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We Shall Certify

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:42 PM

Hi, my name is Bryan, and I’m a certified mainframe expert. Well, not really. That’s because there is no such thing. There are IT certification programs for just about everything else—Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Cisco…everyone offers some sort of certification for IT folks, programmers and network engineers. And the number of possible certifications is almost limitless. Computer forensics your thing? Get a Certified Computer Examiner certification. Open source more up your alley? Get a Linux Professional Institute Certification.

There is something for everyone. Well, almost everyone. For some reason, though, there isn’t a mainframe certification out there. Seems like there should be. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Industry certifications can be a good way to attract and retain talent in a particular area. People who are certified in mainframes may be more likely to stay with big iron for longer portions of their careers.
  • Certifications give top professionals credibility by giving them a tangible way to represent their expertise. While not all certifications are of equal quality, there are definitely some that generate positive responses.
  • Certifications give credibility to a discipline. Mainframes are used all over the world, but there is no single umbrella for professionals who work on these platforms. A certification would create standards and allow objective assessments.
Of course, the hard part is actually figuring out what a certification program would involve. For example:

  • A mainframe certification program would probably need to stay out of the details for other middleware that have their own certifications, like DB2, WebSphere and CICS.
  • There might be a need to have multiple certificate tracks based on specific skill sets.
  • Someone would need to oversee the development and implementation of a certification program. That could be a company or group in the industry.
From the Beginning

The biggest question to be answered before attempting to develop a certification program is, “How do you get it accepted in the industry?” How do you get companies to agree that the people who are certified deserve some additional consideration? How do you convince a CIO that a piece of paper that says you’re certified has value? This is a question that is not easily answered.

If I were going to create some kind of a certification program, I would want to create a basic/introductory certification and perhaps a more advanced one. I think such a certification should include topics on:

  • Planning, installation and maintenance of OSs and related software components
  • Hardware planning, design and configuration
  • Storage planning (hardware and software)
  • Security
  • Performance management
  • System customization and exits
  • Debugging and dump reading
  • Assembly language (useful when reading dumps or writing user exits)
  • Translating business requirements into IT requirements
In my mind, these skills are a good foundation for a new systems programmer. To define the material and develop the tests, I would want to gather the best and most recognized industry experts that I could to add credibility to the certification. I would want broad representation from major IT companies, as well as major businesses in the industry.

It would be possible to go ahead with creating a certification program because an organization—such as SHARE, who has discussed it—thinks it is important and has value. While SHARE did not create a formal certification program, COMMON did. They spent about one person-year to get to the point where they were ready to have their first operational beta. This was five years ago, and they now offer three certifications.

Your Move

All of this comes back to one key concept: Demand. The only way a certification program could be created and rolled out is if enough people were actually interested in getting the certification. In addition, people who work in mainframes might want a say in how the certification program is constructed and what subjects are taught.

What do you think? Do you think this is the kind of thing that mainframe executives might find value in, or is it something that would be largely ignored? If a certification program existed, what subjects would you want included? What value do you think a certification would provide to both individuals and organizations?

I’d love to hear from you! Just leave some comments below.

Bryan Smith focuses on mainframe solutions at Rocket Software, a global software company that has developed mainframe tools and solutions for the world’s leading businesses for 25 years
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