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Jack Woehr

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

SHARE -- zNextGen Reaches Out For New Mainframe Professionals

August 26, 2009

Kristine Harper of zNextGenI wasn't sure how to get in touch with Kristine Harper. She founded zNextGen within SHARE as a means of networking younger professionals exploring mainframe careers. Then I saw the placard for a session called "Planning Your Career Before Taking That First Mainframe Job". Good guess: Ms Harper was in attendance.

Kristine (BS Comp Sci, University of Arizona, 2005) is a z/OS assembler language programmer for Neon Enterprise Software in Texas where, in her spare time, she writes Kristine Harper's Newbie Blog. We spoke today at SHARE in Denver.

JW: What got you into programming, and especially, what got you turned on to mainframe assembler language programming?

KH: Both my parents were software developers. I had early exposure to IT and the power of the mainframe, a realistic view of the mainframe, not the stigmatized view. I took an independent study course from my dad in high school. I was amazed by how much power a mainframe has and a mainframe developer has. I wanted a career that I wouldn't be bored in. I attended SHARE with my dad when I was 18, right out of high school and found were I could go with a non-stagnant career, not just in terms of finances. In terms of always learning, a perpetual challenge.

JW: How did zNextGen get started?

KH: Four years ago at SHARE in Boston I gave a presentation. I just graduated a week before. That particular SHARE they organized an event where everyone 35 years or younger attending was to meet. It was incredible. The atmosphere was right. zNextGen was born, and with the help of the right people, it became a SHARE project.

JW: What is the state of mainframe eductation in academia today?

KH: In short, it is better than it was last year, but it's one of those problems where you have to follow an exponential curve to solve it. It's not easy, but there is a number of enthusiatic people wanting to have universities take part in that solid three-tier relationship of industry, IBM and academia. Easier said than done, but that relationship is building.

JW: What do readers of this blog who know nothing about mainframes do to explore this possible career and professional path?

KH: You could contact zNextGen and find a mentor. A mentor can do virtual job shadowing, explore the opportunites that way, or maybe decide that's not the career for them. Find out. It's not just sitting behind a desk eight hours a day. It's much more exciting to work on this kind of platform.

JW: In what way? What else are people doing other than just coding?

KH: Working on mainframes requires innovative thinking on a daily basis. From my perspective, when I go into work, I'm doing something new. I want to step up to the plate and solve the challenge the best way I can.

JW: You feel this differs from, say, web application programming on workstations?

KH: I do. I like to feel the system programmer or developer is maintaining continuity, that it matters to the business world how well your system is coded, that it keeps the business running, especially in these economic times. Without mainframes there would be large consequences. Mainframes have a huge impact on business around the world, and it's fun to be a part of that. Mainframe code is running every time a customer goes to an ATM. That's huge.

JW: It seems to me that the dedicated and engaged mainframe programmer has a view of programming and the programmer's role that differs markedly from the view of the typical web application developer working in a web startup. Have you encountered this difference?

KH: Yes. We feel like mainframe people are more engaged and dedicated. It's a tough business. You can't survive without that passion. You're just going to fall back into the perhaps mundane attitude of the web application world. You have to enjoy pushing yourself beyond the sorts of things you can do without doing some research.

JW: Some programmers have no intellectual interest in "business".

KH: But people work for "business". It's important to understand what business does and be excited about it. It's a thrill when the bottom line improves, because I hope I played a part in that, a part in the success of the business.


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