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The Greying of the Mainframe Elite

Zonk posted about 9 years ago | from the big-iron-isn't-cool-anymore dept.

Education 701

bobcote writes "The Boston Globe is running a story about the maintainers of the mainframes getting older and facing retirement. One of the problems is that many computer science programs don't include mainframes in their curricula anymore. From the article: "Amid concerns that America doesn't produce enough technically trained young people, mainframe computer users and developers are especially concerned. Most computer science students concentrate on small-computer technology, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating systems, or the popular alternatives Unix and Linux. Few have been trained on zOS, the operating system that runs IBM Corp.'s massive mainframes."

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No need to register... (5, Informative)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | about 9 years ago | (#13407921)

Here's a link for those of you who would rather not register just to read the second half of the article...

Who'll mind the mainframes? [boston.com]

Re:No need to register... (5, Insightful)

Pentavirate (867026) | about 9 years ago | (#13408168)

I thought the purpose of college was as much to teach you how to learn effectively as to teach you specific skills. I see no reason why CS students coming out of college can't learn the zOS on the job from the people that are currently maintaining it. There's nothing wrong with a little on-the-job training. I don't know about most people, but most of the programming languages I've learned have been because of a specific job requirement and not from learning it at school.

Re:No need to register... (5, Insightful)

(A)*(B)!0_- (888552) | about 9 years ago | (#13408211)

You raise an excellent point. The purpose of higher education has gotten perverted over the years. A college or university is not meant to teach you how to do a specific task but rather to give you the intellectual capability to learn new tasks. Computer Science isn't about a specific technology [or at least it shouldn't be], it's about the mathematical and scientific background to be able to adapt to new technologies.

I blame ITT Tech.

Re:No need to register... (4, Insightful)

bladesjester (774793) | about 9 years ago | (#13408234)

Unfortunately, most employers don't want to do any on-the-job training at all. They want people who will both work cheaply and already have the skillsets that they are looking for.

They're really cutting their own throats because of it, but that's what happens when "buisness" people (who don't really know anything about buisness either) run the show.

*sniff* (1)

andreMA (643885) | about 9 years ago | (#13407938)

I miss Univac 1100 and Honeywell 6000...

Lack of mainframe operators... (1)

Nimloth (704789) | about 9 years ago | (#13407978)

Why not just ask Tank and Dozer to fill in?

I'd miss the 1100 too... (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | about 9 years ago | (#13408030)

Thankfully, I've been able to continue to work on that platform (and its descendants) over the years.

Once the airline industry recovers, there's probably be openings for folks with 1100 experience again...

Re:*sniff* (1)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | about 9 years ago | (#13408036)

I miss my Univac 1108 and Burroughs 6800. Then there was the IBM 360. Ah those were the days.

Re:*sniff* (1)

Life2Short (593815) | about 9 years ago | (#13408204)

I certainly don't miss the old Harris I used to have to work on. What a POS.

IBM should be training (5, Insightful)

TurdTapper (608491) | about 9 years ago | (#13407947)

But to run the latest mainframes, IBM and its customers need a few thousand youngsters to replenish the ranks.

At this sentence, my first thought was that if IBM wants to make sure there are people to support/run/develop on their mainframes, then why don't they start providing more training? If the colleges won't do it, then they need to take matters into their own hands. And then I came across this sentence:

Companies are taking matters into their own hands. Whitaker learned her trade at age 18, through an intensive six-month training course sponsored by Total System Services, her future employer.

Which is great, but I still think that it should be IBM doing the training. If they want to make sure that companies keep buying their mainframes, then they should make sure that there are trained people out there that can go work for a company that is buying a mainframe. It seems completely in their best interest to provide the training at a reasonable cost to get those few thousand youngsters into the ranks.

Perhaps they are... (2, Insightful)

FatSean (18753) | about 9 years ago | (#13408026)

If they were smart they'd be training their own services people...so the customer would just be a user...dependent on a service contract for administration.

Re:Perhaps they are... (1)

rovingeyes (575063) | about 9 years ago | (#13408147)

Yup they are [ibm.com] . But the catch is it costs money and its the responsibility of the enterpises to pay for it. I doubt if a fresh graduate is going to pay thousands of dollars to learn IBM's technology just when (s)he has come out of college with huge debt.

Re:IBM should be training (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | about 9 years ago | (#13408052)

Which is great, but I still think that it should be IBM doing the training. If they want to make sure that companies keep buying their mainframes, then they should make sure that there are trained people out there that can go work for a company that is buying a mainframe. It seems completely in their best interest to provide the training at a reasonable cost to get those few thousand youngsters into the ranks.
Whatever happenned with the old days when one bought a computer, it was delivered with the people needed to run it??? :) :) :) :)

Re:IBM should be training (2, Insightful)

OrangeSpyderMan (589635) | about 9 years ago | (#13408058)

Completely agree. There's nothing about mainframes that decent graduate couldn't pick up with training. If companies can't find exactly the profiles they're after, they're going to have to broaden their horizons or outsource the support (to IBM, say) and make it the vendor's problem to get the staff. This always happens when tech specialists become hard to find in specific domains.

