There has been a lot of angst on various mainframe discussion forums about the career prospects of mainframe professionals. Between the recession and, at best, a limp recovery combined with the offshore outsourcing of traditional mainframe jobs, these haven’t been happy discussions for the most part. You can sample one here at LinkedIn.
Several moves by IBM in regard to the mainframe over the past few years, such as support for Linux on z, and with the recent introduction of the new zEnterprise suggest what the new career path for mainframe professionals will look like. This doesn’t look like the traditional COBOL/Assembler career that sustained earlier generations of mainframers, although COBOL and Assembler and the like will continue to be part of it.
A better picture of the new mainframe career path was on display at SHARE this week in Boston when a dozen university participants in IBM’s seven-year-old mainframe academic initiative touted their programs, including a variety of certificate and online (distance learning) programs that may fit older mainframers who want to reinvigorate their careers with new skills. Here is some background on the initiative.
Sure COBOL, Assembler, JCL, IMS, ISPF, and other traditional mainframe technologies are part of almost every curriculum, but it is the new offerings that will fuel mainframe careers going forward. The truth is that mainframe jobs revolving around hardcore coding have been shipped offshore, and even when the economy eventually recovers don’t count on those jobs coming back. Mainframe careers in North America and Western Europe in the future will require a wider set of skills.
DancingDinosaur has referenced a number of those skills over the past few months. According to the academics participating in IBM’s System z Academic Initiative they include WebSphere and Linux on z, SOA, Web 2.0, SOA/XML/CICS, Java, virtualization through z/VM, and even Hadoop for massive data sets and RD/z to build the latest mobile phone apps for the mainframe.
Of course the z will continue to do what it has always done well–high volume, high performance, and highly secure and reliable transaction processing. But, according to the academics speaking at SHARE it will take on more business-related, as opposed to transaction-oriented, work. These workloads will involve the data as information, business intelligence, and new types of user interaction.
Even the term for what the z does has changed, which, not surprisingly, is reflected in the name of the new mainframe, the zEnterprise. Increasingly companies will want people who can deliver enterprise computing or large-scale computing (think cloud). Mainframers—that’s you.
The zEnterprise, with its ability to take on diverse and non-traditional mainframe workloads and interoperate with POWER7 and x86 platforms, was designed for this new mainframe role. It can scale and perform as never before, and it is more versatile than any previous mainframe.
So, how can traditional mainframers get involved in this new enterprise computing? Here are the first three steps:
- Sharpen your z/VM skills since virtualization is quickly becoming pervasive throughout enterprise computing and the cloud
- Develop Linux skills, both on and off the z
- Get familiar with business-oriented workloads like business intelligence and computing approaches like SOA, web services, and cloud
OK, maybe it isn’t exactly the career you signed up for as a mainframer. But, unless you somehow manage to cling to a traditional mainframe job, it is the most likely career path you’ll find going forward. And you will get to play with all the sexy new technologies from Hadoop to cloud computing. Plus there are things like the latest mobile phones. Want to build a mainframe iPhone app using RDz/Eclipse plug-ins? It’s possible. Go for it.