Exploring IBM Z Day–Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series

In this special episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast, The Interview Series, Daniel Newman welcomes IBM’s Z Team Melissa Sassi, IBM Z Startup Program Manager, and Meredith Stowell, Vice President of the IBM Z Ecosystem, to discuss IBM Z Day and IBM’s efforts to democratize skill-building throughout the world.

IBM Z is an enterprise platform for mission-critical applications that brings data privacy, security and resiliency to your hybrid multicloud. IBM Z Day was a virtual event designed to bring communities of Z users together to build skills and access in-depth information about the technologies at their fingertips. The event featured sessions from 25 thought leaders, tech wizards, and business people discussing what’s new in tech from a Z perspective.

As Meredith and Melissa shared, IBM Z Day featured three tracks: IBM Z (about all things related to IBM Z specifically); Open Z (about open source technology and how it works with IBZ); and Global Z (featuring relevant but expansive topics relating to issues of economics, accessibility, diversity, and inclusion).

Given IBM’s focus on making tech education so accessible, Dan noted that the company seems to be interested in becoming a trust creator in the tech industry, creating a “trust-first ecosystem” where data lives safely. He shared that recent Futurum research showed that many companies would be willing to compromise customer data if it meant getting their products to market more quickly.

Melissa and Meredith, appalled by the willingness of companies to compromise customer data, agreed that IBM wants to be at the forefront of data protection. The two brought up that IBM z15 features “encryption everywhere” protection that carries encryption wherever the data goes, where the user can revoke that encryption at any time. They discussed the importance of creating tech that does the protecting, rather than relying on people or policy to do. That’s why IBM is committed to creating.

Currently, users devoting one hour of training on IBM’s Master the Mainframe education page will automatically feed four people as part of an initiative with UN World Food Programme and Share the Meal.

If you were unable to watch IBM Z Day live, don’t worry. The content will be available to stream until Dec. 31st here. Thank you to IBM for their support of this podcast.

Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast, the Interview Series. I’m Daniel Newman, your host today. I’m excited about today’s topic. I have IBM Z team joining me to talk a little bit about an event that just took place this week called IBM Z Day. We’ve got Melissa Sassi and Meredith Stowell. Did I say that right? Melissa Sassi and Meredith Stowell? Is that correct?

Meredith Stowell: You sure did. You got it right.

Daniel Newman: The number one thing you got to do right when you’re a podcast host is get the names right, but very excited to have you guys on the show today to talk a little bit about Z Day, which I was watching from the web because it was a digital event, just the way us millennials like it. But before I do jump in and have a conversation here with Meredith and Melissa, I do have to say the show has been brought to you by in part IBM, done in partnership with Futurum Research and this show is for information and entertainment purposes only. So, while we will talk about IBM, a publicly traded company, we are not advising anybody to buy any stock because of anything we talk about today.

I know, disclaimer, so much fun, but hey we’re in the world now where you always got to cover your behind.

Meredith, Melissa, jump into the show. First and foremost, everybody’s going to want to know IBM has, I don’t know, 300 plus thousand employees. Who are you and what do you do at IBM? I’ll kick it off with you, Meredith.

Meredith Stowell: Hi. Thanks so much. I’m Meredith Stoll and I lead our IBM Z and LinuxONE System group. What that really means is that our goal is to really get out there and create a vibrant and just really facilitate a community for the platform for folks to get together, to learn, to network, and really just share best practices and become a true community.

Daniel Newman: Awesome. Big job and a big community. Melissa.

Melissa Sassi: Okay. I work on Meredith’s and I am in the global head of our IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator, which is a startup program that’s all about empowering and inspiring early stage founders to build and scale their startups.

When I’m not doing that, which is all the time, I also support our developer advocacy team and I’m out there evangelizing Z and talking about all of the exciting opportunities that Z has to offer, including skill building and gaining access into 21st century skills.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I’ve followed Melissa for a while on Twitter. We just actually had a little debate behind the scenes about how her Twitter is pronounced, but actually, now that I look at, I realize I’ve been saying mentor freaka, but it’s mentor Africa. That’s always been very easy to see if you just read a little closer, but I don’t know. Maybe something-

Melissa Sassi: I like mentor freaka better. That sounds like a heck of a lot more fun.