IBM IS training... (4, Informative)

mekkab (133181) | about 9 years ago | (#13408110)

Well, sort of. Here's the group: Share [share.org] .

IBM'ers show up at every conference and present. They are easily accesible. I went for the UserBlue AIX specific portions (and got access to network device driver engineers!), but if you go to the non-AIX,non-eServer HACMP stuff its a whole world of applied mainframes.

There is a community out there and IBMers are looking after it.

Re:IBM should be training (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408197)

They do. here [ibm.com]

Re:IBM should be training (3, Insightful)

toddbu (748790) | about 9 years ago | (#13408219)

if IBM wants to make sure there are people to support/run/develop on their mainframes, then why don't they start providing more training?

Or what about a decent set of manuals? Way back in my VAX days, I got assigned to work on an IBM midrange system. The VAX had an entire library of manuals (remember the orange books?) while this piece of crap, overpriced IBM system came with something like two manuals. I was the only in-house guy assigned to the project, and spent tons of time trying to find answers to simple questions. When I finally asked our IBM rep how one learned their systems, his answer to me was that I needed to sit next to another experienced programmer for several years to learn the trade. So much for documentation!

That experience totally turned me off to working on high-end systems, and I suspect that the lack of good information is part of the reason why colleges don't teach anything IBM. That and the fact that PCs are so much cheaper to outfit. The only thing that IBM has going for it on the mainframe side is disk throughput, but other than that the mainframe doesn't offer anything that a cluster of PCs can't. Maybe someday some of these corporations will wake up and smell the coffee and start engineering solutions that don't revolve around a single computer system. And then maybe we'd also be able to live in a world where, when you call the airline for flight information, you won't be told that "the computers are down right now".

Were there ever zOS university courses? (2, Insightful)

tpgp (48001) | about 9 years ago | (#13407948)

Sounds like too niche an area to teach at a university to me.

Re:Were there ever zOS university courses? (5, Interesting)

rdunnell (313839) | about 9 years ago | (#13408111)

No, but a lot of universities had classes in various mainframe-type things, "data processing" and the like. z/OS is just an extension of the systems they've been running for decades, renamed to look "cool." So you probably wouldn't have found, say, a System/390 class specifically at a college, but you would have found a lot of data processing and COBOL classes that would have prepared you to work in that environment.

the college I went to (mid-90's) was phasing those out and bringing in VB and Netware classes. Personally, I think the mainframe-oriented classes were a lot better preparation to work in the IT/IS field than learning how to add and delete users and write "Hello World" with a mouse and a GUI editor.

Re:Were there ever zOS university courses? (3, Interesting)

A beautiful mind (821714) | about 9 years ago | (#13408113)

Actually there are some at the university i study at, as optional subjects, called " zSeries(S/390) operating systems", "zSeries(S/390) architecture and assembler programming" etc...

-- someone from Europe...

But... (4, Insightful)

epiphani (254981) | about 9 years ago | (#13407951)

Computer Science programs dont teach nearly any applied operating system management. Not that it nessecarily belongs in a Comp-sci program, but if most comp-sci grads cant even navigate linux with any competancy, then why should we be looking universities to fix this?

My issues with comp-sci programs aside, why cant these younger people simply take the normal approach of learning on the job? Dont worry about it, just start training people.

Re:But... (1)

sjwaste (780063) | about 9 years ago | (#13408048)

It's expensive to let someone learn on the job. For one, they could learn bad habits. Second, those bad habits could translate into outages or data loss. Third, it costs their salary plus the salary of the person teaching them for the time they spend doing so. Training courses done by IBM or a 3rd party are much more attractive.

I'm a fairly competent *nix person, but I'm not about to start teaching myself z/OS, OS/390, MVS, or any of the other mainframe things we have going on here. It's a whole different animal to someone my age (23). Training would be far more efficient in my development.

Re:But... (1)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | about 9 years ago | (#13408118)

Quite correct. There are two approaches, one that teaches specifics about a language and/or an operating system. For the time spent these people can start to be productive very quickly but only to a point and if you shift envirionments (language/OS ..) then you have to do a lot of relearning.

In our CS ciriculum hopefully we are teaching core, first principle ideas which, although for a particular envirionment you are new to, you need some training, but much less and that should be true with each new environment. And the productivity improvement curve should be longer and stronger as that core training helps in all aspects of the CS problem solving domain.

zOS (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13407953)

Don't worry, this is Unix system. I know this.

Re:zOS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408002)

LOL mod parent up as funny!

