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To the Moon and Beyond: Continuing Mainframe Innovation

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:36 PM

July 20 marked the 46th anniversary of an American landing on the moon. This incredible event made me think of the years of preparation, training and skills development and refinement that went into making that mission a success. What is the connection between the mainframe and the moon landing? Stay tuned.

Knowing which skills mainframe users are looking for now as well the skills that will be in demand in the future is what I do for a living and something I find to be extremely interesting. My organization’s partnership with the IBM z Systems Academic Initiative allows us to work closely with professors who teach the mainframe and Mainframe Support Professionals, two groups who are very cognizant of the skills needs of users of the platform today.

Together with academic institutions that teach the mainframe, we have launched an Enterprise Skills Council that works directly with mainframe users and ISVs to better understand the skills needs of the mainframe community. The focus of the council is to:

  1. Engage the mainframe user community to help identify opportunities to enhance or fine tune existing mainframe curriculum
  2. Identify future mainframe skills needs so curriculum can be created
  3. Provide a forum for domestic and international academic institutions that teach the mainframe to exchange lessons learned or share information on new and more effective ways to teach about the system
Mainframe Skill Expectations

My day-to-day interactions with mainframe users, professors who teach the mainframe, IBM Mainframe Support Professionals who assist their clients to locate the mainframe talent they need or mainframe ISVs who need mainframe talent to create new software or upgrade existing software for the mainframe provides me with an in-depth insight on the skills needs of mainframe users and vendors.

I speak with some of the largest and most successful mainframe organizations in the world and they aren’t shy about telling me which mainframe skills they need now and in the future. The mainframe community is looking for talent with:

Technical Skills
These skills include basic knowledge of one or more mainframe technologies (e.g., CICS, DB2, IMS, WMQ, z/OS, Linux, UNIX) as well as Job Control Language debugging exposure/skills and Interactive System Productivity Facility editor.

At a minimum college graduating candidates will have completed the industry recognized certification level Marist College z/OS Subsystem class or the IBM System z Mastery Program, including a proficiency exam for entry-level system-programmer tasks.

Majors include Computer Science, IT, Network Engineering, Engineering and Business with a technology focus. Top tier graduates have a GPA of 3.0 or above on a 4-point scale.

Interpersonal Skills
Desired skills include:
  1. Effective verbal and written communication skills
  2. Working well in a team environment as well as individually
  3. Paying attention to details and delivers quality results
  4. Adapting well to change and changing priorities
  5. Working independently to identify, research, analyze and resolve problems
  6. Handling multiple priorities simultaneously
Candidates should undergo an intense vetting process with the goal to pursue a long-term career path in enterprise (mainframe) computing. Students must be willing to relocate to
where the job is and will agree to travel as required by the position. Companies have a preference for candidates who are U.S. citizens or have a permanent U.S. residency.

“A Way of Life”

I will end by sharing something I once read and I don’t remember where (thank you whoever your are).

“A mainframer is not just a job description. It is a way of life. One might not be born a mainframer, but once you become one, it affects all parts of your life. Being a mainframer also shapes our personality and our private life. A mainframer has to have extreme attention to details because if we miss that teeny tiny comma in the system parmlib, we will bring a system down.

“To be a mainframer one has to have procedures in place for disaster recovery and backout, where everything is planned to the smallest detail, because what is at stake is the company’s credibility and potentially huge financial losses. With that goes the ability to work error free under extreme pressure.”

This is in a small way like an astronaut. The IMS for the mainframe was developed in 1969 by IBM for the Apollo 11, the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the moon, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, 02:56 UTC. The mainframe turned 50 last year and it’s alive and well and still powers the global economy. Mainframes need IT professionals to help humankind with its next “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” moment.

Ron Fresquez is CEO of zSkills Corp. He can be reached at