“Young mainframers” – now there’s two words you probably didn’t expect to see in the same sentence, unless you were reading something written more than twenty years ago! But this week, I met some of the new breed of young mainframe enthusiasts who are in their twenties.
CA – a company that needs no introduction, I’m sure – took a mixed bag of journalists and analysts to Prague this week to talk about a recent survey they had conducted and to introduce us to a scheme they have set up with universities to explain to youngster what a mainframe is and why it is so important.
Let’s take a quick look at the survey first. It was conducted by Vanson Bourne, and surveyed organizations in six European countries. If you want to read the whole thing, it’s called “The Mainframe: Surviving and Thriving in a Turbulent World” and can be found at http://www.ca.com/Files/SupportingPieces/ca_mainframe_survey_report_208226.pdf.
They came to four conclusions:
1 Organisations, using the mainframe as a fully connected resource within the distributed Web-enabled enterprise, experience significantly greater benefits than those with a disconnected comparatively-isolated mainframe environment.
2 Where the mainframe is a fully-connected resource, 65% of all respondents reported it to be an ‘incredibly secure environment’; 63% stated that performance levels are ‘excellent’; and 52% said that ‘the system never goes down’.
3 The more the mainframe is part of an enterprise-wide technology strategy, the greater the role it plays and the greater its level of utilization: the average amount of business-critical data administered by the mainframe among all ‘connected’ respondents is 64%.
4 66% agreed that the mainframe user will soon start to suffer from a shrinking workforce if the relevant skills are not available. However, 52% agreed that a Web-enabled GUI that less-experienced users could easily master would make the mainframe more attractive and help to close the skills gap.
So clearly, Web-connected mainframes are a positive business strategy for organizations. The big problem that many face is a skills issue. All those youngsters who got into mainframe computing in the seventies and eighties are getting on a bit. They may have vast amounts of experience, but many are more concerned about their retirement than anything else! IBM has an academic initiative to ensure youngster realize that there’s more to computing than Java. It, along with other software vendors, has introduced autonomic software – self repairing – and has made the interface to their software much easier to use. Excitingly, CA has also thrown its great weight into the battle for the hearts and minds of youngsters.
CA now has links with universities, giving them access to software and hardware, which the students can use for parts of their degree, masters, or PhD studies. There are then jobs available for suitable students. And suitability doesn’t mean any great knowledge of mainframes, but a willingness to learn how they work. CA then runs internal training to get these youngster – who come from all over the world, not just the Czech Republic – up to speed. They also use a mentoring system where, shall we say, more mature mainframe software experts can pass on their knowledge to the youngsters. CA has also simplified the user interface to its software. I have spoken to the next generation of mainframers, and it’s clear that they are determined, enthusiastic, and clearly very bright. Sites running mainframes can feel more relaxed about where their future software is coming from.
With IBM and CA working so successfully with younger people, it would be interesting to see what larger software houses, perhaps BMC and Progress Software, are doing.