opinion: My Reality Check: I Really Don't Know Everything
When I first started as a IMS Systems Programmer in 1989, my employer put me on to an intensive education program. I was sent on courses, watched hours of (boring) video courses, and read so many manuals. I even read Barry Merrill's book from cover to cover (you have to give it to me – that's impressive).
From that start, you can probably make some intelligent guesses as to my age – and it won't be below 50. And for the years since 1989, I've been lucky enough to have different jobs that have all demanded I continue that education. Two years in, I was given responsibility for CICS: requiring a mad scramble to find out about CICS. A couple of more years and I was maintaining all of z/OS: crash courses in everything from catalog recovery to SMP/E. A project to write in assembler: lots of reading of assembler manuals.
And it hasn't stopped. From DASD management to PL/1 programming. From IBM MQ to CPU reduction. It seems like I never stop learning.
But here's the thing: I have this little voice inside me saying "why do I need to learn more? I already know enough." And that voice can be convincing. "I've been doing this for 30 years, and am now an expert. Most of these new things aren't relevant, and the core skills I have are far more important."
I've been fighting this voice for a while, though it gets louder as I get older, or learn more. I sometimes find myself frustrated that I need to read yet another manual, and there's a temptation to skip over a lot of this content, and assume that my previous knowledge and experience will fill the gap.
But it won't.
Let's look at some of the changes in z/OS that my previous experience can't help with.
- Websphere Application Server has become a necessity for many z/OS sites: you may not use it directly, but other products do.
- JSON and microservices are more common and important. Such microservices are the core of how Zowe works, and products like IBMs z/OS Connect EE are becoming essential.
- z/OSMF is now essential for z/OS administration: every new z/OS version includes enhancements. In some cases, the only way to perform customization is using z/OSMF.
But it's not only new things. Many of the things I used to know have changed: new assembler instructions, changed z/OS parameters, improved z/OS processing. An excellent example is covered by my article on performance and the latest COBOL compiler.
But it doesn't end there. Often (and it feels that its too often), I find I don't know as much about something as I thought I did; and have to go back and re-learn stuff. For example, I recently wrote an article about strings and C. After publishing it, one of my colleagues pointed out all the errors, and I had to make some post-publication changes. I tell you, there's nothing more frustrating than thinking you know something, and then realising you don't.
The fact is, as technical professionals we need to continually learn is nothing new. Professions like lawyers, doctors and engineers are required to complete a minimum amount of learning every year, or risk losing their credentials. However, for IT professionals, this is voluntary. Organisations like SHARE provide great opportunities to learn, as do vendors like IBM. Many organisations also help staff with online learning modules like those from Interskill. And of course, there are manuals, IBM Redbooks, articles and even YouTube videos.
So, what does my personal education 'regime' look like today? A lot of my learning is required for projects I'm working on: every new site seems to having a new product or tool I need to learn about. I also:
- Write technical articles like this one
- Develop online learning modules
- Present at conferences like SHARE
I also randomly read mainframe articles, view YouTube videos, or think of something interesting, and do some looking around.
In many ways, this article is my 'reality check.' A way of giving myself a bit of a kick to continue on that non-stop education road, with less whining and complaining. And I thought I'd share it everyone else. So, here goes.
"David, you don't know everything. Really. So, stop being lazy, and LEARN."