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Opening Up Mainframes to the Next Generation of Software Engineers

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:35 PM


The world runs on mainframes. These powerful computers process countless transactions every day to keep the wheels of business, finance, government and major industries across the world turning smoothly and efficiently in ways other platforms simply can’t. To keep up with the rising demand for processing power, mainframes have transitioned from large machines taking up entire rooms to sleek, modern racks networked together in high-tech “banks” combining the muscle of multiple mainframes. And just as the massive machines of the past required a platform orthodoxy from mainframers trained in mainframe-specific skills from the ground up, today’s sleeker mainframes are “platform agnostic,” and can be used by professionals trained in multiple languages and skillsets.

As e-commerce boomed in the late 1990s, the mainframe’s evolution remained at the center of the burgeoning industry. Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner detailed how IBM positioned the mainframe for the future in his book, “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance.” Adaptability is still at the core of the effort IBM places on the future of the mainframe, but as technology evolves and companies continue to invest in their mainframe infrastructure, mainframe positions are becoming available that may not appear as mainframe-related at all.

Everything Is Tech 

In his book, “The End of Tech Companies,” IBM general manager and vice president of analytics Rob Thomas wrote, “the divide between ‘tech companies’ and ‘non-tech companies’ has closed.”  Companies selling everything from phones, to planes, to toys to steel require similar teams of software engineers to maintain their websites and corporate data. All that data can only be processed efficiently on mainframes, yet the current crop of college graduates lack the traditional skills required to fill out these software teams.

Luckily, mainframes are much more platform agnostic today than ever before, and can accommodate more modern and generalized development languages and skills. Most college graduates today aren’t trained in mainframe-friendly languages like assembler, C/C++ or z/OS. Instead, they acquire skills in modern development languages like Python that enable them to develop mobile or web-based applications on Linux or Unix. They are thus completely unaware of how versatile the mainframe really is. And a platform agnostic mainframe allows developers to use Python or a similar new language enabling software engineers not trained on mainframes to write code that translates to z/OS. As a result, productive mainframe careers are being extended to software engineers whose skills wouldn’t have previously qualified.

Mainframes for All 

Gone are the days when mainframes were synonymous with skilled specialists who “speak mainframe.” The demand for modern technology is producing brilliant computer professionals in all facets of information technology, and there’s no reason to keep them segregated from a fruitful career in mainframes. In the process of enabling mainframes to become platform agnostic by porting newer languages to z/OS and expanding mainframe skills into new roles, the mainframe industry is making these powerful machines evergreen. As the Internet of Things and self-driving vehicles promise to explode the need for data processing, every industry will end up expanding their use of mainframes, resulting in more and more professionals being ready to add their creativity and problem-solving skills to the mainframe’s raw power.

Jennifer Nelson is the managing director of R&D Database Servers and Tools at Rocket Software. After serving in the U.S. military, Jennifer attended the University of Texas while moonlighting as a Db2 database administrator at an IT company in Austin.