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Oct 04, 2011

High Schoolers Learn Mainframe Lessons Outside the Classroom

By Mike Westholder

The lesson was clear: IBM is looking for the next generation of IT professionals to consider a career working with System z. That was the message presented Tuesday to a group of about 50 Miami high school students participating in Student Mainframe Career Day at the System z Technical University Conference.

Billion-dollar corporations need people with mainframe skills as older, grayer workers retire, explained Greg Lotko, IBM vice president and business-line executive for System z. “They’re looking to kids like you in high school and college … and it’s an opportunity for you to make some good money.”

Kicking off the presentation to students, Lotko shared his own story, which started in high school, when he realized he wanted to work in IT, and specifically for IBM. He chose a university with a strong track record for placing students with IBM and chose courses to hone his communication as well as technical skills. The result was a career as a top System z executive.

“This could be a life-changing day,” Lotko told the students from Booker T. Washington Senior High and Miami Central Senior High’s Academy of Information Technology (AOIT).

Don Resnik, worldwide system z Academic Initiative and client skills leader, offered an overview of the IBM mainframe, the organizations that rely on it to do business, and the variety of careers the students could pursue under the umbrella of mainframe. Throughout the discussion, Resnik repeated the mantra, “You can do it.”

He explained how governments, airlines and the world’s top 25 banks all rely on mainframe systems so demand for workers crosses many industries. And because the technology is evolving and improving, IT professionals constantly face new challenges and chances to expand their knowledge.

“This is not a job where you learn to pound a nail and do it over and over your entire life,” Resnik said. “It’s always going to be new and challenging.” The mainframe’s future is up to the next generation to determine.

And for those interested in the bottom line, starting salaries are between $60,000 and $70,000. “It’s a very lucrative career,” he noted.

To get started, Resnik encouraged the attendees to sign up for the Master the Mainframe Contest, which is open to college and high school students and offers prizes like a Samsung Galaxy Tablet and $100 debit cards. Following the presentation, students toured the expo hall and got a firsthand look at System z technology.

The career day event was a unique and valuable experience for the participants, according to Cindy Pierre and Pamela Bausher, two educators from the AOIT. Seeing the many opportunities available in IT is very beneficial to students, Pierre said.

Bausher concurred, adding, “I hope they will see there are a lot of possibilities that they never dreamed of. Coming from urban neighborhoods, they often see the façade of jobs—lawyer, doctor—but don’t necessarily see what you actually do when you work in an office.”

Her students were excited to come to the conference and learn more about IBM and see inside the mainframe. But prior to attending, Bausher admitted the students weren’t familiar with the technology: “They didn’t even know what IBM is.” So they did some research in advance.

While this was a first for the students, both Bausher and Pierre said they hope to continue a relationship with IBM and the Academic Initiative, and participate in similar events in the future.



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