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Head of The Class: How Colleges Are Closing the Mainframe Gap

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:25 PM

Thousands of organizations around the world rely on mainframes to process, manage, and store their ever-increasing amounts of data. To keep up with demand, organizations are looking for skilled software engineers who have the experience and training to manage these robust systems. That’s why a number of technology companies are investing in the future by helping colleges develop curricula to train engineers to support the systems that are used by just about every bank, government, and global corporation.

There are over 1400 universities around the world that are part of the IBM Academic Initiative to promote mainframe education. One such school is Framingham State University (FSU) in Massachusetts. The school is creating a five-course Mainframe Certification program that will allow current students, returning veterans and working engineers to learn the skills they need to run mainframe computers—and in 2016 the school plans to offer a minor in mainframes.

“Because of the retirements that are happening in the industry, there are a lot of great jobs for mainframers,” says Conny Breuning, who runs the computer science department at FSU. “Our graduates are entering a very crowded, well-qualified market, so they are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and get jobs in the field. By offering mainframe training, we are giving students a leg up in the employment market.”

Starting this month the school will offer its first mainframe class, a four-credit course called Introduction to Enterprise Systems using z/OS. The class will serve as an introduction to the role of the mainframe in the enterprise computing world today and to concepts such as mainframe hardware and architecture, file systems, batch processing, interfaces and system utilities. IBM mainframes will be used for hands-on experience. Next year the remaining four classes in the certification program will be added to the curricula.

One of the exciting things about this program is that the classes will be taught by working professionals who have extensive experience in mainframes. The classes will count toward a Computer Science major, and will eventually constitute a formal minor program. The classes are based on a certificate currently offered by University of Redlands in California. All of the course materials are provided by IBM with a few changes to meet the needs of students at FSU.

So how does all of this look in the real world? After all, it’s one thing to take a college class and quite another to get a great job. It turns out that a number of technology companies in the Boston area are enthusiastic about the possibility of hiring newly minted mainframers. Local employers even hosted a roundtable at FSU to gauge interest, increase visibility and (most importantly) talk about how much they are interested in hiring.

“Massachusetts is one of the world’s great technology centers, and colleges here are great sources of new talent for the companies that are based here,” Breuning says. “FSU, in partnership with a number of companies in the area, is creating a program that will not only help educate our students, but will also prepare them for great jobs in a field that will only grow over the next decade. In the world of computer science it’s all about having the right skills, and we are excited to be at the forefront of training the next generation of mainframers and preparing them for interesting careers.”

Kevin Shaw is a Senior Director of R&D at Rocket Software, where he focuses on mainframe technologies.