PJ Catalano

Penney Berryman from Planet Mainframe connected with PJ Catalano to uncover how he’s using humor to elevate the mainframe into the mainstream.

Pasquale “PJ” Catalano has two passions: mainframe test engineering and mainframe social media humor. A self-identified class clown, Catalano’s mind races like a bouncy ball pinging off the walls, leaving a trail of sparks and ideas.

“I stand out in the mainframe world because I don’t take myself too seriously,” PJ said with a big grin. “I’m silly, funny, and like to make people laugh. I’m hoping some of my passion for this industry comes across in what I create and share.” 

PJ fell in love with engineering through his childhood interests in video games and computers. Imagine a high school senior in a computer engineering class for the sole purpose of building a computer by hand. That was PJ. His studies at State University of New York at New Paltz led to an interest in fiber optics, then a co-op in the I/O hardware development lab for IBM Z. PJ connected with mainframes through engineering, and his passion continues 21 years later.

Running 200 Mainframes

Today, Catalano runs the IBM Z and LinuxONE test facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, as the IBM Z and LinuxONE Test Architect. This data center houses 200 mainframes testing the latest and greatest hardware, firmware, and software. “Even with a team of 100 test engineers,” he acknowledged, “It takes a lot of effort and engineering to ensure that our mainframes are the most secure and reliable platforms in the world.” 

It’s not just for new mainframe features, either. The lab also focuses on testing and validating the latest security patches and concurrent feature fixes. 

PJ encourages visitors to touch the mainframes and reach inside during onsite tours. “I tell them, ‘Go ahead and unplug that cord, let’s see what it does! We’re testing anyway, and that will add to the test case.’”

This attitude highlights a key component of PJ’s personality and professional success: he’s unafraid to fail. 

The Condiment Cannon

PJ’s many accolades include Master Inventor at IBM, an honorific program for inventors with multiple patents. But it’s not just about numbers—it also requires mentoring and coaching new inventors. For PJ, this means starting with an issue that emerges in real life or lab testing.

If you’re bound by fear of criticism or failure, it’s not easy to be innovative.”

Engineers are good at problem-solving using data, while creativity is about opening the brain in new directions. “Inventing requires vulnerability and divergent thinking,” he explained. “You share something and get a reaction. If you’re bound by fear of criticism or failure, it’s not easy to be innovative.”

One of his more memorable inventions is fondly dubbed “the condiment cannon.” His team tackled the challenge of how fast-food restaurants could operate if robots replaced people. 

Specifically, how could an assembly line keep personalized orders correct–this plain burger, that sandwich with only mayo and lettuce, or double ketchup? Their solution: lightly burn a QR code onto a burger with the customer’s order. Bam. The robot could scan it, and machines would squirt the correct condiments in predetermined amounts. 

This evolved into a conversation about how to move beyond static pixelation and add gradients. What about rapid reconfiguration? What about patterns or pictures? What started as solving a labor issue and condiment preference resulted in 10 patents now in use across the textile and food industries. 

Increasing Mainframe Visibility

Some thought leaders showcase their work through publications, others through blogs or a conference circuit. PJ’s influence extends far beyond his technical expertise, though. PJ’s sphere is social media.

While some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of this unorthodox pairing, PJ firmly believes that humor is the secret to making even the most complex concepts understandable.

“I want people to see a 3D-printed, pink mainframe show up in their feed and ask, ‘What is that thing?’”

“Mainframes are invisible. I want to make the invisible visible,” he said. I want people to see a 3D-printed, pink mainframe show up in their feed and ask, ‘What is that thing?’ And from there, we start a conversation.” 

He emphasized that LinkedIn is great for finding people who already know about mainframes, but that’s not enough. “How could I know what a mainframe was if I never heard about or saw one?”

Catalano spends a lot of personal time during the day doing social. PJ responds to every single comment posted on one of his three social channels. He tags people and companies and shares others’ content. “Commenting on every post is basic table stakes,” he shrugs. Everybody wants to feel valued and noticed, and PJ delivers.

An Unorthodox Recruitment Tool

PJ has ingeniously merged his passion for mainframes with a penchant for social media, bridging the generational gap in the industry. His ability to infuse humor into mainframe engineering resonates with seasoned professionals and younger audiences alike.

“For this industry to survive, we have to create awareness in the places and ways younger adults want.”

For PJ, the solution to recruiting and sustaining a new mainframe workforce is visibility on Instagram and TikTok, where the new talent exists. His proactive involvement in university initiatives, mainframe clubs, and routine speaking engagements underscores his commitment to fostering enthusiasm and curiosity among aspiring technologists. 

It’s not without challenges. He occasionally questions whether building a social media community is what he should spend time on. After all, likes, comments, and engagements are not business goals. Catalano acknowledged that he wasn’t sure how to attract younger talent for many years. 

“I build awareness [for students] before and during college. Reach them where they are.” This applies inside IBM as well. “We have a lot of senior, experienced staff and a lot of young folks,” he said. “I realized that I have the unique ability to talk to both and bridge the gap between them.”

Social Media for Mainframes

This brings PJ to the heart of his effective social media mainframe evangelism: What makes for popular, trendy, and—dare we say it—funny mainframe content, and how does he come up with it?

PJ’s approach emphasizes an informal, conversational style. His mind constantly generates ideas, which he then develops into videos or scripts. He can’t rest some nights until he gets an idea out of his head. 

To appreciate the value and brilliance of his social presence, consider how Catalano adheres to three social media guidelines that generate the best outcomes. First, his posts connect with people on a personal level. PJ knows they need to be informative and entertaining to draw in new audiences. Bulleted lists of product functions aren’t engaging; they’re forgettable.

Humans crave stories, not statistics.

Second, people primarily scroll social media for entertainment—hoping for a chuckle, snort, or positive distraction. Social media channels aren’t the place for hour-long videos and educational slide decks. You must be memorable. PJ understands that to get noticed, he needs to give people what they want, not what a typical brand wants to promote. 

Finally, social media is social. Posting a blog and signing off will not increase growth or garner engagement. PJ understands that to grow on social media, he must be social.

Commenting on every post is basic table stakes.

Check out these five examples of PJ’s social posts showcasing his influence on LinkedIn:

Coming from someone else, Catalano’s enthusiasm might sound disingenuous or self-promoting. But he is genuinely touched by others’ noticing his work. He teared up, discussing how much it meant for colleagues to take time to nominate and write kind words about him.

The Mainframe Roadmap

While bound by nondisclosure pacts on the specifics, PJ shared that AI’s role in the future of mainframes will only grow. IBM Z roadmaps go out for generations. He added that people can expect to see many more use cases for AI on IBM Z and LinuxONE.

PJ’s emphasis on engagement and responsiveness online and in the mainframe community exemplifies his commitment to fostering meaningful connections that drive positive change. He seeks to bring more attention to the work and the world of mainframes.

“It’s an amazing community. We want everyone to be successful,” he added. Despite many competitors, “There’s not much negativity in our community.” To PJ, mainframes are beautiful and impressive systems, worthy of discussion. So is he.

Penney Berryman, MPH (she/her), is a digital marketing storyteller at the intersection of culture and technology. Owner of Copper Sage Consulting, Penney blends creativity and results-driven expertise to craft captivating narratives.

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Pink mainframes and a condiment cannon: Meet PJ Catalano”
  1. Thank you for the wonderful article! If you want to connect and find more of my content please follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram, and/or TikTok! Let’s go change the culture around mainframes through laughter, memes, and silly videos.

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