Meet the new face of the System z

In early 2008 the CIO at a large System z shop was worried that his aging stable of System z veterans were about to retire and leave the organization high and dry. So, he set out recruiting on Second Life, stalking the byways of that virtual world in the guise of a cool avatar searching for young techies he might lure to the System z.

Fast forward six months. The economy starts tanking. Everyone’s 401k plummets. Well, you can guess what happened. The CIO’s System z staff didn’t retire after all.

To the contrary, with their retirement savings ravaged and pensions curtailed the System z staff stayed. The CIO did manage to lure a couple of young techies through Second Life and put them into what amounted to a System z apprenticeship.

BMC didn’t go onto Second Life when it recruited Gil Yolo, who graduated from the computer science program at Northern Illinois University. Yolo,  an associate product developer working on BMC’s mainframe products, represents the new face of the System z.

A required course in Assembler partly hooked him on the mainframe while in college. “With Assembler, you can actually see what’s going on,” he told me recently. He also picked up Java, C++, JCL, and COBOL while in school.

The mainframe is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, and nature must inevitably take its toll on veteran mainframe staff. To replenish mainframe ranks IBM began pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an academic initiative to jump start System z programs within college and university computer science departments. To date, well over 500 schools are participating in IBM’s academic initiative.

Other leading mainframe vendors have taken up the cause. BMC, which recruited Yolo essentially through the IBM Academic Initiative, is launching a mainframe-specific internship program this summer to support students on a mainframe career path.

CA responded to the looming staffing crisis with what it dubbed its Mainframe 2.0 initiative, through which it, essentially, is dumbing down the mainframe. It does this by adding a slick web 2.0 interface and wizards to its suite of management tools or otherwise tries to simplify the process of deploying and maintaining mainframe systems.

To reinforce its youth drive, CA reports that much of the programming and testing work on its new products is being done by developers with next-generation skill-sets such as Java and C++. The company continues to actively recruit this next-generation talent.

For a young person right out of college, a mainframe career looks pretty attractive today.  Yolo reports pulling in $55,000 plus full benefits.  “I’m doing pretty well compared to my friends,” he says.  I don’t doubt it; my daughter graduated with a degree in linguistics the same year as Yolo and was thrilled to land her first job for thousands of dollars less.

Lubo Slivka, a 29-year-old senior team lead at CA’s development facility in Prague, is the poster child for CA’s new generation mainframe. Slivka is using Java and C++ to build CA tools for z/OS.

In a Feb 23 posting here, Friend me—the System z on Facebook, I discussed efforts led by IBM to make the System z appealing to young people through popular social networking sites. The social networking System z/mainframe groups seem to have become considerably more active since then. Let’s hope it keeps up. With Java, Linux, web 2.0, cloud, and mobile all able to play on the System z it surely can attract young people.

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