Monday, July 20, 2009

Mainframe Programmers: Where are they?

One of the difficulties in working on a mainframe environment is looking for good people. A lot of those who know mainframes are retiring or have retired and are living on their boat. For a lot of those in university, mention the word mainframe and they will run away as if the mainframe is a plague that should be avoided.

So how do we get young people to want to move into the mainframe world? I propose several misconceptions and some discussions that aim to correct them.
  1. Myth: The mainframe is it is a dying technology.
    Fact: It is here to stay. Many large companies cannot move away from the mainframe. Technology has changed in recent years such that the mainframe is now capable of doing what the newer operating systems can do - and more. You can even code java on the mainframe! To attract more younger people in, we need to present the mainframe as a cool technology (which it is).
  2. Myth: There is no job security attached to dying technology.
    Fact: Look at the developers who supported or are supporting the mainframe. They have a job for life!
  3. Myth: The third reason can be a spin off of the second one. If I have a job for life, then there's no variety in that work.
    Fact: There are several moving parts on the mainframe. Each component of the mainframe is a system in itself. Take security for example. In Unix and/or Windows, the security is limited to files. On the mainframe, it is one piece of software not only controls file access but it also controls online transactions, database access and access to system resources. Even the operating system has several components, from the core operating system, to the job entry subsystem, to the network management system. And within the operating system, there are several areas to work on, from installation, configuration, performance tuning, etc. So there are a lot of things that one can do on the mainframe. One does not need to be stuck with one boring application.
  4. Myth: I have heard people say the mainframe is too difficult to learn.
    Fact: If this is a difficult technology to learn, then should this not be cool? True, it works differently from Unix or Windows, or should I say, Unix and Windows work differently from the mainframe. But learning it is no different than learning these systems. Look back decades ago. How did those people learn their skills? Most of them took maybe a week's course and learned on the job. What is hard is knowing the intimate details of a system which one can only learn by working on the system for years or should I say for some, decades. Is this not the same as learning Unix or Linux? Technology is not the problem, the desire to acquire mainframe knowledge is the problem.
So, the mainframe is not dying. It is not boring. It is in fact, alive and well. It is cool technology and it is here to stay.

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