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Jack Woehr

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

SHARE -- Educating the next generation

August 25, 2009

Educating computer science students in mainframe programming is neither prevalent nor easy. Jim Michael of California State University Fresno ITS Dep't. was the first SHARE board liason to zNextGen which looks for the younger folks coming into the industry.

JM: The gap between the demographic supporting mainframe systems and the folks entering the workforce is wide. Certainly there are people of all age groups working on the platform, but for the organizations using mainframes to have confidence, we have to address the supply.

JW: How does one address the supply?

JM: We're working with IBM Academic Initiative. We're giving student rates for the conferences. And we're working with zNextGen, especially with people who are new to the business and are trying to change their careers to mainframing. We provide mentors to zNextGen members to show them how to get productive quickly. Then tend to be excited about their choice, so we try to make sure that their experience is indeed exciting.

JW: How do you make the gray aura of mainframing "exciting"?

JM: I'm often pleasantly surprised to have these students and new hires come to us already fired up. I ask, "How did you get fired up?" Some say, "My friends want jobs as game designers but mainframes are used in the financial industry, part of the fundamental business of the world. This is important, it is real, and further, there aren't as many people doing it, so I'll be doing something real and be in higher demand."

To try to help foster that, we have high school and college students come out to SHARE, we go to universities and show them things like HOPLON, a gaming environment hosted on Z Architecture in Brazil.

JW: What about actual programming techniques?

JM: Because there's so much Linux on Z, if the students have study PHP, MySQL, Apache, these skills are transferrable to Linux on Z. Java is certainly a major part of the mainframe environment. There's a lot of things they do that are transferrable even if they haven't been studying Z Architecture. That gives them an entree into working on the platform.

From there they might branch out into database administration, or assembly language programming, or systems administration, middleware support like supporting WebSphere or Tivoli. There are a lot of opportunities on the platform once a new hire gets involved and begins to become familiar with the platform.

The other thing we're doing at SHARE is help companies identify and support the senior professional staff as mentors for these new hires. This initiative is in its early days but we hope to bring representatives of these companies together between now and Seattle (March 2010) to share best practices about mentoring.

JW: And they see their own corporate self-interest invested in such an initiative?

JM: Yes, they do. Part of it has been SHARE reaching out to them, part of it has been them coming to us to find out what other companies have done in this regard.



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