Daniel Newman: It does. You know what? The ampersand must throw me off. I can only see one A at a time apparently. But no, thank you both so much for joining and taking the time. I was actually on the east coast yesterday. I was in Boston, but I was tracking from afar what was going on because you guys held an event called IBM Z Day and it was a virtual event, tons of content, tons of tracks, all seemingly about education. I know, Melissa, you had a session. Meredith, I’m not sure if you had a session.

Melissa Sassi: The best session, by the way.

Daniel Newman: The best session, self-proclaimed, because why would you not do that.

Melissa Sassi: No, it wasn’t just me.

Daniel Newman: But give a little history for all the listeners out there about Z Day. What it was, what the purpose was behind it, and kind of how you drew excitement around an event because gosh knows there’s enough webinars, webcasts, podcasts to keep people busy, but not always are they good. I think Z Day was really good. So, talk a little bit about the day and what you guys did to make it good. Talk loud because since you two are sharing the mic, I want to make sure everybody can hear you.

Meredith Stowell: All right. Great. This is Meredith. I’ll start off. IBM Z Day really was all about bringing the community together. It really gave everyone a chance to take a technical deep dive. This truly is about building skills, learning, getting deep into the technology. We did have some amazing content from thought leaders, technical wizards, business leaders from all areas of the community share their stories, share what’s going on, what’s new in tech from an IBM Z perspective. We did just launch our Z15, the new LinuxONE. So, we dug deep down into the guts of those. We also had some, as I mentioned, some great community thought leaders talking about the startup programs, talking about sustainability and how tech is impacting really social good. We also did talk about skills and what folks are doing out there to build skills. The state of California talked a little bit about their new apprenticeship program and how they are driving upward mobility in the workforce with that.

But we did have three separate tracks, just to help organize the content. So, Melissa, you want to talk about those three tracks we had?

Melissa Sassi: Yeah. Sure. What I was really excited about was a lot of times, when you see a large tech company like IBM come in and hold sessions, it’s often hyper technical. I think in the grand scheme of things, we all recognize that there are lots of different skill sets within a big tech company, and it’s not just about being a developer, being an engineer, being an architect. Well, we did have two tracks that were very technical in nature. We had our IBM Z track, which included a number of different IBMers and other folks who are neck deep in our technology.

We had our Open Z track, which was really exciting for me to think about what role does open source technology play when it comes to IBM technology. Then, our Global Z track, which is my little baby. My little baby included, I think, topics that were very relevant for people working in technology, but also quite expansive. We brought in the world economic forum. We had Walmart talk about moderncy and how they’re part of the IBM Z family. We talked about our initiative called Call for Code. How do we empower and inspire developers and data scientists to create solutions that either prepare for or respond to disaster area?

We had a woman from the International Telecommunication Union, which is the IT branch of the UN, come in and talk about tech for sustainable development. My mentor, Mei Lin Fung, came in who is the godmother of CRM. This is a woman that created CRM as we know it. She was part of a two person skunk works team, early on in her career, and is the co-founder of an organization called People-Centered Internet with Vint Cerf, the father of the internet.

We did storytelling, we did diversity and inclusion, youth at the center, and one of my favorite pieces as well, Master the Mainframe. I’m a big fan of digital inclusion. I’m a big fan of making sure that people have the skills to make meaningful use of technology. So, we had one of our superstars, Byron Smith, come in who actually received a job offer based on him completing Master the Mainframe and sharing the badges on his social media.

So, it’s really tying how do you get access to skills and how do you continue to grow your career, make more money, and do lots of cool stuff in your personal and professional life, based on getting to skills that are free for everyone to access.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I love the idea of democratizing information. We’ve seen it in the education realm with world class institutions like MIT making their curriculum available online. The tech industry has sort of these two paradigms right now. You have this paradigm of certification for pay, which obviously enables people to hit certain professional milestones and grow their career. But concurrently, there are people who want to know and need to know and want to learn the financially supported track of paid certifications isn’t always the means to get them to where they need to go, especially as you’re trying to globalize technology.

Melissa, I know, I see you all over the world, often times in second and even third world countries where you’re supporting these agendas of building ecosystem and teaching people about being more connected. So, I know it’s something that you’re definitely very passionate about.

