot of the mainframe programmers like it, too. That’s just the easiest, fastest, most clear way of getting information. So the idea of being able to treat the mainframe platform as an object-oriented environment, it just makes sense. And the most compelling demos I’ve seen have been based around just those raw features and power that you get from that. So it’s great to hear about that.

Jeff Bisti:  There’s a lot of people who think that the mainframe is has been static and it’s their fault for not really paying attention. The mainframe is just constantly evolving and the big winners in the mainframe world are going to be the ones that identify and latch on to those areas where things are evolving the fastest. What is your insight on what people should be paying attention to right now to most accelerate their business and capabilities?

Rose Sakach: Well, honestly, my feeling with mainframe for many years now has been that it sort of doesn’t get a lot of attention because it works, and the mainframe staff and the folks who support the mainframe are just super expert in their space and the mainframe sort of just hums along. So there’s no need to have attention to something that’s working perfectly and doing the job that it’s tasked to do.

Rose Sakach: But when I think about it, and I think about what would be, from my perspective, the challenge associated with the mainframe isn’t more about how best it can be leveraged or whether or not it’s being leveraged or whether or not it’s maturing along with the rest of IT. It absolutely is. The challenge, I think, is going to be more directed at whether or not, and how, organizations are going to support the actual transformation that has to happen culturally, and from a management perspective, to continue to support it so that it continues to run sort of in the background seamlessly doing the job that it’s always done so well.

Jeff Bisti: You’re echoing something that we just, I just recorded a podcast prior to this and that was something that came up, as well, is once you solve the technical problems then it’s time to solve the cultural problems.

Rose Sakach: Yeah. And it’s interesting because, for many, many years, I think a lot of mainframers felt that the manner in which the mainframe was maintained and the manner in which the way mainframe software had migrated its way from test to deployment would mandate how all the other platforms behaved. And what’s actually happening is just the opposite. The processes and the procedures that are associated with mobile Cloud and distributed development, essentially where dev-ops was born and continuous delivery was born, those processes are actually the ones that are mandating and dictating how the mainframe should behave and how mainframe software should be delivered.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah, absolutely. And tooling is one thing. People’s familiarity and skills, that’s going to play a big part, as well. I kind of want to go back to Zowe just a little bit.

Rose Sakach:  Sure.

Jeff Bisti: Because one of the big fears is that people are just going to learn the Zowe way and they’re not really going to know what’s happening behind the scenes. In your work with the CLI team and Zowe in general, is that a concern that you have?

Rose Sakach: Not really because Zowe essentially is a framework on which all other things mainframe can be built, and hopefully will be built. I know there are mainframe products that are out in the market that are running, doing the jobs that they do, whether they’re products that perform software change management or products that perform debug, file manipulation, what have you, UI. All Zowe’s doing, really, is changing the manner in which those types of activities are performed and it’s allowing the way, I guess it’s allowing the more modern developer, the folks that have experience in other platforms, to manage and work with the mainframe in the same way.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t want to shift gears again a little bit, but you have interesting pathway through your career, getting started in IT as a woman. I just have to ask were there challenges there, or how has your career kind of been influenced by that?

Rose Sakach: It’s interesting. I never believed in singling myself out or anyone else on any level at all, and I never felt one way or another that I had an advantage or a disadvantage. As a woman, if I were to give someone advice on getting started in IT, or any other area that may be challenging from one aspect or another, I’d say if you have a passion for something, I had a passion for technology. I didn’t realize I would have a passion for technology until I took my first programming course in college, but if you have a passion for that and you’re interested in being part of an amazing transformation, just stick with it, seek out opportunities. In this case, I would say seek out mainframe opportunities and learn all you can about the platform. Do the best you can and the opportunities will find you.

Jeff Bisti: Yeah. that’s great advice. It’s absolutely a very interesting time. I have just seen the change cycles from, on the Z side of things, ramp up from years to months. And things go from, “Wouldn’t it be cool if,” to, “This thing is ready to test,” to, “This is ready for customers,” in such a short amount of times now. And it’s so exciting to be here right now, I think.

Rose Sakach: Yeah, it absolutely is. And like I said, it’s absolutely amazing to see that… people, in general, have become so accommodating to technology, and I guess it’s because we live with technology every day in ways that we never thought possible, having the power of so much in our phones, for example, the ability to the travel anywhere and have GPS send us directions to where we need to go.

Rose Sakach: And I think, yeah, having that technology and having the ability to adjust to an updated app, for example, every couple of days has extended itself into the world of mainframe, where that world would not be able to accept a change more than once a year at one point in time.

Jeff Bisti: Right. Yeah, absolutely. Along those lines, is there anything that you’re really looking forward to on the mainframe, or just IT in general?

Rose Sakach:  Yeah. I’m really looking forward to enterprises as a whole marrying the worlds much more so than they do today. And again, I think the whole point with Zowe is to enable that in a way that was never possible before. So when I say “marry the worlds,” meaning it is possible to accept that application change in the form of mobile or Cloud very quickly.

Rose Sakach: I see that happening in the mainframe space, as well, and I think it’s going to happen sooner than anyone can imagine, provided, as I said, that culturally and managerially, we’re ready and willing and able to accept the changes that are coming down in support of technologies that would allow that to happen. I think Zowe’s a key player there and I think all of the supporting vendors are key players there, and I think the market’s going to demand it.

Jeff Bisti: That’s fantastic. And it’s good to hear that you’re fully behind Zowe and that you’re leading the CLI efforts. I really can’t wait to see what comes down the pipe from you guys.

Rose Sakach: Us and the world, right? It’s open.

Jeff Bisti: And everybody. Yes, that’s the whole point, I guess.

Rose Sakach: That’s the beauty of it. Yeah. We’re all making history.

Jeff Bisti: We really are. Rose, I want to say thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. I’ve had a whole lot of fun and I hope the listeners are enjoying my tones, me sitting in for Steve. But I want to thank you again so much for being here. This has been great. Any social media handles that we should have put out there for people to follow you, or contact you?

Rose Sakach: Social media handles. I am at LinkedIn under Rose Sakach, and Twitter @RASakach.

Jeff Bisti: Great. Make sure you give her a follow. But, until next time, my name is Jeff Bisti and you’ve been listening to the I Am A Mainframer podcast from the Open Mainframe Project. Please click and subscribe if you haven’t already, and tell your friends on social media platforms, and we’ll be with you again soon.