Apr 22 ’08

Pete Clark on z/VSE: z/VSE Systems Programmer Skill Set?

by Editor in z/Journal

The VSE Systems Programmers’ (SPs’) skill set has changed over the years. Have you and your technical staff kept pace and developed the new skills required in today’s world?

In a past life as a VSE SP, Network Control Program (NCP), Systems Support Program (SSP), and Systems Network Architecture (SNA) were important skills to have. Today, those skills are generally used only to remove obsolete hardware.

Today’s network support requirements revolve around TCP/IP and the Web with a moderate amount of VTAM knowledge necessary. Your VSE technician requires well rounded technical expertise in all things Web-related, including TCP/IP, protocols, applications, network hardware, and debugging tools.

The following three paragraphs specifically identify Windows as the platform of discussion, just because it’s currently the most popular. If you’re using another technology solution for workstation/desktop/terminal support, please substitute your solution name and continue.

It’s imperative your VSE technicians have strong Windows skills, as these skills are required because the primary interface to VSE is Windows TN3270 and TCP/IP. Many problems the VSE SP encounters will be much easier to resolve with Windows, TCP/IP, and Web technology knowledge. If you think your network technicians need this knowledge, then your VSE technician also had better be your network technician.

The payback for this Windows, TCP/IP network, and Web technology knowledge is a better-designed, higher performance, more stable network. Faster, smoother implementations and quicker problem resolution are additional benefits.

In the past, common duties of VSE SPs included writing, understanding, and debugging complex Assembler programs. Today, most of those requirements are seldom needed or used. Because VSE and associated vendor products are so functionally rich, a VSE SP may never need to write a special-purpose Assembler program or interface.

However, it’s still important that a VSE SP understand how to code macros and compile those into an Assembler program. Most of the IBM and vendor software definitions and tailoring facilities use Assembler macro coding conventions and many require assembling those into a PHASE for use.

One skill set that hasn’t changed over the years is problem resolution. Problem-solving skills are just as important today as ever. But, the way we use them has changed; in the past, often those skills were used on VSE and vendor products. Because of the quality improvement in VSE and vendor products, more of the problem-solving skills are focused on internal problems. While that may sound like bad news, it really isn’t. Today, more of a VSE SP’s time is focused on company projects. VSE installations are getting a better return on their SP investment.

SPs are the ultimate security exposure, and because of that, often security is assigned to them. For basic system security, the skill set requirement hasn’t changed. However, the need for improved data security (think encryption) onsite and offsite introduces new skill sets.

Part of that skill set is naturally on the products installed to deliver the data security (still thinking encryption). But equally as important, your SP security staff must develop a skill set to anticipate exposures and devise solutions to deal with those exposures.

Failure to secure/encrypt data really isn’t an option; just check the latest data exposure revelation in your favorite publication and you’ll quickly understand the ramifications. Also, data is a company asset just like a product. Companies use expensive security systems in warehouses for a reason, and the same concept applies to data.

It isn’t unusual for companies to fail to understand the changing skill sets needed by technical employees. Unfortunately, it’s usually brought to their attention when a high-profile outage or problem occurs. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the wrong approach.

If your company has failed to see or understand the evolving technical skill set needs, as a forward-thinking VSE system technician, it’s your responsibility to bring it to their attention.

Thanks for reading the column. See you all in the next issue!