For many IT departments, the incredible reliability of the mainframe has created a false sense of security, while expertise on this foundational hardware has gradually eroded from IT staffs’ skillsets. Old-school mainframe professionals are now retiring at the fastest rate ever, and the younger generation of IT techs aren’t learning these systems in the same numbers as in the past. This lack of knowledge can lead to simple upgrade problems or possibly more insidious issues that can steal business agility from an organization, inadvertently handing advantage to the competition.
The shift in mainframe expertise
Bob Stark, Vice President of Research & Development at ProTech, is well-versed in the current mainframe professional shortage and illustrates the issue as he describes his experience. “At my first heavy-duty mainframe computing job at Duquesne Systems, everyone there was both highly skilled and highly experienced. I could go to literally anyone and get pertinent mainframe computing advice. When I visited our customer sites in those days, the customers had deep pools of computing knowledge as well.
Customers had assembly language programmers on staff, could troubleshoot complex storage dumps, and had command over their computing environment. Today, few corporate IT departments have this level of expertise on staff. The mainframe is a complex environment and requires a team with years of experience to maintain and upgrade it. Advanced planning is required to recruit, train, and mentor new members of this team.”
One reason companies fail to plan for future mainframe expertise is that they mistakenly believe the mainframe is dead — so they don’t worry about the lack of mainframe knowledge they have access to. Another reason is that they assume — without detailed analysis — that they will have migrated off of mainframe systems by the time their mainframe programming team retires. As such, they don’t think they need to recruit new blood into the team. For example, sometimes they may discover too late that the availability and regulatory requirements of their industry make mainframe the most cost-effective computing approach.
The mainframe continues to be important to businesses for many reasons, and mainframes aren’t going away any time soon. At a high level, mainframe computing provides:
• Reliable performance
• Connection to daily financial transactions
• Interoperability with hybrid cloud environments
• Processing power to handle big data and analytics applications
“For companies with a significant mainframe infrastructure and custom-written applications, failure to maintain the institutional knowledge needed to maintain and grow these applications will become an impediment to company growth,” states Mr. Stark. The negative implications of not being able to maintain and upgrade a company’s mainframe are many:
• No one to maintain the system that is responsible for financial transactions
• No one to upgrade or troubleshoot applications that were custom built — a benefit of utilizing the mainframe that many IT professionals employ
• Retiring workers’ knowledge not being passed on to younger generations, leaving a severe knowledge/skill gap in the ability of the younger generations to maintain and upgrade the mainframe as needed to keep up with the evolution of today’s technology
• Dangers and expense of relying on outsourced talent
Mr. Stark experienced the issue with one of his clients — and this story is not unique.
“I was brought into a bank that had let its infrastructure languish. They couldn’t install the latest version of an application because their Customer Information Control System (CICS) transaction processing system was back-leveled. The CICS upgrade required an upgrade to their z/OS operating system, and the latest z/OS system wouldn’t run on their older zSeries hardware. Just like a manufacturer with an aging factory, their computing infrastructure wasn’t maintained and became obsolete. This bank was eventually acquired by another bank with a capable mainframe team.”
ProTech’s Mainframe courses
To assist companies with addressing their mainframe needs now and in the future, ProTech has full curriculum of dozens of Mainframe Courses geared for Developers, Systems Programmers, DBAs, Operators, etc. One popular way customers bring new hires up-to-speed is our Mainframe Developer Bootcamp. This bootcamp can assess and work with any mainframe environment while considering the knowledge and skill level of your IT personnel. The bootcamp is taught by highly experienced instructors, who have spent a lot of time in the trenches of the mainframe computing world. A few of the bootcamp’s features include:
1. Every mainframe environment is unique, even though they all run IBM operating systems on IBM hardware. This bootcamp is flexible, so that it can be easily adapted to the technologies used at a given site.
2. The bootcamp can start at an introductory level, which is well-suited to new hires and those new to the mainframe environment, teaching tools, terminology, and the “why” behind how mainframes work.
3. The bootcamp is progressive, building advanced topics on top of fundamentals.
4. The bootcamp is customizable, taught in a real-world environment, and can provide ongoing mentoring and project support as needed.
Additionally, the classes all have significant portions of hands-on learning in a mainframe computing environment to promote optimal retention of the material. Don’t wait until it’s too late to address your mainframe environment — contact ProTech today to learn what we can do to help you prepare for your future mainframe infrastructure needs.
Need help training your IT staff on mainframe systems? Contact me at ProTech Training at 800-373-9188 ext. 112 or by email at: [email protected]
Tim Noca, President & Co-Founder of ProTech Enterprise IT Training & Consulting holds over 35 years of industry experience and a B.S. of Computer Science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.