Evangelizing Mainframe
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The Future of the Mainframe Belongs to Generation Z

Recently I was asked to write about my experience of working on System z. At first it felt a little weird. I mean, what have I done that would be interesting to anyone? I've had the same experience as anyone who's finished a computer science degree in 2010 and then went to work as a software engineer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, actually, I have had quite an interesting start to my career, something that I put down to being involved with the mainframe. So here I am, motivated after reading Bob Rogers' "Tales of a Longtime Mainframer" blog post in July, writing about my own experience on System z.

I'd like to say that at university I always had the end goal of getting involved with the mainframe. I'd like to say that I always knew the importance of the mainframe, and that our economy would simply not function should the mainframe disappear. Actually, I'd just like to be able to say that I even knew what the mainframe was. For me, in my university days, the mainframe was that "thing" that all the best programmers in Hollywood movies spent their time hacking into (watch "An Ode to Movie Mainframes" for a good laugh). I even remember a lecturer at my university telling me that no one uses the mainframe anymore, a quote that I've never failed to remind him about when I go back to deliver a presentation to the current undergrads.

You can imagine my surprise when I was offered a job at IBM in the CICS department. "What do you mean you want me to be a software engineer for the mainframe?!" I thought. Luckily I didn't quote my lecturer and insist that no one uses them anymore. Motivated more by money than anything else, I relocated and started what, at the time, I thought would be a temporary job. But I can honestly say I hadn't experienced such a thrilling challenge as when I first started at IBM.

My first role in IBM was as a software engineer for the CICSPlex System Manager. I always found university a little underwhelming. This is not to say that I aced my grades, but I found a lot of the subject areas didn't interest or motivate me. Well, I can tell you that at school I was never expected to write enterprise-quality software in Assembler programming language, like I did at IBM. Those first six months were tough. I can honestly say that I hadn't felt that underproductive in my life (and many IBMers can tell you what I'm like before my morning coffee).

Once I managed to get my head around Assembler, I started to see the results of all the effort; first through some of the functions that allows the CICS Explorer tool to communicate CICS regions, and later the code that allows so many of our CICS users to utilize cloud technologies in CICS. I'm now fortunate to be able to call myself a team leader in the CICS development team, working with some very talented people to produce new mobile capabilities in CICS.

The mainframe hasn't just opened up new perspectives and programming languages to me. Once I started to become familiar with the technology and concepts around System z, I also became able to travel the world, from journeying around Europe, where I’m from, to experiencing Las Vegas and New York. Delivering presentations at conferences and workgroups around the globe has exposed me to a level of expertise and enthusiasm for the mainframe that I was never expecting to see. There are some incredibly intelligent people working on the mainframe, and I've been very fortune to meet all the people that I have.

How Generation z Mainframers Can Get More Involved

But does any of this mean the mainframe has a future? Many of you will have seen the attention put onto System z this year, as here at IBM we're celebrating 50 years of the mainframe. There have been references to the mainframes role in the moon landings, or how applications written on the mainframe in the ’60s—an airline passenger reservation system—are still able to process billions of transactions a week.

The biggest thing I took from the Mainframe50 celebrations was a focus on ensuring the next 50 years are just as impressive. We recognize that for the mainframe to continue to astound and amaze during the next half-century, we'll need the next generation, those people with fewer than 10 years of experience on System z today to grow the same appreciation for the mainframe and the same strong community as the experienced mainframers. We're calling this up-and-coming group “Generation z.”

So how do we make sure that happens? Well, it already is. During the past few months, a group inside and outside of IBM have gotten together to build and promote a community for Generation z mainframers. This started with one of my favorite activities—a social in a pub in Las Vegas! When many of us Generation z's found ourselves together at the IMPACT2014 conference, we decided it was a great opportunity to come together, get to know each other face to face, and start building a community. What a great night! I don't think I have seen so many Generation z people in one place. This was a great way to start a community around Generation z—a community where we will be able to not only help each other build our mainframe skills but also have some fun and share ideas for mainframe projects!

If this sounds good to you, and you (or someone you know) would like to get involved, or hear about what's going on with the community and other events then you can either join the Facebook group IBM Gen Z, follow us on Twitter, or register your interest for any future events at www.ibm.biz/ibmgenz. Anyone interested in talking about what can be done for less experienced mainframers, or known those who are, feel free to email me at indi.singh@uk.ibm.com.

As you can see, my mainframe experience is really still just beginning. I look forward to sharing the journey with some of you out there.

Join the Mainframe Mobile App Throwdown

Speaking of fun mainframe projects, you might want to check out a new mobile contest IBM has just launched for System z: the Mainframe Mobile App Throwdown. It's a really lightweight way to explore how you can create a mobile app connecting to System z in days, not weeks—it's pretty good as there's no commitment, some free downloads, you get IBM help to play around and all you have to submit to enter is some screenshots. The project doesn't even have to be complete, you just need some concept ideas, and you can win stuff including an iPad, tickets to the Enterprise2014 conference to Las Vegas, and IBM help for your company to turn the app into a reality. If this sounds interesting you can find out more about the Throwdown in the developerWorks blog post “Are you ready for the Mainframe Mobile App Throwdown?” It closes for entries Sept 17th, so you'll need to move quickly. Good luck!


Inderpal Singh is a software engineer for the CICS portfolio, located in IBM Hursley UK. Often heard ranting about the mainframe’s importance for the future, Indi is a keen advocate for adopting new technologies on System z.

Posted: 8/21/2014 8:41:58 AM by Inderpal Singh

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