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How to Hire Young Mainframers

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:29 PM

The hiring process is a rewarding journey through the world’s least-exciting roadmap. Finding the perfect fit for the role you are looking to fill can feel impossible at times and it’s even worse if you’re trying to hire a mainframer. Recruiters will tell you that finding a mainframe engineer is getting harder every year. Fortunately, this familiar tale isn’t the whole story. Young mainframers exist everywhere—they just don’t know it yet.

Companies looking to hire for their big iron teams often make assumptions about their options. Millennials don’t know enough about the mainframe. They don’t want to work here because they would rather join the coolest new startup. There aren’t any qualified candidates just out of college.

All of these are wrong. Let’s look at common misconceptions.

Millennials Don’t Know Enough About the Mainframe

I know I said this wasn’t true, but it’s the wrong kind of true—it’s too true. It’s not that millennials don’t know about the mainframe, it’s that they “know” the wrong things about the mainframe. When I graduated from college in 2013, I heard a grand total of zero mentions of big iron in any of my classes. To the best of my knowledge, the mainframe was as prevalent as the abacus and slide rule. But I was clearly wrong.

Because of my computer science background, I was ready for a career developing on any platform, IBM z being no exception. My company invested in training me, alongside other new developers and now I’m more qualified to be working on the mainframe than any other environment. Just because I didn’t know about the mainframe before I started didn’t prevent me from working on it. I knew plenty about the systems and practices that mainframe development relies on, which is the knowledge to target. Expecting a college student to know anything about the mainframe isn’t reasonable—even though a number of schools are beginning to teach these systems again because of the demand.

Millennials Want to Work at a Startup

A 2015 IBM study found that the decisions of graduating millennials are fueled by the same desires as the rest of the workforce—they want the same things as everyone else. In fact, if you’re looking for anecdotal evidence: out of all my engineering peers who had a job out of college, just one had a job at a startup. Almost every one of them decided to work at a place where they had previously completed an internship. If your business can take on engineering interns, this may be the best way to attract young mainframers that you can train. You don’t need to mimic the latest startup.

There Aren’t Any Qualified Applicants Out of College

Recent graduates frequently complain about the Catch-22 of companies expecting them to have experience for entry-level positions. When training comes into the mix, however, the definition of “qualified” shifts quite a bit. Our search should prioritize a few traits that will separate those who will fit our institution best. The first such traits are based on personality, which varies by company. Only you know what to look for to make sure a new hire will fit in with your existing team.

However, there are traits that are much more uniformly desired. You’ll want a candidate who communicates well and can work with others. They don’t need to search out conversation, but the ability to get their point across and understand yours will go a long way in any instance, especially one where they will be learning on the job. Speaking of learning, it has to be something they are eager to do. Target candidates who desire to learn even outside the classroom, because there are many things that school can’t prepare you for in a business environment no matter how thorough the program. Finally, a great skill that will set aside the great from the good candidates is the ability to abstract the knowledge they already have. Computer science is a big game of using existing answers to solve new problems. Being able to recognize you have solved a similar problem in the past can make the solution to your next one that much more efficient. When a new mainframer is transitioning his or her existing knowledge over to the mainframe, they will make leaps and bounds by noticing the patterns in their new environment and relate that to their past ones.

Mainframers Disguised as Millennials

There is no special skill set required to develop on the mainframe that other developers lack. It’s just a matter of the time it takes to make the transition. Any business serious about hiring a younger developer to work on the mainframe doesn’t need to search for mainframe experience directly. They can provide training and search for strong developers who don’t necessarily know mainframes. In the end, this is an effective way of preparing for your workforce turning over. Plus, if you have the right roadmap, the hiring process can be fun.

Kyle Beausoleil is a 24-year-old engineer for Rocket Software. He has worked on a variety of projects on z/OS predominantly dealing with storage solutions. He often visits Massachusetts colleges attempting to reach out to students who have never considered a career on the mainframe and helps interns with the transition from the classroom to the office.