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Developing Mainframe Toughness

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:33 PM


Previous installments in this series highlighting newcomers to the mainframe have included Vance Morris, Patricio Reynaga and Bartis Hawley-Wall, all graduates of West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, Texas. However, those mainframers have more than a university in common; they also all have professor Harry (H.) Paul Haiduk—WTAMU program coordinator and instructor of computer sciences—as a mentor. Haiduk has developed a reputation as both a staunch mainframe advocate and a tough, yet effective, educator.

Haiduk.jpgDespite his reputation, Haiduk insists it’s WTAMU’s exacting IT program standards that are tough and demanding, and it’s those standards that routinely produce IT students in general and mainframe students in particular who excel in their eventual career paths.

“Our mathematics requirements are just as strenuous, and in some cases more strenuous than our other engineering programs, including mechanical, civil and so forth,” Haiduk says. “So, we’re very proud about the quality of the students we’re turning out, and we certainly don’t want to compromise our exacting standards.”

Perhaps surprisingly, WTAMU’s emergence as a mainframe education Mecca is only about seven years in the making. Around that time, according to Haiduk, there was a consensus that the school’s computer science program wasn’t in the right place within the school’s academic structure.

“So, there was a proposal that computer science be joined with engineering, so we created a new department consisting of those two fields,” he says. “During that whole process, I was charged with completely rewriting the curriculum: keeping what was good and getting rid of all the excess, out-of-date material. It was a wonderful opportunity to completely start fresh. The charge from our provost was: ‘Make it a 21st century, relevant computer science program.’ But, there was also the added requirement to make the program unique, rather than try to compete with the likes of the Texas Tech University 100 miles down the road.”

Haiduk was an excellent choice for point man for such an ambitious restructuring. With more than 40 years of computer science experience spanning both business and academia, he’s versed in more than 20 programming languages and has authored numerous textbooks used by prestigious institutions worldwide. While his primary areas of expertise revolve around UNIX and Linux platforms, he did bring experience with the System/360 to the table.

Around that time, Haiduk was approached by Carol Tiernan, who was one of the leading IBM mainframe sales representatives west of the Mississippi, who happened to live about 15 miles from WTAMU.

“She approached us and said, ‘We’d like you to think about incorporating facets of mainframe computing into your curriculum,’ ” says Haiduk. “That prompted me to do some serious research into the talent and skills gap that exists on the mainframe, and I started to see the mainframe was, in fact, very vibrant and very much alive, and the IBM investment in the mainframe was phenomenal. When I realized what the potential demand was going to be, I knew we had to engage with that segment of the computer science industry.”

According to Haiduk, within a couple of years of the computer science department restructuring, it had become clear that WTAMU needed to dedicate a separate track of its computer science curriculum specifically to enterprise computing, which included a four course, upper division education route that incorporated mainframe material. Haiduk says he was also told to develop a quality program and not to worry about the numbers game first. Essentially, he was to strive for academic quality, and the student numbers should necessarily follow.

And they have.

“It is a tough program, there’s no question about that,” he says. “It is, in fact, a very tough program; it’s one of the toughest programs offered at this university. But, our numbers continue to grow, and they continue to grow because people are increasingly becoming aware that all ... all ... of our graduates are employed, and all of our graduates are earning some of the top money coming out of this university. For me, it’s extremely gratifying to see these students graduate from such a difficult program and then go on to achieve such great things in their careers.”