Over the past several weeks I have been following and participating in a very interesting online discussion as part of the MainframeZone LinkedIn group titled, “Mainframe Technology in 2011 and Beyond; Who is Going to Run These Mainframes?”
One of the themes of the discussion has been the lack of employment opportunities for experienced out-of-work veteran mainframers; to the point of frustration with non-responsive employers, to even creeping negativity about the platform itself. However, the vets are not being pushed out because they are thought of as a bad tumor; they are being pushed out because they give the impression to industry that they are too expensive. I don't agree that they are, but that is the impression.
I know for a fact that several senior technical folks were let go at a large commercial bank to make way for some younger folks. Dumb on the part of industry, but that's the game. It's funny how capitalism is the greatest thing since sliced bread until it doesn't work in one's favor; then it is unfeeling and unkind. No it isn't; it's completely amoral. I think most would agree that many of the vets (though not all, I am sure) are more than worth the money they earn. Short- sighted management does not agree. But I remain unconvinced that there are not effective strategies that can be deployed by many of you as countermeasures. I see it being done in my area every day.
I can't tell you the number of folks I know that "retired" but were brought back as "consultants" under contract and under terms acceptable to both. This is happening—I have seen it with my own eyes. I’m just trying to provide some perspective for the vets to see that they have to repackage the value they offer and sell it. I know many vets who are doing that now. But if that's too hard, and it's easier to complain about the unfairness of it all, then whoever is so inclined has my ardent invitation to do so.
I often thank God for putting me in a country so rich and yet often so inclined to mediocrity. I must also thank Him for putting me in a rich country that has completely forgotten how to fight and scrap for what it needs. I love working with the mainframe technology. I love its challenge and I love the opportunities it provides. I am usually filled with envy for those of you that have mastered just a little piece of it; how wonderful that must be. But if the price of such an attainment is that I must also feel that I have learned enough and can rest and live off the fat of my knowledge, well that is no bargain for me. The appeal of this area for me is knowing I will NEVER master more than a part of it, and that even after decades of working with it I will still have a lot to learn.
So it appears that many minds are already made up; the world is void of all hope and it is out to get us. Sorry, I will never buy that. I can't. Are things tough economically? Hah. I teach at a school where if the kids don't evidence absolute mastery of some area of technology they will be lucky to get a job at Wal-Mart. Many, many of them leave our school for $25k/year jobs, and are lucky to get those. I am committed to making sure that every student who is willing to do what it takes has a decent place in this world. So far so good, but it’s not easy. It’s an everyday job on both ends; the potential employers and getting the students ready.
You must forgive me if I don’t have time to focus on how unfair the current economic situation is. I wish all of you well on your job searches, and hope you find something that you find acceptable. All I can tell you is that this part of the industry has been and continues to be very good to the students I work with if they are willing to invest the time in learning the basics. But no one is giving us anything. I wish they would, it would be a lot easier.
Last week I attended SHARE in Orlando along with two of my students. They each came away with a stack of cards about four inches thick from companies wanting to hire them. (As crazy as it sounds; if I had three times as many students I could place each and every one of them, and that's just the fact of the matter.) They were the only two students at the conference (that I saw). Just about every session I attended had some reference to the need to get new-hires into the system. Long-time mainframers are ready to retire but their companies can't afford to let them leave because there is no one to replace them.
This is what I saw with my own eyes, not something I read on a forum somewhere. This is the real world I live in. And with the zEnterprise--Fuhgeddaboudit--case closed! Systems z, and p, and x86 on one system, controlled by one manager—Huh? Did I mention IMS? No one who uses it can move off of it without radically changing their level of service. Yet there are very few schools that teach IMS (other than Marist).
You all need to spend some time in the public K-20 environments in America today. This profound problem-solving you think is going on, that has been a fixture in your professional careers, is in rare supply. It's now about overworked teachers teaching to the standardized tests so they can keep their jobs. Our kids are great at passing tests. But asking them to figure stuff out is another matter. When I was in Shanghai I saw multiple 50-student IMS sections. I saw an undergraduate IT program with “five levels” of DB2 courses. Undergraduate!
America is unique. We have taught the world a level of performance that was unprecedented. But please don't be so vain as to think the world can't learn to do what we do. We are smart, but you are talking about cultures that, somehow, have figured out how to persist for over 5,000 years. I respect that. Survival in this world is not by accident. Just ask the Navaho and the Sioux.
Are other countries as good at this stuff as the mainframe vets are? No way. Not even close. But my students are among the top of the heap when it comes to mainframe exposure (your average U.S. undergrad neither knows nor cares what JCL is) and I doubt we could hold a candle to the Chinese students I worked with in DB2 (VM, on the other hand, is another matter).
Our generation may not need to develop some humility and respect for other cultures; our vets are entitled to a bit of hubris because of what they have done. But I assure you, their children and grandchildren will learn that America is not the only nation that can do clever things.
Look, I'm very sorry that so many experienced, out-of-work mainframers have missed out on this, I sincerely am. They had their shot, as I have had mine. Our prime is past. Our job now is to make a way for the pups coming up behind us. Hey mainframe vets; why not put your danged knowledge to use instead of decrying how hopeless it all is. That's a sorry way to look at life. The mainframe vets know a lot of valuable stuff and it’s now time to pass it on!
Dr. Cameron Seay is Assistant Professor at North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is an unabashed mainframe evangelist who has a true passion for helping his students succeed upon graduation in their jobs and in life.