System z hiring prospects

The job prospects for mainframe people today sound like something from Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

OK, maybe “best of times” is pushing it given some of the discouraging talk recently on mainframe forums like LinkedIn. “My latest batch of interns is having a hard time getting places in mainframe. Could be the economy, because this has not been an issue to date,” posted a computer science professor recently to a job opportunity discussion. You can follow the discussion here. Still, Dickens’s words pretty much describe both the short- and long-term mood for those specifically interested in the mainframe and System z.

IBM’s latest corporate financials sound downright rosy, especially given the still dismal economy:  “We are optimistic about 2009 as we again raise our full-year expectations and we remain well ahead of pace for our 2010 roadmap…,” said Samuel J. Palmisano, IBM chairman, president, and chief executive officer in the company’s Q3 financials released Oct. 15.

And just to underscore Palmisano’s optimism a recruiter posted this seemingly attractive job opening on a different LinkedIn mainframe forum: Looking for a Senior Mainframe Developer to join a large and growing project with a long-standing client in our Baltimore office. The project provides much needed IT systems services in the Medicare community utilizing Mainframe technologies and has high visibility across the country for the 65 million users of Medicare. The full posting is here.

Beyond any immediate job postings, there have been much longer running discussions across multiple forums on LinkedIn and Facebook, around the future of a mainframe career in general. These are just more variations of the widely discredited  mainframe-is-dead question.

Another variation started cropping up several years ago. Data center managers would report they had numerous mainframe veterans poised to retire and didn’t know how to replace them. IBM began its Academic Initiative to address this by stimulating the cultivation of mainframe skills through university computer science programs. Today IBM boasts of over 600 participating schools. The recent grads I interviewed ended up with nice jobs at mainframe ISVs.

The economic downturn, which savaged 401k plans everywhere, discouraged a number of those mainframe veterans from actually retiring and averted the immediate crisis. Still, the problem seemed real enough. “At one point we couldn’t get enough mainframe application people,”  Kenneth Tye, CIO, TSYS, recently told me. Georgia-based TSYS is a leading global financial processing service provider.

TSYS solved its mainframe talent shortage by partnering with a local college, Columbus State University, even before there was an IBM Academic Initiative. Today, it doesn’t have trouble finding and retaining mainframe application people.

A problem, however, still exists when it comes to mainframe systems software people, the folks who work with z/OS, CICS, IMS and such. TSYS has been addressing this need, in part, by internally training mainframe operations people. Fortunately for TSYS it doesn’t need hundreds of these people, handfuls will do.

If you are an unemployed mainframe person, the picture must look glum. Wish I had consoling words to offer. Weak as they are, here’s the best I can do:

Mainframe jobs are available and more are coming. The TSYS mainframe environment is growing. The company started working with Linux on z and hopes to roll it into production in 2010. TSYS already employs 3400 people in IT, 85% of which are involved with the mainframe, and the company intends to hire more in the coming year.  Better yet, TSYS won’t be the only company hiring.


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