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Demand Grows for System z Skills

Educational resources and job opportunities abound for tech students who know where to look

5/2/2012 4:02:08 AM |

Editor’s note: This article is based on content initially published in SHARE's President's Corner blog.

Anyone who believes the mainframe is yesterday’s technology, should consider this: Plenty of mainframe tech jobs are currently available, and the number is bound to increase as longtime mainframe professionals reach retirement age. People with mainframe skills tend to stand out in the IT crowd, the experts say. If that’s not enough, they stress that many mainframe jobs pay well into the six figures.

That was the message from a stream of speakers at the recent SHARE conference in Atlanta. Speakers acknowledged the mainframe has been overshadowed by glossy newer technologies, but it continues to offer a viable career path for young IT professionals.

As it is, employers already face a significant challenge trying to fill mainframe openings. Six out of 10 employers in a recent SHARE survey reported they were looking to hire mainframe techs. The stat is no surprise when you consider that the platform’s installed capacity has grown 19 percent annually since 2003.

Regardless of that growth, the mainframe has fought an image problem since it was prematurely declared dead a couple of decades ago, as client/server systems—now being replaced by the cloud—became all the rage. For the better part of a decade, IBM has endeavored to change these perceptions with an initiative to attract high school and college students to mainframe-focused careers. The efforts, which include partnerships with colleges and universities, and the Master the Mainframe contest that challenges students to create solutions, have started to pay off, say IBM executives.

A decade ago, students would have dismissed any suggestion of learning mainframe skills as “not cool,” said Ray Jones, vice president of IBM System z Software. But that’s changing as IBM has forged partnerships with hundreds of schools around the world.

Jones and the mainframe community are confident the change will continue, as legions of technicians proficient in the mainframe and z/OS near retirement age, and will need to be replaced. Though a new generation of techs has started to wake up to these opportunities, the mainframe crowd typically trends older. Fifty-three percent of z/OS techs have 20 or more years of experience, said Marc I. Smith, an IBM university ambassador in Texas and Destination z project manager.

To address the need, IBM has set up the Systemz Jobs website to match resumes to mainframe job openings.

Meanwhile, through its System z Academic Initiative, IBM partners with schools to provide them with a mainframe skills curriculum, which is also available to IBM clients wanting to keep training in-house, said Smith, who visits high schools and colleges regularly to help spark interest in mainframe skills.

During a session at the SHARE conference in March, Smith touted the mainframe’s role in everyday life. Thirty-two Atlanta-area high school students packed the room to learn about mainframe opportunities. When Smith asked attendees: “When was the last time someone had interacted with a mainframe?” He heard answers such as, “the 1980s.” He pointed out that whenever you use a credit or debit card, a mainframe is doing the processing in the background.

And that’s only one example of the mainframe’s relevance to today’s technology. In a keynote address, Jones challenged attendees to “rethink the impossible” by sharing a series of examples of current mainframe use in cloud computing, Big Data analytics and social networking.

“I hope you agree with me that the death of the mainframe was a bit premature,” Jones said. “Unfortunately a lot of people bought into that.”

Those who haven’t include such IBM clients as Swiss Re, a re-insurance company that uses System z technology and DB2 Analytics Accelerator to reduce report processing from a few hours to less than one hour, allowing users to make quicker analyses and business decisions. Another client, the City of Honolulu, uses the platform for a cloud computing/social networking solution, through which the city’s complete budget is published online.

Following one of his sessions in Atlanta, IBM Distinguished Engineer Frank J. De Gilio addressed the need for System z skills, pointing out that mainframe expertise allows IT professionals to stand out. And if you understand how things work on the mainframe, he said, you develop a foundation for working on other computing platforms. Put it all together, and you are looking at building a very marketable resume.

Some sessions at SHARE in Atlanta were broadcast online via SHARE Live!, including a session by De Gilio on setting a tech career path. Recordings of the sessions are available here.

Veteran tech journalist Pedro Pereira was on special assignment at SHARE in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter @EditPedro.
 

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