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August 23, 2018 Workforce 0 Comments

Mainframe Recruitment and Retention Advice: Notes from SHARE St. Louis

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Like any first-time attendee of SHARE, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what sessions to pursue before arriving in St. Louis, where the semiannual mainframe-dedicated conference was held last week. But in the end, I found myself drawn to sessions around a common theme: Recruiting and retaining the next generation of mainframe professionals.

On average, organizations have lost 23 percent of their mainframe workforce over the past five years, with 63 percent of that headcount remaining unfilled, according to a 2018 Compuware-commissioned Forrester study. It was no surprise many of SHARE sessions, and even the SHARE Student Days, tried to address the issue of how companies can recruit and retain next-gen talent for the mainframe.  There were two core things I took from the event:

  1. Mainframe experts should seek recruiting advice from millennial mainframers—and many want to.
  2. Companies shouldn’t underestimate the talents of mainframe-inexperienced students.

SHARE Takeaway #1: Get Advice from Millennial Mainframers

The week started off with a roundtable discussion about strategies for recruiting and training. I had the opportunity to share my experiences and reasons for pursuing a career in mainframe development in this session presented by Compuware Vice President of Product Development David Rizzo. David also hit on a lot of points that I would hear throughout the week at different sessions, including the Tuesday keynote.

Later in the week, I had the chance to be on a panel of recent hires for a session IBM’s Christy Schroeder hosted. This gave me the chance to introduce myself and give my perspective on what it is like to be a millennial mainframe developer as well as hear different perspective from my peers.

Compuware's Rachel Clevenger speaking at SHARE St. Louis SHARE Student Days 2018

My Compuware colleague and Rachel Clevenger, Information Systems Engineer, sharing advice to students on one of the SHARE Student Days panels

In the end, I believe the attendees left with a better understanding of what they could do to convince recent grads to join their mainframe teams. Based on my time in these sessions, I came away with some summarized advice on recruiting and retaining next-gen talent.

Mainframe Recruitment Advice

Ultimately, if you’re looking to hire the next generation of mainframe developers, these are my takeaways from SHARE St. Louis:

  • Create relationships with local/regional colleges you want to recruit from by attending career fairs and giving presentations to any related student organizations.
  • Make the mainframe appeal to the next generation. It always amazes students when they learn of the amount of transactions and workloads performed on the mainframe. This gives a way to speak with them about great opportunities for career growth. It’s also important to speak in terms that make the mainframe appeal to them, such as “enterprise software development” instead of “legacy systems.”
  • Offer internships; it’s a great risk-free way to try out new developers. Internships give you a chance to teach and assess students’ abilities and cultural fit, but also gives them an opportunity to see what a career in mainframe development would be like.
  • If possible, hire in pairs at a minimum. It’s much easier to retain and train candidates when they have a comrade in the trenches. In my experience this rings true, because one of the major factors in my decision to join Compuware was knowing there would be others in my hiring class.We worked and learned together through the training material, and it helped me form bonds with all my coworkers. It was easier asking questions of the more seasoned developers knowing that the question I had wasn’t stupid, because my next-gen colleagues didn’t know the answer either.

Talent Retention Advice

The other concern companies have is retaining the next-gen talent they recruit. Here’s my advice on retention:

  • Implement DevOps-driven cultural practices and processes, and give your new mainframers modern tools, challenging work and lots of opportunities. The right culture, processes and tools are what allow them to do good work; good work is what makes them stay.
  • Listen to next-gens and help them grow. In my experience, I have been on multiple teams and been afforded interesting work on each, but something I’ve really appreciated is having weekly one on ones with my development manager—everyone at Compuware does with their direct manager. I can freely discuss my career goals and my manager has given advice on how to achieve them. These meetings make me feel like my concerns are being heard.

It’s because of this investment in making sure I am happy that seeking opportunities elsewhere has never crossed my mind. Compuware is the company I love, and it is the company that will help me grow into the person I want to be.

There is no perfect recipe to retaining talent, but if the culture your organization cultivates is one of challenging work, respect, and understanding; I think you will find more candidates becoming lifelong partners to your organization’s success.

SHARE Takeaway #2: Mainframe-inexperienced Students Have Talent

SHARE Student Days was a two-day event I participated in, where students from middle school to college participated in a slew of activities and panel discussions.

During a lunch and learn, the students had a chance to ask mainframe professionals about their jobs and backgrounds as well as take job seeking advice in an informal, relaxed environment. I spent my time speaking with college students on how to prepare and succeed in interviews and discussed strategies on preparing for the technical assessments and the importance of being able to articulate their thought processes.

My SHARE Student Days experience was capped off with the Compuware Bug Hunt. Students paired up with a mainframe professional and competed to try and fix as many COBOL programming mistakes and bugs using Compuware’s latest and greatest tools on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The student I partnered with, Reva, wasn’t even studying computer science; his degree was in mechanical engineering. But with a little help understanding programming logic, he was able to navigate and use Compuware Topaz to locate many of the bugs in the first program.

Compuware's Matt Rowe with student Reva at SHARE St. Louis SHARE Student Days 2018

Reva and I collaborating on the Bug Hunt

Reva and I didn’t win, but the experience gave proof to the idea that you can teach COBOL to students and recent graduates, regardless of their prior knowledge of the mainframe or its core languages.

Get to SHARE

From interacting with students, customers and other software vendors to getting to know some of my coworkers better during and after a day’s activities, I had a variety of great experiences at SHARE.  I hope to be able to attend future conferences to learn and grow more, because there were so many great sessions I was not able to attend.

Ultimately, SHARE was a great learning experience that gave me a unique perspective into the challenges companies currently face with recruiting and retaining the next generation of mainframe developers. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share my insights with them and the people they hope to hire.

To learn more about what makes next-gen developers love the mainframe, watch this video.

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Matt Rowe

Matt Rowe is an associate software developer on Compuware's File-AID team and an aspiring product manager. His experience includes maintenance, squashing bugs and helping create new and currency features like Multiple Row Insert and 8-character logon ID support. He has also contributed to various Compuware initiatives, including simplifying product installation documentation and migrating automated testing to Compuware's Deploy LPAR.
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