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The Legend of Zelden

Mark Zelden’s MVS Utilities resource has been a popular site for new and established mainframe users, with more than 350,000 visits since 1997.

Mark Zelden’s MVS Utilities resource has been a popular site for new and established mainframe users, with more than 350,000 visits since 1997.
Photograph by Chip Williams

A visit to Mark Zelden’s MVS* Utilities Web page is a nostalgic journey a decade back into the Internet’s history, seeing firsthand what much of the Web looked like then. It will jog your memory back to a time without pop-up ads or flashy, complex, often distracting visuals; back to a time of table-frame layouts and a Web page that actually gave you exactly what you came looking for: in Zelden’s case, lots and lots of MVS freeware and documentation.

Zelden’s MVS Utilities resource (http://home.flash.net/~mzelden/mvsutil.html) has been a popular site for new and established mainframe users, with more than 350,000 visits tallied worldwide since he established the site in early 1997. If it weren’t for the timestamps that run with Zelden’s regular and timely updates, you could come away with the impression you’re looking at a castaway site from the previous millennium. Not so. Zelden constantly updates his site, adding new and useful utilities, made available for free to any interested mainframe user.

“Back when I started doing consulting work, one of my co-workers at the time convinced me that, since I had all these utilities on hand that he used, I should really consider starting a Web page to make them more widely available,” says Zelden, a senior software and system architect for Schaumburg, Ill.-based Zurich North America. “So, I kind of put it together initially to help my consulting co-workers so they had access to the same tools I did. It’s obviously taken on a whole different role with a far larger reach than I ever thought it would when I created it. I’ve built a user base somewhat due to the longevity of the site itself and due to exposure from the CBT tape collection (www.cbttape.org) articles I’ve written for mainframe publications and my involvement with the mainframe user community through e-mail lists.”

It doesn’t hurt that Zelden has a wealth of mainframe experience to draw upon when providing content to his site. With a mainframe rŽsumŽ spanning more than two decades, his is a recognized name in mainframe e-mail lists and online forums, so when he posts an update to his site, people know he’s offering something useful.

As with many of the established mainframe veterans, Zelden is a self-taught expert who cut his tech teeth in the early 1980s—a system programmer since about 1985—and has since become familiarized with an acronym-laden list of software packages.

“I started working with mainframes in what could be called a clerical job, or what was called a distribution clerk in my company back then, and from there I got into operations as a VSE operator trainee,” says Zelden. “In about a five-year time frame, I went from that to a MVS system programmer, and I just really learned everything on my own, with very little formal training. I don’t usually realize how much I’ve learned until I look back on it all and think ‘wow.’ ”

Zelden is no miser when it comes to sharing his mainframe knowledge. His MVS Utilities page is loaded with MVS tools, including REXX executables, CLISTS, ASCII notes, edit macros, programs and more.

“I’d say I put up something new at least monthly, or more frequently than that,” says Zelden. “It depends on what I may be working on at any given time. People familiar with MVS usually can expect to find something new pretty regularly.”

So what’s planned for the future of the MVS Utilities page? More of the same, according to Zelden, who says the site has become such a valuable tool for the mainframe user community, he can’t imagine going without it as long as he’s working in the mainframe realm.

“I’ve had so many people thank me for providing these tools, to the point I’d almost feel guilty if my site suddenly wasn’t available. I enjoy being able to offer something that’s so widely used. When you have somebody from half a world away thanking you for providing an MVS tool you created, you kind of feel a bit humbled, but also an obligation to keep going. I’ve been updating the site for more than a decade now, and I don’t see myself stopping soon.”

Ryan Rhodes is a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine.


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