In my role as an observer of today’s tech-infused business world, I see a digital paradox: As vigorously as we glorify the quickening pace of technological invention, we wring our collective hands over the accelerating march toward technological obsolescence.
It seems as though moments after celebrating advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), smart devices and cloud computing, we tech pundits feel compelled to obsess about their limitations and call for the next generation of innovation to replace them. For every article heralding the deluge of technical progress, another follows almost immediately decrying the way this flood of ingenuity will erode our technical infrastructure.
AI wrests strategic supervision from management. Smart devices remove the distinctive touch from service. Cloud computing enables and empowers cybercrime. You get the picture: Every groundbreaking technology solution vexes us with intrinsic technology troubles.
I see this paradox at play in the tech workforce, too. Consider the dreaded tech skills gap. Somehow the first generation of digital natives—i.e., the millennial cohort—has generated a crisis pivoting around digital skills. Research by the international technology trade association CompTIA indicates there will be as many as 1.8 million unfilled technology jobs in the United States by 2024—a deficit in productivity that could cripple cybersecurity, crush competitiveness and crimp profitability for our nation’s businesses large and small, at home and abroad.
Millennial mainframers are no strangers to this paradoxical panic swirling around their technological purview. No doubt during their careers working with mainframe systems many have been praised as stalwarts of a pioneering platform or mocked as devotees of a dying vocation. Often in alternating cycles.
But millennial mainframers should take this turbulence churning around their careers in stride, says David Hyman, president, Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions—CompTIA’s “think tank” that works to “create a larger, more diverse, happier tech workforce.”
Why? Because millennials as a group were born of the digital paradox. Growing up as the first generation of digital natives equipped them to cope—and thrive—as each new digital development brought new digital dilemmas. In fact, to many millennials, today’s digi-dynamic may not feel paradoxical at all.
When I shared my digital paradox notion with Hyman, he reframed the discussion in true think-tanker fashion: “What you just described is the scientific method. Somebody puts forth a theory, and then it's peer reviewed. It's knocked down. It's taken apart. It's picked apart, and if it works, it holds up. And if it doesn't, we move on to the next, and it morphs and changes into something else.”
Raised in today’s digital environment where balance must be struck between invention and obsolescence not only every year, but at times every few months, weeks or hours, has imbued many millennials with inherent flexibility and adaptability, Hyman asserts—and backs his claims with research. “We looked at over 2.6 million job postings in the tech industry from 2018, and out of those 2.6 million job postings, 12 out of 20 of the top skills advertised are soft skills, employability skills, professional skills, call them what you will. They have nothing to do with the technology,” he says.
For this reason, Hyman believes millennial technologists exemplify the best skill set for making—and keeping—a 50-year-old foundational technology like the mainframe relevant in the era of AI, smart devices, the cloud and whatever digital revelation comes next.
Millennial mainframers are question and answer in one package.
So, I recap Hyman’s career guidance for millennial mainframers this way: You're in charge of what being a mainframer means today and tomorrow—not 30, 40 or 50 years of mainframe computing history. That's not what defines your place in business. You do.
Communications strategist R.C. “Bob” Dirkes, host and producer of the "Technologist Talk" podcast, covers issues confronting the tech workforce of today and tomorrow. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes.