March 27, 2018 DevOps, Workforce 0 Comments

When DevOps-guru Comp Sci Grads Discover the Mainframe Is Cool

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A little over a week ago, I was in Sacramento attending the SHARE mainframe conference. It’s always a pleasure to see customers, colleagues and other people interested in all things mainframe. It was especially nice to see all the first-time attendees from hundreds of different companies.

And that’s usually what I come away with—new connections with other mainframe folks, new platform knowledge and new excitement for the mainframe industry. But this time, my biggest take away was this: The next time you hear someone say people entering the workforce don’t want to work with mainframes, think again.

A Fortuitous Meeting

I usually submit items to speak on at SHARE, and at this event I was delivering a session on the DevOps track titled “What exactly is Agile DevOps, and how does it affect me as a Systems Programmer?” It has been my experience that many mainframe operational folks are not too familiar with what Agile Development is, let alone how they fit into the DevOps picture.

For this talk I gave a short primer on Agile Development terms and concepts, and then gave some ideas on how organizations can adapt and re-organize into a DevOps model. This is especially critical because in the digital age, big no longer beats small; fast beats slow.

During my presentation, I was asked some very good questions from one of the attendees. It turns out that attendee was Dr. Jagan Chidella, a professor at Sacramento State University.

He very much enjoyed my session and invited me to speak to his class sometime. I said I would love to and was sure I could work something out. To my surprise, he said, “How about 4 p.m. today?”

The arrangement was made! I met Dr. Chidella later that day on Sacramento State’s campus—which, by the way, has very beautiful rolling grounds dotted with tall Sequoia trees.

Dr. Chidella is a very energetic and optimistic professor who is always looking for the best for his students—the kind of professor you wanted to have when you were taking college classes. It turns out he was teaching a graduate-level DevOps seminar, Advanced Software Engineering Product Management.

His students were pretty much the opposite of my normal audience. They were already very familiar with Agile and DevOps terminology and methodologies, but they had little concept of Waterfall development techniques and almost no knowledge of mainframes. They were a little surprised to hear that not all companies are doing DevOps yet!

The students were very attentive and appreciated hearing real-world examples of migrating to DevOps. As it turns out, they were also very interested in the mainframe.

DevOps Class | Sacramento State University | Compuware

Students of Dr. Chidella’s course on DevOps

Mainframe DevOps: Comp Sci Grads Get It

I think before I spoke with Dr. Chidella’s students, they thought the mainframe was this mythical black box:

  • What does it do?
  • Why is it valuable?
  • What was the OS?
  • What makes it so reliable?
  • How is it different than a super computer?
  • How do you interface to it?
  • What makes it so fast?

But these comp sci students were not at all turned off by the mainframe, as many would assume—they were very intrigued by it. They had no bigotry toward the mainframe; they wanted to understand how the biggest organizations use mainframes to solve their biggest problems, the types of problems people entering the IT workforce want to work on.

Certainly, the students in Dr. Chidella’s class want to work on big things, bring efficiencies to large organizations, remove constraints to development and use their training in DevOps to make a difference—they told me so!

So, the next time you hear someone say people entering the workforce don’t want to work with mainframes, think again. It’s probably that they just haven’t had exposure to the platform.

Perhaps colleges and universities should think about creating some curriculum to expose students to mainframes. Perhaps businesses need to step up their recruiting efforts.

Either way, mainframes are not going away—they are an integral part of large-business computing and will be for a long time to come, and we need new talent to step up to the challenge. From what I experienced in Dr. Chidella’s classroom, there is plenty of interest in doing just that.

What is your mainframe organization doing to grab the attention of talented comp sci grads? Becoming a more vocal advocate for the mainframe and starting down a path that would enable your team to leverage the DevOps skills and knowledge of younger programmers would be valuable steps in building your next-gen workforce. Join the conversation on LinkedIn to share your thoughts with us.

For some powerful advice from millennials on why they love the mainframe, why they think mainframe development is a viable career and how your mainframe team can attract others like them, watch our two-minute video.

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Keith Sisson

Keith Sisson is the Director of Technical Services at Compuware. His team is responsible for product manufacturing and delivery as well as a wide range of software and services in support of the software engineering group. He has over 30 years of experience in operations, tech services, application development and has provided IT consulting services to a number of Fortune 500 companies.
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