The Issue with Mainframes

 I am lucky enough to learn about mainframe systems through my current role, and honestly I am so glad that I can.  However with my time working on mainframe, with very respected mainframe coworkers. There are underlying issues for the mainframe, businesses and operators.  One of the issues is an ageing workforce, another is a younger replacement workforce that are not even taught about Mainframe other than in a historic text. The last point I will touch on is the lack of training for Mainframe.  These are huge issues that need to addressed sooner than later. 

       So it was said that mainframe would be dead years ago….but see, here is the problem, they were wrong. Not only is it not dead, but it has double downed on investment in linux and cloud computing and these investments had worked greatly for the mainframe environments advantage. You are talking about a backbone system of insurance companies, airlines, banks, etc.  These are all vital services that we use day to day and honestly most of the population had no clue were using a mainframe. While  most companies are focusing on bleeding edge technology and what new cert a tech worker can get to support it, the mainframe is neglected.  This is akin to getting skin treatments, haircuts and stylish cloths, but neglecting what you eat and forgoing exercising, thus not taking care of your core being.  If you don’t take care of the core and you let it age and break, then the rest just won’t matter.  This is the issue with the current line of mainframe engineers,  they are all about 5-10 years away from retirement, and a bunch of technology professionals could have cushioned that drop in knowledge but they switched to other career focuses back when the fear of the mainframe dying was presenting itself.   Honestly though who could blame them, it is just people trying to have security in the future.  What are we going to do when all these heavily experienced engineers retire?  Right now the solution seems to be to outsource and go to other countries where they are teaching Mainframe technologies in their universities.  While overseas workers are great for covering a gap or maybe the hated night shift, they are not great for an overall solution to the problem, if anything they are a small bandage on a festering wound.

          What about the guys coming up?  Well since I have been going to school Mainframe has been thought of as a thing of the past, it gets referenced as, “they use to have cards you put in the machine” and “they were as big as this room.”  The issue is they aren’t like the rotary phone….they are still in use and relied upon everyday.  So how do we get training if most schools don’t teach it?  Well through IBM…kind of.  See IBM has training and it’s approved…but it’s through 3rd parties and just not great.  So has IBM given up on mainframe?  No far from it, I believe the decision to have 3rd parties to provide the additional training was just a business decision.  Either way the provided training and certifications for IBM are lacking and really are in need of more availability and depth. Perhaps some sort of simulator like Cisco has with Cisco Packet Tracer would be very helpful in training.  Most young technology professionals working with mainframe are getting on the job training.  Hands on is one of the best ways to learn…but after a system has been around for about 60 years it tends to be very stable…so opportunities to  see issues and resolve them do not happen quite as often.  The fact of it being stable coupled with some of the older engineers still having the fear that the younger engineers are trying to take their jobs from them, can lead to training and job knowledge gaps.  

       The point to get across is, a lot of companies are facing a massive issue, that doesn’t seem to be talked about and there is no true solution in site.  It is time for IBM to step up and for sites like Lynda.com, Pluralsite.com, and ITpro.tv, etc to step up on getting proper training out there for mainframe and it’s technologies. Unlike the zip disk, this technology is here to stay and has a massive issue that needs to be addressed rather sooner than later.