MVS Tools and Tricks of the Trade
Reprinted with the permission of Sam Golob
This article was never published, and therefore does not belong to NaSPA.
Sam Golob MVS Systems Programmer
Sam Golob is a Senior Systems Programmer. He also participates in library tours and book signings with his wife, author Courtney Taylor. Sam can be contacted at email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Online CBT Tape web site can be accessed at URL: www.cbttape.org .
THE JOY OF "SHARE"
Much of my "edge" as an MVS Systems Programmer comes from networking with other professionals in my field. Why, and how, does that give me an advantage? Today, I'll tell you about it.
Just like the rest of the computing world, MVS (aka OS/390) is constantly changing and developing too. MVS is a large part of a larger world. Everyone has to exert some effort to keep up with "developments". It's almost a requirement for us to find out about the changes, or we'll quickly get left behind.
So we can talk about approaches to deal with the problem. We have a finite amount of time. Most of our time is spent on our normal workload. Perhaps we have a fraction of our time which we can devote to reading periodicals, IBM announcements, and the like. We can also subscribe to the IBM-MAIN newsgroup or other news groups to see what other people's problems are (see my April 1998 column). However, practically speaking, there's the question: "How can I find out enough information about new developments that affect my own position, without losing too much time from the rest of my life?"
I have a solution to that. Many systems programmers know about this solution, and have taken full advantage of it. On the other hand, a surprisingly large number do not realize the extent to which they, and their shops, can benefit. My answer is to take advantage of the concentrated, one-week exposure to the enormous quantity of raw knowledge that the semi-annual SHARE conferences offer.
What is SHARE?
SHARE is an organization which was started well over 40 years ago as an IBM user group, and a forum for users to suggest improvements to IBM products. Many of the components of MVS or OS/390 that we've come to "know and love", such as SMF among many others, came about through the efforts of IBM customers such as you and me, submitting "requirements" for product improvements to IBM through the SHARE meetings. Sometimes submitting user requirements wasn't enough, to get IBM moving on improving its products. Often we had to organize SHARE committees to campaign to IBM, and to work with IBM's product developers on a personal basis.
Here's an example that's close to my own heart, and in which I participated personally. Working through SHARE, I myself was instrumental in getting IBM to create the High Level Assembler, which incorporates over 50 improvements to Assembler H that were written by a private individual, Greg Mushial. For many years, IBM rejected nearly all the requirements we submitted for improving the Assembler. We couldn't get them to budge, even through the "requirements" route. We formed the SHARE Assembler Committee, with the express purpose of getting IBM to incorporate Greg Mushial's modifications into their Assembler H program.
We negotiated with IBM for several years on this matter, using the SHARE Assembler Committee as our forum. Finally, through the great efforts of several individuals--one inside IBM (John Ehrman), and about a dozen outside of IBM (notably Bill Winters), IBM relented, and the world is now enjoying the pleasure of using the High Level Assembler. This improvement makes Assembler coding easier and more error-free, and every time I write an Assembler program (quite often nowadays), I'm very thankful to all the individuals who contributed. It was accomplished through SHARE.
SHARE doesn't just deal with MVS or OS/390. There's a large UNIX contingent; RS/6000 and PC practitioners are well represented. VM, Operations Management, and Technical Support Management also have a presence at SHARE. Networking, TCP/IP (nowadays an essential part of OS/390), MQ Series, DB2 and various database groups, running on all kinds of platforms, and many other parts of the modern computing world are active at SHARE. If you are working in one field, such as MVS, and you need information about any other computing area that could touch on your work, you'll almost surely find knowledgeable people at a SHARE conference, who can answer any of your questions. I once brought about 40 questions from people in my shop, to SHARE, and by the end of the week (after much digging), I had answers to all of them.
Another under-publicized feature of SHARE is the accessibility to IBM personnel that it provides. Normally, IBM guards customer accessibility to its developers and Level 2 people. At SHARE, all these groups are represented (in human form), and IBM's own SHARE attendees are given permission to hand out their business cards to anyone who asks for them. It makes sense why IBM does this. SHARE is the place where IBM looks for direct customer input, so their people have to be able to talk to the customers. I've formed many contacts and friendships with IBM personnel, through this means. I've also solved many difficult system problems, with speed and dispatch, by knowing whom to call.
I recently started working with someone I had known from seeing frequently at SHARE meetings. She told me she used to work for a large company. That company wanted IBM to make certain improvements in CICS and in other components. So they sent a sizable contingent of people to SHARE, and asked them to sit on certain committees, to influence IBM to make the changes they wanted. Needless to say, this was effective; IBM made many improvements because of them. And all the other IBM installations are benefiting from that company's policy as well.