Re:zOS (1)

eno2001 (527078) | about 9 years ago | (#13408187)

Please mod parent up. If only I had mod points... Doesn't enyone here recognize comic genius when they see it?

Get the lawsuits going . . . (1, Troll)

Yocto Yotta (840665) | about 9 years ago | (#13407954)

''Some of us started dying," said Robert Stanley, 56, director of research for Air Traffic Software Architectures Inc. in Ottawa. ''Heart attacks and the like. Thirty years of Twinkie-eating."

Finally, scientific proof that twinkie-eating has some positive attributes. They certainly don't taste good.

misunderstanding of computer science (5, Insightful)

rainmayun (842754) | about 9 years ago | (#13407958)

Getting a computer science degree isn't about understanding every technology that's been built out there. It's about understanding the principles, theories and practices that apply broadly across the field.

Every other employer I've known with what might be called "specialized" or "exotic" hardware or equipment (and yes, mainframes deserve to be in that category very soon if they aren't already) provided training on that equipment. A sharp student with a good understanding of fundamentals will be able to learn the specifics quickly enough.

Re:misunderstanding of computer science (1)

nate nice (672391) | about 9 years ago | (#13408129)

It's worthless trying to explain this. I graduated with a CS degree and you get people asking if you fix computers for a living. It's amazing. Hardly anyone who hasn't taken a CS program understands it's basically math, a little EE and some raw programming and engineering.

And for the record, I didn't go to college to get "trained" on some technology. Articles like this remind me that JMC students were always some of the dumbest.

All together now (1)

booch (4157) | about 9 years ago | (#13408162)

A college education is not vocational training.

Re:misunderstanding of computer science (1)

cerberusss (660701) | about 9 years ago | (#13408190)

Getting a computer science degree isn't about understanding every technology that's been built out there

No, but students certainly are exposed to technologies. You should read between the lines, they complain that students know nothing on the subject, i.e. they have never heard of it.

Re:misunderstanding of computer science (1)

Duhavid (677874) | about 9 years ago | (#13408205)

Yes, but you dont understand.

Right now, they probably have to pay a premium to induce people to work with big iron, since many will avoid it to keep from getting too specialized ( machine goes out of common usage, jobs for programmers for machine go out of common usage ). And most employers are not smart enough to try to hire a good programmer, they usually look for thier specific skill set, not a general aptitude.

Re:misunderstanding of computer science (1)

jwocky (900748) | about 9 years ago | (#13408233)

Exactly. In college there was no course on "Windows" or "Unix." You learn theory in class, and how to use the actual systems by going to the lab and getting your hands dirty.

You don't scare me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13407960)

Snipes, the boogeyman, mainframes - all a bunch of crap grandpa used to talk about until we got tired of listening to him and put him in the home.

Re:You don't scare me (4, Insightful)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | about 9 years ago | (#13408160)

Well you paycheck will be late this month due to one of our critical support programmers being put in a home by his anonymous coward daughter.

Facing Retirement (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 9 years ago | (#13407961)

Maybe they will start using email now then.
Old Koreans will have more pen pals.

big iron maintenance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13407967)

One of the problems is that many computer science programs don't include mainframes in their curricula anymore.


I wasn't aware that CS had anything to do with the type of maintenance and administration they're talking about here. Of course, had I actually read the article I might have more insight as to what they're getting at, but most of the old guys I know that do this thing were either trained in the US Air Force as a computer tech in the 60's or 70's or went to someplace like Control Data Institute.

Just what exactly did CDI teach, anyway?

My view (1)

domipheus (751857) | about 9 years ago | (#13407970)

Why should I learn those mainframe operating systems?

Most people learn the popular systems because of just that - they are popular. They are more likely to get a job with those systems under the belt.

In my view, companies that are in need of these specialised skills should be the ones responsible for the training up - the computing courses should teach the skills required to learn the new OS quickly, not bog down with one or two.

Re:My view (1)

andreMA (643885) | about 9 years ago | (#13408040)

Why should I learn those mainframe operating systems?
One word: context

Without understanding where we came from, understanding where we're going is much harder. Knowing what's been tried before - and either abandoned or kept - might also keep you from re-inventing the wheel.

Re:My view (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408146)

Why should YOU? You probably shouldn't. Keep at your .NET studies and you'll do alright as a mid-level coder somewhere until you are outsourced to India. Let somebody with a little ambition and interests beyond making point and click games learn something that's actually in demand with some serious compensation and job security behind it.

Re:My view (1)

domipheus (751857) | about 9 years ago | (#13408167)

.Net studies? I thought we were talking operating systems.

Frightening shortage? (4, Funny)

Spazmania (174582) | about 9 years ago | (#13407972)

Is this anything like the frightening shortage of Cobol programmers? 'Cause I think business should demand more Cobol in the CS curriculum too.

Yeah, more COBOL programmers... (1)

crow_t_robot (528562) | about 9 years ago | (#13408154)

...sike. COBOL is dead and hopefully people that program it are the same. That language destroys the brain.

