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Four reasons why next-gen developers should want to work on the mainframe

(Image credit: Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos / Pixabay)

The mainframe has been an industry mainstay for more than half a century, and its relevance only continues to grow as companies put more and different workloads to use on the platform. Today, 64 per cent of mainframe-powered organisations are planning to run more than half their mission-critical workloads on the mainframe; an increase from 57 per cent in 2018. However, to maintain this trend, businesses need to have the right skills and talent in place.

The global IT skills shortage is having an impact across all digital sectors, but is particularly acute in the world of the mainframe. Over the past five years, only 37 per cent of the outgoing mainframe workforce has been replaced, with developers well-versed in COBOL proving difficult to come-by. If organisations fail to properly support the mainframe, they could limit their ability to execute digital initiatives in a powerful and fast way, hindering their capacity to innovate. However, millennial developers haven’t had much exposure to the mainframe or what a career as a mainframe developer looks like.

Bringing in the next generation

If businesses want to compete, they need to reinvigorate the way they promote the exciting career prospects available on the mainframe. Everyone has a role to play in drawing a new generation of developers to the platform. That includes organisations looking for talent to join their own IT teams, mainframe software and services companies, and academic institutions training the next generation of computer scientists.

The good news is that today’s computer science graduates are polyglots, who won’t be intimidated by COBOL if it’s pitched to them as just another important programming language. Awareness is key, and this can be addressed through recruitment drives, university seminars and hackathons that identify programmers with the right skills to start a career on the mainframe, or the raw materials needed to develop them. So what are the most compelling arguments for why the next generation should be excited by the prospects of working on the mainframe?

Reason 1: It’s a prestigious role

The next generation largely overlooks signing bonuses and corporate benefits for feeling their job serves a larger purpose. As such, drawing attention to the prestige attached to working on the mainframe given its role in powering the global economy will likely resonate with younger developers. Not only is the mainframe enterprise IT’s most critical platform, but it also has an impact on the everyday lives of consumers. Every time we check our bank balance, conduct a payment card transaction or run a credit check; the mainframe is powering away behind the scenes to keep the world turning.

Reason 2: Innovation starts on the mainframe

Given the key role the mainframe plays in driving innovation and powering the global economy, the work is highly engaging, and developers are involved in truly ground-breaking projects. To support those efforts, more forward-looking organisations are taking an equally innovative approach to their mainframe development environments, giving next-gen developers the freedom to work in the ways they feel most comfortable, with modern tooling. These modern development environments look and feel the same as what modern computer scientists can expect on any other platform, helping to make the mainframe a hive of innovation.

Reason 3: It’s varied and challenging work

Technically minded developers are easily bored by routine tasks that don’t require their specialist skills. Traditional mainframe environments were anathema to that, working more slowly than the rest of IT with many manual, routine processes. However, more recently, businesses have begun to automate more repetitive processes to improve efficiency whilst maintaining the high standard of quality the mainframe is renowned for. For example, automated testing tools are freeing-up mainframe developers to focus their talent and energy on more strategic and challenging tasks like writing new code to drive innovation, which is far more inspirational than writing test scripts and creating test data samples.

Reason 4: It’s an open culture

Mainframe organisations are increasingly taking steps to implement an open culture where change is welcomed to bridge the generational divide between experienced developers and their newer colleagues. For example, newer developers might prefer to use online resources like Google to get an instant answer to any queries they have, while experienced developers may be more accustomed to consulting technical manuals. By giving developers the freedom to work in whichever way suits them best to get the job done, rather than trying to mandate from the top, IT leaders can significantly improve the team’s effectiveness. This also encourages knowledge sharing between developers of different experience-levels, helping them learn new ways of working from one another to further improve the culture of collaboration.

Futureproofing the mainframe

Attracting next-gen developers to pursue a career on the mainframe is crucial, and there are plenty of reasons why the younger generations should find that prospect appealing. Businesses that truly invest in creating a modern environment and fostering an open culture will draw developers onto the mainframe and reap huge rewards in the years to come. The developers they hire today will still be there a decade from now, using the mainframe to power a competitive advantage for the business.

David Rizzo, VP of Product Development, Compuware