While the long-anticipated death of mainframe servers is nowhere to be seen, the main fear related to this technology—the shortage of professionals caused by retirements in the old workforce—is happening right now. Over the upcoming years it may become more problematic.
IBM and many other companies put a lot of effort into training a new generation of mainframers. I'm one of them, and from my point of view, those efforts are still not enough to give us enough highly skilled engineers in time.
I worked in one of IBM’s outsourcing centers in Poland where I experienced how the new generation is being born. The biggest problem is not lack of people willing to get involved in this technology, it's lack of technical training. It doesn't matter if we're talking about system programming, online transaction systems, databases or software development, passing knowledge and responsibilities to new young people, often fresh after graduation, takes many years. Official expensive training even with the addition of mentoring is often not enough.
Using the Mainframe Playground Education Initiative
To help in this transition the Mainframe Playground Education Initiative was started. It's a website with real-world, practical assignments everyone can do at their own pace on any test z/OS system. I'm a big supporter of learning by doing and lifelong learning concepts. Mainframe Playground is made in line with those ideas.
My biggest hope is that thanks to its unusual approach to self-paced training, Mainframe Playground will not only give young people a path to follow but also motivate them to work on their skills on their own instead of waiting for the training provided by their employers, which is, of course, valuable but as mentioned earlier, simply not enough. Also, learning by reading documentation or sitting through lectures is hardly involving but doing stuff on a real system, solving problems and creating own solutions is. This is what makes our jobs so enjoyable. Hopefully, following the path given by Mainframe Playground will show that to young engineers and with time learning by doing will become their habit, and mainframes their passion.
Mainframe Playground Education Is in High Demand
Recently Mainframe Playground had its second birthday and it's growing all the time. I maintain this webpage on my own. As I'm not a native English speaker, I had to find the right balance between quality and quantity of materials I post there. Because of all that, it's far from perfect, but the feedback I've received proved high demand for such education.
I invite you to check it out and share it with anyone who may be interested in such learning. It's 100 percent free, as all knowledge should be.
Jan Sądek started his adventure with z/OS with the IBM Academic Initiative and CA Mainframe Academy. Soon, he moved to second level z/OS and RACF support. He's currently working as a COBOL programmer and still enjoys all the challenges and rewards a mainframe profession brings.