Re:Frightening shortage? (5, Funny)

Fear the Clam (230933) | about 9 years ago | (#13408169)

Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription... is more Cobol!

Re:Frightening shortage? (3, Insightful)

sedyn (880034) | about 9 years ago | (#13408231)

Business has a problem with Cobol programmers.

Academia has a problem with Cobol in general.

Mix the two and the obvious solution, although potientially quite costly, is to move away from Cobol.

Furthermore, business shouldn't have any say over what is taught in a CS degree. Because a traditional degree isn't about getting a job. It's about gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I recommend these business start talking to trade schools.

Whinge... (5, Insightful)

gowen (141411) | about 9 years ago | (#13407973)

The lack of zOS training on CompSci courses shouldn't make the slightest difference. Companies could easily hire graduates and train them to the ideosyncracies of their mainframes. Any computer science course that produces people who are only capable of using Unix/Windows and so inflexible that they can't cope with change isn't worthy of the name.

That isn't to say there aren't a lot about.

Why should they (3, Insightful)

kevin_conaway (585204) | about 9 years ago | (#13407977)

When was the last time you saw lots of jobs for mainframe techs? The jobs that are out there are filled.

CS degrees should be about Computer Science theory and understanding. The rest is just syntax and training.

The skills they DO teach are the ones that they are most likely going to use in the "real world" at that time. Aside from giving a student a well-rounded education, colleges are also responsible for giving the student skills that will apply once they enter the workforce.

Re:Why should they (1)

Aslan72 (647654) | about 9 years ago | (#13408044)

It is all about the pragmatics of the job you go into. I've been in the field for about a decade now and the skill set I graduated with has since been overturned about 3 times; The practicals of what I learned as an undergrad were useless about 6 years ago. To me, if it is a priority of the company, they will give incentives to enter that sector and train people once they get there.

That said, the theory *I* learned in college is still applicable; the osi model, etc. are all still useable.

--pete

Re:Why should they (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | about 9 years ago | (#13408089)

The jobs that are out there are filled.

The whole point of the article is that the trained workers currently occupying these jobs are becoming extinct.
There is a skills gap where nobody can replace them.

Re:Why should they (1)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | about 9 years ago | (#13408161)

The whole point of the article is that the trained workers currently occupying these jobs are becoming extinct.

There is a skills gap where nobody can replace them.
But that doesn't make any sense at all. If there was a need for more mainframe operators, and the mainframe owning companies were willing to pay for them, then they could be replaced: either pay an untrained person a small amount to begin training, or pay enough money that people will train in order to qualify for the job.

Where do you think they get SAP programmers? Did you get trained in SAP by your university? So?

Re:Why should they (1)

QuestorTapes (663783) | about 9 years ago | (#13408222)

> When was the last time you saw lots of jobs for mainframe techs? The jobs that are out there are filled.

Actually, there are a lot of them out there. The problem is, students get to look at earning the same degree, and getting a job using .NET for mid to high 5 figures, or mainframe skills and getting a job earning low 5 figures. The pay isn't competitive; the high paid mainframe positions go to people with real-world experience. The graduates start off much cheaper than in the PC arena.

To fill the spots, you need to either raise the pay (not likely to happen), or reduce the cost of getting the education and sell it, really sell it, to people who wouldn't go the school for a CS degree anyway.

Selling it is going to require offering good benefits, contracts rather than "at-will" employment, etc. Basically, it needs to be treated as comparable to a technology-based trade-school position at a factory, rather than being a white-collar college degree job.

This is -not- a knock to the mainframers; most of them have as good an education or better than the PC folks. But the reality is that mainframe tech is more mature, and it doesn't require all CS graduates to handle it. It requires a few CS graduates, and mostly trained technicians to do maintenance tasks.

Just my opinion, flame me if you like.

Best. Quote. Ever. (4, Funny)

msuzio (3104) | about 9 years ago | (#13407979)

''Some of us started dying," said Robert Stanley, 56, director of research for Air Traffic Software Architectures Inc. in Ottawa. ''Heart attacks and the like. Thirty years of Twinkie-eating."

Reminds me of school (1)

DarthVain (724186) | about 9 years ago | (#13407983)

I had another studant scoff at me when he heard I was talking Cobal programming, about it being a 'dead' language so to speak.

My response is what do you think most major applications were and are written in mainframes and the like, VB?

Not that I ever used it again, but I rarely program anymore anyway. (when I do its more scriping than anything)

Re:Reminds me of school (4, Funny)

ajrs (186276) | about 9 years ago | (#13408074)

I was talking Cobal programming...but I rarely program anymore anyway



hmm.

It all works out (4, Interesting)

overshoot (39700) | about 9 years ago | (#13407988)

Schools don't teach analog electronics any more, either. Which means that old analog farts like me are finally getting ours after decades of being dissed as obsolete.