I want to circle to something and get both of your takes a little bit. One of the areas that I think is oddly neglected in tech for enterprise and in emerging technologies is actually privacy and security. So, it’s very interesting that you guys are so focused on this. We actually did a study. We talked to 2000 consumers, 2000 brands, and found that it was almost 70% of the brands said that they would be willing to compromise individual’s personal data if it meant getting products and services to market faster.

Meredith Stowell: Holy smokes! Wow.

Daniel Newman: It’s an insanely high number. Obviously, this is an anonymous survey.

Meredith Stowell: Like, hey GDPR!

Daniel Newman: Behind the scenes. Again, this wasn’t any admission by any specific companies, but this is what c-level leaders were saying about the way they’re approaching data in the modern world.

So, I’ve had this thing in my mind, this kind of continuum of digital trust that’s going to be built and that there’s going to be companies on each side of this. There’s going to be the trust creators and then the trust abusers. It seems that IBM really wants to be a trust creator. They really are trying very hard with Z, with LinuxONE, but specifically with the technologies that you are involved with, to really give enterprises the opportunity to really build a trust first ecosystem on hardware and then obviously leveraging software and services, like Hyper Protect, to do that.

Has this been area that you’ve gotten a lot of interest? Has this been a differentiator? I’m just trying to figure out, with all these brands saying they’re willing to put privacy and security aside, how are you making sure that it’s coming to the forefront? I believe the consumers are going to fight back if it doesn’t get better.

Melissa Sassi: I really love that phrase that you just said. Trust first ecosystem. I think you’re onto something there. I think we might have to steal that from you.

Daniel Newman: All right. You can borrow it. I’m licensing it, though.

Meredith Stowell: Oh, wow. I have to tell you. This is Meredith. I am absolutely staggered by that statistic. I will tell you. It really goes against everything, from an IBM perspective, from a privacy and security perspective, we bring so many years of experience and working in this area, working with banks, working with insurance, working with industries where there is a lot of sensitive data and understanding that we, as companies, we’re responsible for that data. We are the custodians of that data from our clients and from our customers. They trust us. It’s so important not to break that trust.

In fact, that’s why we’re bringing some of the top technology, from a security perspective, to market. With the latest Z15 being able to not only encrypt everything on the system, with pervasive encryption, but it’s really encryption everywhere. So, once you’ve got that data, you encrypt that data and no matter where you send that data… whether it’s to a third-part, whether it’s to another platform within your organization… it literally carries that encryption with it and you, as the owner of that key, have the right to revoke it at any time.

During IBM Z Day, we actually do go down into this topic quite a bit. We do talk about all of the latest and great technology that we’re using to address privacy, to address security. So, I think it’s fascinating to me, that statistic.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. It was one statistic. We did this huge global survey and one of our focus areas was digital trust. There was a lot of statics about how individuals feel, but we sort of snuck that question in about how brands are willing to… again, it’s not really abuse data. It’s almost just like bad stewardship that’s going on out there because either a, there’s so much gray area, which is obviously becoming less gray with GDPR and other things. But there’s such a pressure for brands to collect as much data as possible and put it to work that I’m not sure the brands are entirely certain if they’re breaking rules, following rules, doing their best to protect. And of course, you’ve heard cyber security statistics all about how companies are only willing to secure up to the point in which the cost of a breach would be greater than the cost of the security, which is a huge problem because all of the, I guess you could say femoral and non-measurable customer sentiment impacts that a data breach could create if your company ended up getting hacked.

It’s a really fascinating area and I’m really glad to hear the company is focused on promoting it and teaching it and educating on the subject. We only have a couple minutes left here. I guess my very last question is, so Z Day, is it a one off thing? Is it a continuous thing? For people that are out there that want to learn more about not just Z, but about all the things we’ve talked about that you’re focused on, in terms of helping startups scale, helping big companies generate more privacy and security, helping secure data at rest and in flight… all of this stuff… is Z Day going to be a regular thing? Are you going to do more of these events? Tell me more about how people can keep learning? This is your chance to plug a little bit. Where can they go and learn more?