In recent years, the whole gamut of the non-IBM computing world has also gained a presence at SHARE. SHARE is no longer a "purely IBM" organization. Through the SHARE Exhibition Area, vendors from all walks of computing fill the SHARE exhibition hall with useful information about computing tools to solve your shop's problems. (Even NaSPA has a booth--shhhhh!)
SHARE Membership is different now, than it was in former times (10 or more years ago). There are no longer any hardware requirements necessary for an organization to join SHARE. (In former days, you had to be running a big-enough mainframe.) There's also a very relaxed requirement for sending a representative to the SHARE meetings. A member orgainization used to have to send at least one representative to a SHARE conference, once a year, or the membership would be revoked. Nowadays, this requirement is much relaxed. SHARE management is very aware that many companies have limited conference budgets nowadays.
For a company (or an individual) to become a member of SHARE, all you have to do is fill out an application, and plunk down a one-time cost of $250. This can even be done online, through SHARE's web site at www.share.org . Since there's no longer any hardware requirement, an individual with a one-person company can also become a member. I'm a member of SHARE, myself. As a SHARE member, even if you can't attend a SHARE meeting (i.e. conference), you get all the SHARE conference proceedings on cd-rom, and you get all the SHARE notices and announcements. You also get access to the "Members Only" portion of the SHARE web site. (With the latest SHARE conference, individuals can now get their own "members only" userids. If you attend a conference, you get your own userid and password emailed to you.)
Attending the SHARE Conferences
The SHARE conferences are now held twice a year, once in the winter, and once in the summer. The two spring and fall "minor conferences", which were largely for organizational purposes, have now been eliminated, since SHARE's member organizational work can now be done electronically, through email communication. There's a conference fee, and unless you live in the same city where the conference is being held, you have to pay a hotel bill and transportation expense. However, the cost for a company to send somebody to SHARE is often less that that of a class, or a different conference. Usually, the benefits are greater.
This SHARE conference in Boston was my thirteenth SHARE. The first four were paid for by my employer, and I've footed the bill for the last nine, myself. I think it's worth that much sacrifice!
Prior planning is absolutely essential to get the most out of a SHARE conference. Since so many computing disciplines and areas are represented, each time slot has from 20 or 50 different sessions you can choose from. A company can benefit by sending several different people from several different areas, to cover the ground. For each individual, planning pays. You should download the SHARE conference scheduler program from the www.share.org , and spend a good few hours working out your schedule, before you even get there. There are about six normal session slots scheduled each day, for the entire week, until Friday noon.
Evenings can be spent enjoyably working, too. It used to be every night, but now, three nights a week are given to SCIDS, which is some acronym indicating Social Contact time. Everybody can go to a big ballroom, which is open for 5 hours, and mix with anybody else, from perhaps a different discipline, or perhaps from the same one. If you didn't get a chance to meet somebody, because you were each going to different sessions all day, you can make up to meet and talk at SCIDS.
In the early evenings, people organize what are called BOF (Birds of a Feather) sessions informally. At the beginning of the SHARE week, anyone wishing to organize a BOF session will post a request on the SHARE bulletin board, and if there are enough signers to the request, a room and a time will be assigned for the session.
Through all these means, a company can send its people to SHARE and get all their questions answered, even the cross-discipline ones.
And the answers will probably come from an authority in the field. I think that most veteran SHARE attendees will agree that SHARE is not a holiday, but a treasure-trove of computing knowledge and knowledeable people, to be drawn upon for months and years to come.
Benefits for the Employer
To me, it seems very common for most employers to miss the point of SHARE. They might send people to IBM conferences, but they forget that the information presented, though plentiful, is also sanitized.
You don't get the "gotchas" from users with experience. And you don't always speak to the developers. Information that IBM doesn't want mentioned, is not imparted. At SHARE, you get it all! People
generally aren't inhibited at SHARE. Even the IBM'ers will tend to be much more "personal", relaxed, and frank than they usually are, to us customers.
The enormous cross-discipline presence at SHARE is also largely underestimated. At a SHARE conference, there is an tremendous accumulation of raw knowledge in one place. In past years, I've been sent to SHARE as an "MVS person", and I've brought back VM and PC knowledge as well. Nowadays, with all the other computing systems, and with everybody doing UNIX and complex networking, there are plenty of answers at any SHARE meeting. A company can never bring an employee to any other conference or class, and give that employee the same exposure to information and clear answers, as there is at any one full week of SHARE meetings. It's next to impossible. I'll challenge anyone to tell me where you can spend one week and get more exposure to the answers you need, than at one SHARE week!
I hope this month's column whets your interest. Even if you can't go to the next conference, you can start finding out what SHARE is about by looking at www.share.org . But the raw excitement of a SHARE meeting is inimitable and irreplaceable. To me, it's a "must" for every MVS practitioner to get to a SHARE conference at least once.
By Sam Golob
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