Evangelizing Mainframe
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Explaining the Appeal of Mainframes to Millennials

The question of succession planning is on the minds of IT managers, as well as rapidly retiring mainframe experts. Many managers have unsuccessfully tried mainframe migration, only to find that the value proposition (and the difficulty of migration) resulted in the mainframe holding its ground as a core business platform. Some mainframers may be clinging to their jobs, afraid that once they’re gone, the mainframes will become unsupportable. It’s critical to attract millennials and others to these jobs—from operator to developer—to systems programmer. But while training programs have been created, it’s simply not enough. We need to sell the value to the next generation.

Mostly, we haven’t done the greatest job at this. My friends and colleagues sheepishly admit to complaining about their jobs at home, right into the waiting ears of future jobseekers. When all you hear about a profession are the negatives, you’re going to avoid it in college and in the workplace. Even those who are passionate about the platform forget to share the “why.” While sharing the future abundance of job openings is a good start, it’s not enough to convince any young person that this is the way to go. Perhaps we can’t even remember why we chose and stayed in our careers for so long.

Have we forgotten how much fun a mainframe job can be? First, you have the opportunity to keep learning. No one knows it all; as soon as you think you have it figured out, a new capability comes out, or you discover a new way to interact with it. Lifetime learning is at your feet, ready for you to step into it. If you’ve been talking with your friends in other fields, you know that fun isn’t the word they’re using to describe their jobs. Part of the fun is joining a fraternity of friendly people who actually want you to succeed. Look at SHARE. There’s a large group of people dedicated to helping the next generation speed its learning and become one of us. Check out zNextGen.

There are also so many options with mainframes, and you don’t actually have to choose. You can start out programming, even with languages you already know from distributed platforms. As your career proceeds, you might opt to check out DBA-land then do some fun work with performance. Play with architecture or business analysis. Management options are also open to you. Most mainframers prefer a manager who’s as passionate about the platform as his/her employees are. You can go deep, as rarely is a mainframer expected to do every role at the same time.

The pay is likely to be great even early on, as companies seek to keep their production systems running. You’re going to be competing with a smaller set of experts for those jobs, which makes the hiring cycle shorter, the negotiating process much more weighted on your side and the welcome bigger.

While no platform is without outages, mainframes are more reliable, more secure, better performing and simply more available than other platforms. A lot has to do with the long history of improvements designed to make the architecture robust. And this means fewer late night calls. Again, you benefit from the long history. Every problem, once figured out, is now in the automation database, never to be your problem again.

A background in the mainframe gives you a career for life. But if you decide down the road that you’d like to expand into other platforms, the education you have on the mainframe makes picking up other tech relatively easy. Once upon a time, when I thought I was getting bored with CICS performance, I took up UNIX performance. Except for the fact that, at the time, it was very difficult to get a number that represented response time, all the differences I found were issues that the mainframe had already solved. You can become enterprise-grade in no time at all and even consider a shift into vendor-land. The options are wide.

But even after hearing all that, many millennials may still say that the mainframe isn’t sexy. What’s sexy? Cloud? Mainframes are cloud platforms for many companies. Web and mobile? Though less common, you can develop web and mobile apps on the mainframe. AI analytics? Given the demand for memory and speed, you can bet that all those apps can run better on a mainframe. And there are plenty of tools out there to make modernization easy. While it’s unlikely that self-driving cars will sport a mainframe under the hood, you can bet some of the back-end processing and coding will still be done on the mainframe. In fact, mainframes are probably the most undiscovered, sexy platform out there.

If you know a job-seeking millennial or are one yourself, it’s time to take another look at the world of mainframe jobs. It might be the best decision you make all year.

Denise P. Kalm is chief innovator of Kalm Kreative Inc. and consultant to CM First Group.

Posted: 10/24/2017 12:00:14 AM by Denise P. Kalm

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