Melissa Sassi: Yeah. Perfect. Before we go onto that, I just want to say one thing that I think is important. It kind of goes back to one of the comments that you made regarding the survey and something that Meredith said. One of the things that I love most is thinking about the importance of having technology to protect your company versus policy and individuals because we all know that not everyone is a security or privacy expert. So, how do we make sure that there are protections in place that protect that particular company that’s happening through technology versus a written piece of paper, or a training that somebody goes through once a year?

Now, I’ll switch over and make a comment on how can you get involved. I think that the first way to get involved is to go to IBM.com/community/Z. This is our community page. There’s a lot of great information out there. I know I’ve written a few blogs that you can find on a startup program, on digital skills. There are also ways for you to get involved through the user groups. Then, I would say there’s another way to find the content from IBM Z Day by going to IBM.biz/IBMZDay and you can find the content from IBM Z Day for… I’m not sure how long, to be honest, it’s going to be up, but you’ll have access to that information for… Oh, it’s 90 days. So, 90 days from now you’ll have the ability to continue watching those.

Again, mine is absolutely the best.

Meredith Stowell: Or mine.

Daniel Newman: My session was pretty good too. I wasn’t on it, but I’m sure it would’ve been.

Melissa Sassi: But yeah, all kinds of cool stuff to look at. Really, on behalf of the IBM Z team, we would love for you to come and check out the content. Come and explore more. One cool thing that we’ve got going on is we have also done this really fun kind of contest. I don’t know if I’d call it a contest. It’s really more of a call to action. In celebration of IBM Z Day, we’ll be donating and doing double donations for students completing Master the Mainframe Part One. I say students because we are all a student. I’m a student. I don’t care how old you are.

Everyone is a lifelong learner.

Daniel Newman: Aren’t you actually a student, though?

Melissa Sassi: I am. I almost got kicked out of my program. I did, but now I’m back in again thankfully, so I’m not a loser anymore.

Daniel Newman: It’s a PhD program, so let’s not belittle what you’re doing.

Melissa Sassi: Yes. I’m neck deep in my dissertation and my dissertation is very close to my job. It’s all about the digital inclusion of underserved communities. So, one great way of people gaining access to skills is through Master the Mainframe, so check that out. Between the 21st of November… which I guess was the other day or yesterday… and the 30th we’ll be doing double donations. How that works is for one hour of your time, it’ll feed four children for a day. It’s something that we are doing in collaboration the UN World Food Program and Share the Meal.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. That’s outstanding. I think it’s great. Obviously, everybody out there definitely go check out the community page for IBM Z. If I’m right, IBM.com/community/Z? Is that right?

Melissa Sassi: Yeah. Maybe we can flash that up on the screen.

Daniel Newman: We can flash that up on the screen that doesn’t exist, but you know what? I put it in the show notes.

Melissa Sassi: Oh, yeah. Dang. I forgot this is a podcast.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Darn podcasts. We’re on video, but you know what? You wouldn’t know that because you’re listening in, which is why I’m painting the mental picture. But it is in the show notes. I’ll make sure I drop it in there.

Melissa Sassi: Cool.

Daniel Newman: Z Day was a very cool day. A lot of great information. Multiple tracks. Like I said, I’ve really admired a lot of these sort of community education building activities that IBM’s been doing. I’ve worked closely with Call for Code. What you did with the Z Accelerator… all these things are going to overall help drive a world of more secure data, which is something I’m very passionate about here. So, thank you both. Meredith, thank you Melissa very much for taking the time to join me here on the Futurum Tech Podcast The Interview Series. Thanks for the contribution to help partner and sponsor this particular episode. For everyone out there, definitely appreciate you tuning in. Look forward to you joining us for our regular episodes of the Futurum Tech Podcast, along with our other interview series, where we always bring on super smart individuals and companies that are doing interesting things to make sure that you, the IT technology or just enthusiast are learning all about this, knowing what you need to know, and being able to take that back to work or into your lives to make the world a better place.

Thank you for joining us on this week’s Futurum Tech Podcast, the Interview Series. Please be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes and stay with us each and every week as we bring more interviews and more shows from our weekly Futurum Tech Podcast.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Thank you to IBM for sponsoring this edition of Futurum Tech Podcast in partnership with Futurum Research.

Image Credit: IBM