August 11, 2009

The Next Mainframe Generation

It's a real concern that many of the people working on the mainframe today will be retiring over the next few years. Almost a year ago, in a blog entry titled, "Mainframe Career Trends in the Age of Outsourcing," I looked at mainframe career trends, and mentioned IBM's efforts to attract recent college graduates to the platform.

The good news is we now have more young IT pros starting their careers on the mainframe. I recently learned about a group that helps emerging young IT professionals who are focused on mainframe computing. zNextGeneration, also known as the zNextGen project, is run by SHARE.

Of course, challenges remain. For youngsters who've grown up with PlayStation, Xbox and iPhone, the mental shift from using GUI and browser interfaces to working on green screens is a tough task. To make a career on z/OS more attractive to these young pros, software vendors are developing tools to give z/OS installation, management and development a GUI look. I wrote a bit about this in a blog entry titled, "Mainframe Trends in Application Development." A recent Mainframe EXTRA article outlines IBM's development of GUI tools to support z/OS application development.

Most people coming out of college know how to download and run software from the Internet. They click on the file and run the installer, and they're done in a few minutes. In contrast, mainframe software installation comes on tape or, if you're lucky, a download. You must be well-versed with SMP/E, the tool used to install mainframe software.

We've seen a wave of enterprise-modernization tools like Data Studio enable huge numbers of Java and Web developers to work on z/OS. The next wave of enterprise modernization will be with software installation and management tools.

The evolution that's occurring on z/OS reminds me of the evolution that's occurred with Linux. Linux initially featured a green screen command line mode to install products. You had to be an experienced computer geek to install anything. As a result, the Linux operating system didn't take off with typical PC users. Beyond that, PCs with Linux installed weren't available from local computer outlets. However, since Linux embraced the GUI, installing and using the software is much easier for a wider audience. Linux is now more popular, and more readily available.

Today's z/OS faces a similar situation. Young IT pros would rather go work for a company that uses Linux or Windows than a company with a mainframe. But the mainframe can become cool in their eyes. As the green screens are replaced with GUIs for all aspects of development and management over the next few years, I believe z/OS will gain popularity, and college graduates will gravitate toward careers on the mainframe.