IT Management

Clients ask me sometimes about the availability of enterprise systems skills. Are they growing? Is enterprise computing still taught in schools? I understand the question. They want to know that their investment in mainframe technologies will be supported by a healthy ecosystem of academia and technical professionals.

But what may not be widely known is that 1,067 schools in 67 countries are enrolled in the IBM Academic Initiative-System z program. It offers resources, including enterprise systems content with access to IBM mainframes, that can be integrated into a variety of college or university curriculum (Computer Science, IT, MIS and Business).

For example, U.S.-based Syracuse University partners with IBM to help educate students on large-scale, technology-driven, global operating environments. Approximately 500 students have participated in the university’s Global Enterprise Technology (GET) curriculum, which has a strong emphasis on learning and using the mainframe to solve challenges. Today, Syracuse University's iSchool is the number-one school for information systems study, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and serves as a model for other iSchools that are emerging around the globe. 

We've been working closely with our partner universities, like Syracuse, and introducing them to other universities to help extend partnerships and innovation among themselves. For example, earlier this year, IBM helped facilitate a discussion among three schools on possible student and faculty exchange programs, joint research, and joint degrees. Marist College (U.S.), Tongji University (Shanghai, China), and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (Chengdu) also discussed ways the universities can work together to strengthen mainframe education, with a focus on emerging technologies, including analytics, parallel programming, and multi-core mainframes.

More and more concentrations and certificate programs feature the mainframe, too. For example, Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA, is developing a four-course sequence that includes z/OS, COBOL, CICS, and DB2 courses. Enrollment will be open to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Another recent example is West Virginia’s Fairmont State University, where courses will focus on mainframe operating systems, middleware, and Rational products for application development.

IBM Master the Mainframe contests are another way to introduce students to mainframe education. These contests have reached nearly 44,000 students at 2,000-plus schools from 32 countries since 2005. They give students a hands-on opportunity to learn about enterprise computing—in particular, IBM’s z/OS operating system. And interestingly, we’re not just reaching colleges and universities. High schools are participating in this contest; in 2011, the North America contest had its highest levels of high school participants ever.

During the contest, students get to solve challenges taken from real-life situations encountered by experienced systems programmers. At a recent event, students created secure banking applications, developed complex programs designed to use a minimum of system resources, and solved difficult problems with large databases.

Students and professionals can then be connected with the businesses and organizations that need them with the worldwide job board.

Dr. Zhen Gao, director of the IBM Technology Center, School of Software Engineering at Tongji University, recently said: “The large market demands for System z talent convinced us to develop an enterprise education program centered around System z technology. The Enterprise Computing on System z program has already turned into one of the dominant majors in our School of Software Engineering. The curriculum is very popular with students. Students recognize that actually learning System z knowledge enhances their job opportunities in the top Fortune 100 international companies.”

This international movement of mainframe specialists is emerging, and these specialists are prepared to take on enterprise-class careers.

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