Meet the Future of Mainframe: 21CS is the Next Generation – Futurum Live! From the Show Floor

Meet the Future of Mainframe: 21CS is the Next Generation - Futurum Live! From the Show Floor

On this episode of Futurum Live! From the Show Floor, I talk with Josh Stiles, Implementation Specialist, Chris Hartley, Software Engineer at 21CS, during the SHARE Conference in New Orleans. Our conversation covered 21CS’s perspective on the future of Mainframe. Josh and Chris also share how both of them came to the Mainframe industry, how their careers have advanced by working at 21CS, and their advice for new IT graduates looking to enter the Mainframe industry. It’s a great conversation you don’t want to miss.

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Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome to the Futurum Live! From the Show Floor. I’m your host, Steven Dickens. Joined today by Chris and Josh from 21CS. Hi, guys. Welcome to the show.

Chris Hartley: Hi, thank you.

Josh Stiles: Thanks for having us.

Steven Dickens: So really looking forward to this episode. We’ve got a bit of craziness going on, so you may hear some random noises in the background. We are wrapping up here at SHARE in New Orleans. They’re breaking down the show behind us, so it’s been a crazy couple of hours here. But first off, just to get the listeners orientated, let’s maybe start with you, Chris. What do you do for 21CS?

Chris Hartley: I am a software engineer for 21CS. What I do is I take our aging applications that have these green screen interfaces that people need to interact with, and I turn them into web interfaces that are going to be more familiar and user-friendly for people who are coming onto the mainframe and aren’t used to working with these terminal green screens.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, fantastic. And you Josh?

Josh Stiles: Yeah, so I’m an implementation specialist. I help customers implement a number of our products. I also help them migrate from competitors’ products into our products that we have here.

Steven Dickens: Fantastic. So I’ve had Nick, your CEO on the show previously, 21CS is kind of leaning into the whole skills, growing the community. You guys are younger in your career, and I know that’s been a big part of coming into 21CS. Tell me a little bit about first experiences access to green screens. Maybe go to you first. What’s that initial experience been coming onto the mainframe platform?

Chris Hartley: It’s intimidating, probably more so than it actually needed to be. I was very in my head about it because you hear the mainframe and you think of this monolithic aging, you think of the 1960s and these big boxes.

Steven Dickens: Room full of equipment, massive tape drives, yeah.

Chris Hartley: And you hear about these people who are writing in these languages, which you’ve never heard of in school or if you did it’s…

Steven Dickens: Rexx and JCL. Yeah.

Chris Hartley: Yeah. So it was interesting coming onto it because I was able to jump in right with Java and do some web programming and being able to work in a Linux environment on the mainframe is far less intimidating. I think that’s what a lot of the newer people that are coming onto it, that’s the experience that they’re going to have.

Steven Dickens: And you, Josh?

Josh Stiles: Yeah, so I kind of took a different route than Chris. I actually went, had some mainframe classes when I went to college. I got the intro course and I did a little bit of a COBOL programming.

Steven Dickens: Everybody’s got to do COBOL programming at one point, right?

Josh Stiles: I have a fat textbook of just COBOL programming.

Steven Dickens: COBOL for beginners is on your shelf.

Josh Stiles: But I started to enjoy working with the green screen. I found it a little intimidating at first, but then I got thrown into actually being an infrastructure administrator at a insurance company and I got to see firsthand the data centers and how it actually works behind the scenes. And that’s kind of how I progressed through my career to this point.

Steven Dickens: So tell us a little bit about some of those early days at 21CS. I know that you guys are doing a lot to bring new mainframers into the community. Tell us a little bit about your cohort of more early stage professionals coming through the ranks at 21CS.

Josh Stiles: I think with us, we’re doing a lot of training from the start. So when I joined 21st Century or 21CS.

Steven Dickens: I’m still learning the brand. I know you guys have just rebrand, you’re fine.

