Operating Systems

Long ago, in another life, a manager taught me the following, “If you do what you did, you get what you got.” But is what we’re used to what we still need today? Can we still deliver in the future on what made us famous: a 100 percent reliable mainframe?

In the past months, a discussion I started on the MainframeZone Linkedin group titled “2011 and beyond: who will run our mainframes?” had quite a takeup. Many mainframers—young, old, experienced, and inexperienced—shared their thoughts. The one thing that struck me was the fact that so many people just want to keep doing the things they did and are disappointed their company is changing things.

The IT Industry has always been one of innovation. We went from machine code to Assembler to PL/1 and from COBOL to 4GLs to client/server and beyond. We had to follow because the world was changing so fast. But from a management perspective, we kept doing what we did. But our world—the world of mainframe operations—has changed as well. Where we once had very specific roles such as security, storage, databases, network, etc., the years of headcount reductions, budget cuts, and the adoption of new technologies have changed this dramatically. As a professional mainframer, you probably wear at least six different hats on a normal working day, and maybe even three at the same time! And you probably need more than 20 tools to do so—some integrated and all of them with a slightly different interface.

This has an impact on the service you’re delivering. I know this, because I see it around me every day. Six years ago, many companies had as little as one yearly planned outage; today, many of us experience more interruptions. From the LinkedIn discussions, I learned that many mainframers have reached a point in their careers where change is something to avoid. This is understandable, but wrong. While some of us are desperately defending our jobs, we do so with the same technology we’ve been using for 15 years. Perhaps it’s time to open our minds to the changes in the way we work with our tools to help us meet our service-level agreements and possibly make us more valuable to our organization.

If we want to continue to offer the service levels we offered a few years ago, we need to change our perception of the type of tools we need and forget about some of the bias we so easily express. Our roles have changed. We’re asked to do more with less, share our knowledge with new people, and improve our service levels. This requires a new way of working and new tools. We need tools that are less point task-specific and more flexible to allow them to be tailored to our roles. We need tools that help us gain insight in today’s massive amounts of data by using technology that wasn’t available in the past. And we need tools that help young people understand the depths of the mainframe and help us all do our job better.

Fellow mainframers, I know you can do magic with your 3270 interface; I really do. But if you are in your 50s like me, and you’re known in the company as the one with “the 3270 knowledge,” where does that leave you for the next 10 to 15 years? The technology landscape and your jobs have changed, and if your toolset hasn’t changed because you think it isn’t necessary, think again.