Sunday, 13 September 2009

Young mainframers

“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

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.


Scott said...

As a Computer Science graduate student at 22 years old, I have been able to get my hands on in-depth training from some of the best mainframe-professionals in the arena. While I spent my fall and spring semesters developing as a student of the school of Computer Science, my summers have been filled with competitive internships in mainframe environments. Programs such as IBM's I.T. Skills Co-op which is a project oriented z/OS System Programming internship supported by the Academic Initiative for System z opened the doors for many opportunities including Bank of America's Mainframe Design & Build internship which introduced an array of mainframe technologies. In addition, there are certificate programs offered through Marist College and the IDCP which offers detailed training. The mainframe offers attractive environments like Linux, and Relational Database Management such as DB2, but when they get a taste of z/OS or IMS they will want to soak that up too. And while it makes sense to have new comers mentored by soon-to-retire professionals, the unstable economy has pushed off retirement funds for at least a few more years. It costs much less man power to run a mainframe, so with those savings I suggest companies develop an in-house training program. Plus with the mainframe becoming integrated with midrange technology in some software solutions, the younger students coming in can really bring some innovative ideas to the table. Also the retiring professionals started out just the same way. When the mainframe first came out in 1964, do you think that schools already had programs in place? Bottom line is that you have to want to learn and take on new challenges every day and a company has to be realistic: you cannot expect a college student coming out to have 5-7 years of mainframe experience...that is just an unrealistic demand. But I do think I have set myself apart from the pack coming out of college and will be successful in the mainframe world wherever I go thanks to the programs that have been available to build hands-on z/OS System Programming skills as well as other mainframe technology.

Scott Wetter
Marist College
Graduate Student Computer Science

Anonymous said...

Mieux vaut tard que jamais !

shameem said...

I hope let article like this clarify new generation about the misconception about mainframes. Those who thinks its an outdated technology. Good work