After all, there's no such thing as digital. Just as all the old analog dinosaurs were retiring the high-speed digital crowd discovered that maybe everything wasn't all ones and zeros.

Same applies to mainframes: mainframe technology has been dissed as obsolete for decades. Just as the microprocessors that (mostly) displaced them finally get to where they can use some of that "ancient" mainframe technology, the people who know how to apply it are leaving.

I'm sure a few will be willing to stay on the job if they're asked nicely enough.

Karma is a bitch -- especially the "comes around" part.

Re:It all works out (1)

kevin_conaway (585204) | about 9 years ago | (#13408127)

Slashdot should have a "Schaudenfraude" modifier.

Re:It all works out (1)

outlineblue (472351) | about 9 years ago | (#13408218)

> Schools don't teach analog electronics any more,

What???

Any electrical/computer engineering program that doesn't include analog electronics shouldn't be called an engineering program at all! Analog electronics are still a good chunk of the electrical program

Is this the end of the Mainframe? (0, Offtopic)

MannyO (649725) | about 9 years ago | (#13407993)

No, really.... Is it? ;)

Re:Is this the end of the Mainframe? (1, Funny)

phil reed (626) | about 9 years ago | (#13408043)

No.

"trained" vs "educated" (4, Insightful)

pjrc (134994) | about 9 years ago | (#13408001)

This sound like the corporate hiring mindset, where the objective is to look for a person with specific "training" and "experience" which perfectly matches the anticipated job description.

Absent is importance placed on "capable of learning", "able to take on new responsibilities", or even just general intelligence.

It's amazingly short sighted. Technology changes, and within almost any company, there's regular change. Hiring overall good people who can adapt and learn new systems ought to be the mindset, but usually it isn't.

Re:"trained" vs "educated" (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | about 9 years ago | (#13408081)

This sound like the corporate hiring mindset, where the objective is to look for a person with specific "training" and "experience" which perfectly matches the anticipated job description.
Hey! It's "Human Ressources"... The people there are PhBs, too; they know fuck-all about the job to be done...

Re:"trained" vs "educated" (1)

fishbowl (7759) | about 9 years ago | (#13408085)

>Absent is importance placed on "capable of
>learning", "able to take on new responsibilities",
>or even just general intelligence.

It's not absent everywhere -- it's just that the companies with realistic policies and intelligent management, are already staffed, their employees are happy, etc.

Not everybody in the workforce thinks his boss is an idiot.

Oh to be an intern again (3, Insightful)

CubicleView (910143) | about 9 years ago | (#13408008)

Simple supply and demand, once there's a demand there'll be a supply. There might be a period of time where people are short handed but I'd say it'd amount to a blip on the radar

Re:Oh to be an intern again (1)

Saiyaman (859809) | about 9 years ago | (#13408124)

Simple supply and demand works that when there is a high demand there is a low supply. Not high demand high supply. That would be crazy!

And what is the problem? (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | about 9 years ago | (#13408012)

And what is the problem? Somebody with a proper brain and the right combination of computer science educatino and experience should have not much problems in mastering the use of those behemoths, no?

Or is it that people in IT generally suck???

"It's not attractive", I hear a geek say. Well, running big iron is bound to be expensive, so the suits should have no problem in plunking down extra green to attract more people, no?

RE: Other effects... (4, Interesting)

fshalor (133678) | about 9 years ago | (#13408020)

Keep in mind, this is everything for us... and most of us don't even know it.

When you go to the dr's office, guess what's running your insurance data (usually....) ibm.

A friend's dad is 1.6 yrs from retirement and one of the last of the people in his area that run the zOS machines. It is scarry. Truely scarry.

I can talk some hardware with this guy, and a little bit of "good comptuing practices" sort of stuff, but I can't touch him for his knowledge of the workings of the code and systems. And *forget* finding those little "google:howto+topic" miracles like I do daily for my linux admin stuff.

I'm sure most linux savvy ops who know a little about databases could fill in, but there's going to be some issues in the next 5 years or so.

It reminds me of the Cobol joke... about the bloke who earned so much money fixing peoples cobol systems to make the y2k switch that he was able to buy himself a deep freeze. Only to have the 9999 bug crop up. They unfreeze him, tell him all kind of good stuff that's gone on in the world, and then mention to him that since he had Cobol on his resume he was drafted to rewrite some code by the community. (hehe...)

They are the blacksmiths of our era (2, Insightful)

wheelbarrow (811145) | about 9 years ago | (#13408021)

Our Universities are doing the right thing by exposing students to the technology used to write the large majority of new softwre being written. It would be a mistake to train students to prop up a dying segment of our industry. This is almost like a lament that all of the remaining blacksmiths were getting old in the days of Henry Ford and the Model T. It was true, but so what?

