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Anything but Conventional, Student Pursues Mainframe Career

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:24 PM

You can use many words to describe Jack Harris—exuberant, determined, confident—but don’t call him conventional. The North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University junior decided to take German because Spanish was just too prevalent among other students. (He did consider Japanese, but discarded the idea: “My mother thought taking Japanese would kill my GPA.”) To get around campus, he favors a Razor kick scooter rather than a bike. His computer major is a direct response to his desire to not follow in his parents’ footsteps—both majored in theater. And once he graduates with a degree in computer tech, he plans to buck the Windows trend and get a job working on mainframes.

His methods for reaching the decision are also unique. A self-proclaimed video gamer, Jack says the mainframe reminds him of the text-based games that came out in the 1980s. This made it easier to him to acclimate himself to the big iron when he took an introductory mainframe course last year. “On top of the fact that I enjoy playing around on the green screen, being one of the few people my age who are in this field also made me happy,” he explains.

Before the mainframe introductory course, he had planned to be a computer tech for a retailer, fixing other people’s computers. “So I said, ‘OK, I can get paid $22 an hour to fix everyone’s computer or I can go into mainframes and make a steady living out of that.’ That’s not just an in-between job. I can make my entire career off of mainframe technology,” Jack points out.

He’s dived into mainframes head first, attending the recent SHARE conference in Orlando to learn all he can about Assembler. “Someone told me if you can learn Assembler, you can learn anything,” he says. “I like that idea.” To that end, he took every course in the Assembler boot camp. Jack’s quest for knowledge didn’t end there. He also set out to learn about DB2, IMS and other mainframe technologies.

When he returned home, he was excited to share his experience with his family, which includes a younger brother and stepsister. “As soon as I said, ‘Assembler’ and ‘programming language,’ nobody had a clue what I was talking about and they only listened because ... they wanted to listen to me talk.”

Jack found that to be one of the great things about SHARE. “It was fun to talk to people who understand mainframes. It’s nice to be understood,” he adds. Even when he talks to other students, most don’t know what a mainframe is.

A bit dismayed by his fellow students’ lack of interest in the venerable platform, Jack believes two things can be done to change that: “One, make it fun. Two, show them it’s useful and they can do it. If you show somebody that, they will go after it. Students are interested in money. They’ll follow the money wherever it goes.”

Evelyn Hoover is executive editor of Destination z.