Josh Stiles: We sat with a bunch of the people that know the products a lot more and they give a great breakdown of how it works and almost had a mentorship with…

Steven Dickens: And that’s crucial. I think It’s not just go study, go hit the books, go do some training and technical programs. It’s about getting that experience from some of those experienced hires and those more seasoned professionals, I think.

Josh Stiles: Right. I think it was good that they brought us on early into customer situation or customer calls. So you could see firsthand how things are working and your mind can get adjusted.

Steven Dickens: You’re not going to pick it up from a textbook.

Josh Stiles: Yeah, exactly. And for me, I learn hands-on pretty quickly. I can’t sit there and read a whole manual. I need to see the real life, what’s going on.

Steven Dickens: And the same for you, Chris?

Chris Hartley: Yeah, and I think this is something that’s not just unique to 21CS, this very hands-on mentorship. I think it’s industry-wide where they don’t expect you to know what you’re doing coming into it. A lot of tech careers do, right? The kind of common adage is you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get a job without the experience. Right? Or you can’t get the experience without having a job first.

Steven Dickens: And I think the mainframe community’s kind of unique in that regard. It’s like if you are interested, you’re willing to put the hard work in, but you’ve got no experience. There’s a pathway in the mainframe community. That’s how it comes across.

Chris Hartley: Oh, absolutely. I would say if you’re thinking about a career in tech and you want to make sure that you can get a job going into it and get the experience you need, getting onto the mainframe is both a great way to get that experience and it has great long-term career options in it as well.

Steven Dickens: Yeah. And you talked about some of the sort of technical barriers. I think there is some technical barriers. I mean, we should acknowledge that, but I don’t think there’s some of the experience and career barriers that maybe there are some other techs and maybe the tech’s a little harder, but the expectations a little lower. So those two balance that, that’s how I certainly see it.

Chris Hartley: Sure. I would even go as far as to say is the expectation is almost none at all. They don’t really expect you to know anything about the mainframe. They’re willing to take you on and teach you everything that you need to know to be successful.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, and that’s crucial.

Josh Stiles: And to building off his point, I think everybody I’ve met within the mainframe community as welcomed us with open arms. They want to see the younger generation succeed and have the skills necessary to continue to progress in their career.

Steven Dickens: And we see that at events like SHARE, there’s so much focus on getting newer people on into the platform. I had Scott Fagen the president of SHARE he’s really, really passionate about getting people like yourselves onto this platform and providing those pathways as people look to come through. So tell us a little bit, as you see, where do you see that next few years for you in the mainframe? You’ve obviously established now starting to understand some of the technology. Where do you see yourself going forward? We’ll go with you first, Josh.

Josh Stiles: Yeah, that’s a good question. Myself, I enjoy working with customers. So one of the things that I want to really focus on is making customers lives easier with a lot of our products. How can we implement things in a sense that it’s low pressure, no problems for them? Obviously you’ll run into some issues here and there. It’s part of the nature, but I just want to find a way that we can implement our products in a way that somebody with years of experience doesn’t really need to know what it does.

Chris Hartley: Yeah. I think 21CS, in particular offers a lot of opportunities. They’re a company that wants to bring on a lot of new people that wants to put them in positions to be successful. They want them to find a career path that interests them rather than just being on a track kind of in the wind.

And where I see myself is like Josh, I like to improve those customer experiences, but where he’s on the implementation side and working very close with customers, I’m more on the tech side and a lot of my career has been spent talking with these customers, figuring out the technical requirements, and then going and making these action plans with our development teams and getting those enhancements that they want to see into the products, which I’m looking to do more of.

Steven Dickens: Well, I mean chatting to a bunch of the 21CS guys, we’ve had on the show, we’ve had Nick on the show. That focus on customers really comes through. So thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Great to see some younger faces in the mainframe. Thanks for much for joining us on the show.

Chris Hartley: Yeah, thanks so much for having us on.

Josh Stiles: Thanks so much.

Steven Dickens: Well, thanks very much for that. You’ve been watching Futurum Live! From the Show Floor here at SHARE. Thank you so much. Please click and subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.


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