Re:They are the blacksmiths of our era (1)

msuzio (3104) | about 9 years ago | (#13408115)

That's the point. It's not dying. It is still the basis of the majority of system-critical back-end applications. Insurance, airlines, finance - they are all still depending on these platforms.

Dying? Not even close. Not that I expect colleges to change their curriculum, that is not the point of university. If these positions are not being filled, the industry itself has to get on the stick and figure out a way to fill them. For one thing, maybe recruiting bonuses to lure grads into the field, and training programs to get them up to speed on the "how to" portions.

colleges fault? or lack of internal training? (1)

arudloff (564805) | about 9 years ago | (#13408028)

If companies are able to see the problem coming, shouldn't they be able to provide their own resources to circumvent it?

Why rely on outside forces to supply your labor if its that big of a deal?

No kidding (4, Insightful)

El Cubano (631386) | about 9 years ago | (#13408029)

Most computer science students concentrate on small-computer technology, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating systems, or the popular alternatives Unix and Linux. Few have been trained on zOS, the operating system that runs IBM Corp.'s massive mainframes.

Comp Sci students are not (or should not be) training to be system administrators. That is a vocational program. That would be like complaining that electrical engineers are no longer taught how to manufacture and assemble vacuum tubes. Serisouly, why complain that students are not being taught long obsolete technology?

Not only that, but the point of a college education (and sadly this is rarely the case) to imbue the students with the skills to think critically, reason effectively and adapt/synthesize information to deal with new challenges. If they walk into a job that requires mainframe skills, they should be able to pick them up as they go. That is, if they have received a quality college education. Other than that, they should be looking to hire DeVry or ITT graduates that have been trained in the vocation of mainframe operations/maintenance/programming/whatever.

Getting old (4, Interesting)

bryanp (160522) | about 9 years ago | (#13408041)

Yep. To put it in perspective, most of the mainframe people where I work came here from NASA after the Apollo program shut down.

No, I'm not one of them. At 36 I was a kid when most of them came to work here.

Here to Stay (5, Interesting)

CleverNickedName (644160) | about 9 years ago | (#13408050)

I work with mainframes myself and I can whole heartedly agree with TFA.

Mainframes may not be the fastest growing area in IT, but they will be around for decades to come.
Remember: All your savings and all your bank debts only exist on mainframes. They control your reality. :)

New Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408215)

All your savings and all your bank debts only exist on mainframes. They control your reality.

Since most of the people I know, unfortunately myself included, have much more of the debt and less of the savings. It is only in our best interest to let these people and thus our DEBT DIE!!!

Our little savings will be a small sacrafice.

And if this troll is not enough as is... If only they had been running our debts and savings on FreeBSD, then they would have long been dead!

Cheer Up, It's Friday.. in the US the rest of you don't matter. *grin*

They shouldn't teach it in CS. (3, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | about 9 years ago | (#13408057)

One of the problems is that many computer science programs don't include mainframes in their curricula anymore.

How many of the current mainframe gurus were taught mainframes as part of a curricula? I would expect not very many. In fact, most of the mainframe guru's I have met didn't even have an educational background in computers- computer science as a seperate course of study hadn't barely begun to get off the ground at that point, so they were mostly engineers, scientists and mathematicians who happened to get to work with mainfraimes as part of thier job or studies, and discovered they liked it.

Schools should not be teaching mainframes, nor should they be teaching MS Windows. They should be teaching CS fundamentals, and providing general-purpose software development experiance. I wasn't an expert in embedded software or Windows programming when I graduated college, having most of my programming experience on unix boxes. But that is what I am doing now, because a company hired me on as an intern and gave me the opportunity to gain experience in the field.

The problem is not with the schools but with the employers who were too short sighted to apprentice anyone under thier gurus.

Re:They shouldn't teach it in CS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408220)

The other side of the problem is this: Take someone new, spend the time and money to train them, and then watch them jump to a job someplace else because they have "training/experience" on their resume, and you lose all the time and money spent on them, and them.

Linux is replacing zOS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408061)

As a former Mainframe programmer I can tell you that Linux is quickly replacing zOS. IBM is really pushing linux on their big iron and I give zOS about 10 more years until it has completely been removed from major production sites. Well I take that back, they SHOULD be moving away but I know certain companies (COUGH) TSYS (COUGH) will continue using zOS and writing all their code in assembly. Companies that have not set a timeframe for moving away from this piece of garbage are really shooting themselves in the foot (clients laugh at you when you ask them to MDM a file to them).

Oh, once the kids who DO know mainframes... (1)

defile (1059) | about 9 years ago | (#13408065)

...start billing the suckers $2000/hour because the entire community has retired, you'll see a push come from the top to replace mainframes with small computers real fast.

But... (1)

cdn2k1 (908657) | about 9 years ago | (#13408066)

do these things run Lin -

Bah, next box please.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408237)

RedHat AS4 support running on S/390 and zSeries so yes they do support Linux...

