Despite no new hardware or software announcements from IBM, the August 2014 SHARE conference in Pittsburgh was considered a big success. The good news is that SHARE is getting younger. More than 25 percent of conference attendees were first timers; a welcome addition to an aging mainframe workforce.
There are several reasons for this:
• First, the anticipated looming retirements of experienced mainframers have started. However, in many places, new blood is backfilling the jobs of those who are leaving.
• Second, initiatives such as IT-oLogy and Marist College Enterprise Computing Community (ECC) programs are bridging the gap between education and enterprise, spreading the gospel on the need for critical skills and the realization that “There’s gold in them thar mainframe jobs.” IT-oLogy is a non-profit collaboration of businesses, academic institutions and organizations dedicated to growing the IT talent pipeline, fostering economic development and advancing the IT profession. Marist College has been awarded a $400,000, two-year grant from the National Science Foundation to build an academic and industry community to “Revitalize Undergraduate Education in Enterprise Computing,” with the objective of improving undergraduate education in large systems and to graduate a new generation of talent that will provide industry with the ability to secure, sustain and grow their operations. In addition to these growing initiatives, industry-leading IT vendors are working with partners, customers and educators to promote the value and efficacy of a mainframe career and that it is far more than just “old technology.”
• Third, schools are not only networking through these organizations, but are also working together to craft and deliver enterprise computing as a discipline because businesses are now reaching back directly into the education community (not just into colleges and universities, but all the way into K-8 and high schools) to cultivate talent. For example, John Turchek from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh—who participated on a panel—has partnered with local businesses to re-energize his school’s programs in mainframe technology.
The Growing Application Economy Relies on the Mainframe
While some people might have previously thought of a mainframe as a giant box with a bunch of lights blinking on and off—something like the War Operations Plan Response (WOPR) computer that almost destroyed the world in the 1980s movie WarGames—a new generation of IT professionals are learning that the mainframe is much more than a refrigerator with a bunch of lights blinking on and off.
Most people would probably be surprised to know that 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies use a mainframe to run their core business or that mainframes now handle $23 billion dollars worth of ATM transactions and $6 trillion dollars worth of credit card transactions per year.
And the volume is increasing dramatically. Think about it—every time somebody checks their account balance from their mobile phone or tablet, a mainframe is likely processing that transaction. While mainframe operations continue to move along steadily, the fact remains that the mainframe workforce is aging. This is a challenge that businesses, academic institutions and the IT vendor community is actively addressing.
The Future Is Bright
Dr. Cameron Seay, frequent SHARE attendee and contributor, has been building the enterprise computing discipline at North Carolina A&T State University for the past several years.
He has been instrumental in bringing enterprise computing to this part of North Carolina, not just A&T, but also influencing the public schools. He has been successful in getting many of his students high-paying mainframe positions with many prestigious IT customers.
After SHARE, he posted this on his Facebook page:
“SHARE this summer was incredible. The numbers are up, and the sessions seemed to have a focus and clarity I have not seen in a while. None I attended were dry and technical.
Everybody was on their ‘A’ game, and I think the reason is that everybody is seeing an unprecedented visibility for the mainframe. It’s been in the dark for too long.”
What SHARE attendees witnessed at the latest conference should change the mental image of what some think of when they visualize the folks who work on mainframes. Gone are the days of gray-haired mainframe “pioneers” wearing white lab coats, holding reels of tape. Don’t be shocked when you see “kids” on the conference floor of the next mainframe event. It’s the next-generation of IT and these young people are the ones who will keep mission-critical systems running on the mainframe for the next 50 years!