So they'll cost more, no big deal. (1)

DavidNWelton (142216) | about 9 years ago | (#13408075)

If the demand stays the same, and supply shrinks, it just means those developers/admins will make more money, or cost more in terms of training. That, or the whole thing will just get too expensive and cheaper alternatives will be found.

This situation of smaller, less-capable, cheaper technologies undercutting a market leader is what's described in The Innovator's Dilemma [amazon.com] - new, disruptive technologies (Unix, Windows, etc...) originally aren't powerful enough to do what the "big boys" want, so they find uses in other applications. By the time they catch up with the established tech, it's often too late for the established systems to fend off the competition.

As the article says, there are still important areas where that hasn't happened yet with mainframes, but I suspect things are headed that way, sooner or later.

Pay more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408079)

... and people will come.

Companies shoul not whine, but pay if the really need people. Just let the money do the talking.

I used to know all that stuff. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408084)

JCL too. Heck, I used to be able to code in hexadecimal (screw the assembler) without even resorting to the yellow card. But it's been a while which means employers won't touch you. They'd rather moan about the lack of cheap surplus talent rather than try to utilize the talent that already exists.

I wouldn't worry so much... (3, Informative)

jjn1056 (85209) | about 9 years ago | (#13408097)

As the older people start to retire I am sure younger people in the company will see where the promotion opportunities are and will learn on the job as needed.

You know you are only in school for a few years, but on the job training goes on your whole career, like 40 years or more.

Very little of what I learned in school is applicable to what I am doing now.

Personally I don't think schools should even try to teach such technical skills, leave that for on the job learning or for post college certification training. What colleges need to do is teach people the ability to learn on their own, to have the confidence and the habits needed to go after new fields of knowledge.

That's why I can't stand it when I see universities teaching Java and C#. By the time those kids get out of school that train will have left the station. Maybe teach that to final year students so that when they do their internships they have the basic skills. Otherwise I would expect someone who is really interested in computers to be playing with all that stuff from when they are much younger.

Economics (1)

imstanny (722685) | about 9 years ago | (#13408100)

Timeline:

1) Mainframe workers retire. 2) Shortage in worker supply in mainframe industry causes demand to increase. 3) Mainframe salaries increase to meet high demand. 4) Increase in Mainframe technicians occurrs as a result of higher wages in that industry. 5) Increased supply of Mainframe technicians balance wages. 6) As a result, amount of incoming Mainfraim technicians decreases. 7) See step 1.

nothing to see here, move on (1)

SimplyBen (898147) | about 9 years ago | (#13408102)

The world isn't going to implode, the world's IBM servers will be just fine. The notion that all Comp Sci programs are horrible and don't prepare students for field work is just absurd. I went to the University of Texas system and we had several required courses covering deep aspects of OS systems. This is another article reflecting the typical attitude on slashdot, that IT people are something more than contributors. Most of everything in this industry is written documented SOMEWHERE. And as long as they continue to produce literate graduates, I believe we'll be fine.

replace them? (1)

fdicostanzo (14394) | about 9 years ago | (#13408106)

If these systems are so old, couldn't they be replaced with new system pretty cheaply? Hell, replace it with two for reduncancy.

I understand the cost of data conversion, whatever. but a lot of these old systems have just a few hundred gigs of data. Give the data set to a few good guys with an oracle/etc setup and 6 months. I've done stuff like that for some major corporations so its impossible.

I am not even talking about speed improvements or changing the structure of the data. Just move the platform to something you can administer. The million or so it would cost would be saved in a few years by being able to admin it more cheaply.

Mandatory retirement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408121)

When the 65 was chosen as the mandatory retirement age, people didn't live a lot longer than that. Now, people can be productive into their seventies. Forcing many people to retire at 65 is a terrible waste of talent.

Also, what's wrong with on-the-job-training. Keep the old guys on part time to train the new guys.

*nix Admins Are the Best Hope (2, Informative)

eno2001 (527078) | about 9 years ago | (#13408148)

The practical skillset required to admin Unix systems, could provide some people with the skills needed to maintain mainframe systems:

1. Strong memory to be able to know which command to use in which context
2. Thorough understanding of logic (this stuff started on mainframes where logic was impreative)
3. Organization. You can't properly admin a *nix box if you don't keep yourself organized. The same applies to mainframes. Windows doesn't really prepare people for this kind of thinking.

Having worked on a VAX and a few Alphas running OpenVMS, I can say that the underlying concepts between mainframe OSes and *nix aren't as far apart as Windows is from mainframe OSes.

say goodbye Gracie.. (1)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | about 9 years ago | (#13408149)

I just spent two days hauling off a decommissioned Data General MV-30000.. Now it's sitting in my living room. It was replaced by blades running windows.
You wouldn't belive how much I paid for it.. :)

All the big iron is going the way of the dinosaur.
Too big, too expensive, too complicated.

Ford Thunderbird mechanics required (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408152)


In other news Ford says there are not enough straight 6 small block mechanics to keep their 1950's Ford Thunderbird servicing department open

"we just cant get the staff, its all Fuel injection and turbochargers these days, i can get qualified Engine diagnostics and managment technicians, but none know how to rebuild a 1953 Thunderbird alternator or rebore a small block" an unnamed official was quoted

Cows come home to roost: Legacy of closed systems (4, Interesting)

ch-chuck (9622) | about 9 years ago | (#13408165)

It's just the payback for the closed source mindset: Mainframes are the biggest players of the secret info game: Pay me $10K and I'll tell you the answer, otherwise your payroll system won't work. Since the keepers of the secrets and the insider priests are dying off, so is the religion they use to control their customers. Meanwhile open systems are growing by leaps and bounds - not with the lush riches of a captive paying customer base but at least it will be around for a LONG time and pay enough to earn a living.

Why so worried? (1)

GMFTatsujin (239569) | about 9 years ago | (#13408166)

So what if nobody understands zOS any more on the big iron rigs? Just install Windows!

. . .

Why is everyone looking at me like that?

My profs just got done telling me about this (5, Insightful)

Durandal64 (658649) | about 9 years ago | (#13408176)

This is why my school is introducing a mainframe concentration into its CS program within the next two years, and people graduating with that degree are going to be looking at lots of money. Although, as some other posters have asked, why is this the university's job?

My profs came out and told us that people like State Farm and Caterpillar had sat down with our CS people and asked them to provide some sort of mainframe sequence. But any graduate of the CS program should be able to pick up mainframe programming through training. It's just another language, after all. These companies should have seen the writing on the wall and hired graduates 5 years ago and had their current mainframe programmers start training them. Then they'd have workers with 5 years of real-world experience in mainframes. That's infinitely more valuable than a " mainframe concentration" in a CS degree.

These corporations dropped the ball, and now they're looking to universities to pick it up for them. They don't want to have to spend money training anybody. That's all this boils down to.

Why is this being asked when it's irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408181)

This post is c#*p and shouldn't be on the front page of /.

This kind of question seems like it is posted by a non-mainframer or someone who just hasn't had any experience in the field. Unless you're the only one in your IT dept, there are many-a-times that we interact with young/aged, inexperience/experienced and they perform as good as the next geek.

Anyone can learn at any age and I myself have been put in the position to maintain government mainframe data. And I originally came from the MS-camp.

Please keep this kind of junk off the front of our great site.

Simple solution: Import the knowledge (0, Troll)

marlinSpike (894812) | about 9 years ago | (#13408198)

Who cares if America's out-of-whack CS programs don't train students in the right skills -- I'm sure there are Indian, Chinese or Eastern European programs doing it just fine.

Two words: H1-B Visa.

Very True (1)

doctorjay (860762) | about 9 years ago | (#13408200)

I work for a fortune 100 company and the mainframe is not going anywhere. It is THE platform that handles almost everything. It has remarkable uptime, and computing power. Though it can be cumbersome and not so "user friendly" but who cares cause it does the job so well.

So much relies on it and companies are taking the "if its not broken, dont fix it" route. Moreover I highly doubt any other existing platform could replace it. All to most of the people that deal with the mainframe here are middleaged as well. Food for thought. I recently graduated college with a CompEng degree, and they want me to now learn JCL and are shocked that I didnt have a single mainframe course in my cirriculum.

Easy solution (1)

Hanno (11981) | about 9 years ago | (#13408202)

If the expertise is rare or the potential workforce unwilling to do it, raise the pay.

If it pays well, people will learn to do it. If it pays bad and other jobs pay better in the same industry, why does the industry complain?

Business Plan (4, Funny)

Johnboi Waltune (462501) | about 9 years ago | (#13408227)

The obvious maneuver for a mainframe expert:

1. Retire at age 60.
2. Put together a 40-hour training curriculum.
3. Take a course on education and public speaking at your local college.
4. Offer your training services at $300/hr, plus airfare, hotel, and per diem.
5. Work 1 week per month, and make $12,000.

6. (Optional) Set up a hot 19 year old college freshman with an apartment and a car, and bang her once a week until your heart gives out.

ibm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13408229)

looks like ibm is integrating a lot of mainframe capabilities into their pseries power5 architecture. linux, aix, and as/400 (i/os) already run on it and it wouldn't surprise me if z/os makes it on board as well in the near furture. seems to make good business sense for ibm to only have to support one hardware platform.

COBOL Syndrome (1)

p0 (740290) | about 9 years ago | (#13408238)

Will this spark an miniature era of mainframe trainings? and will this create so many technicians trained to operate mainframes and then to find that all mainframe jobs are taken?
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