IBM, users work to attract young mainframers

User group Share teams with Big Blue to support young people interested in mainframe computing

IBM and independent user group Share are teaming up to provide support for young people interested in mainframe computing, the organizations announced Monday. The initiative and its associated community is being dubbed "zNextGen," a reference to IBM's zSeries mainframe brand.

IBM and Share pledged to provide IT students looking to make a career on big iron with contacts and resources to help them find jobs in mainframe computing soon after graduation, according to a joint release. The organizations will also support young people already embarked on big iron careers with help in job networking.

Share President Robert Rosen recalled hearing from a recent graduate who'd just become a mainframe systems trainee at a Share event for new attendees. "All his friends had said he was crazy to go to work for a company developing on mainframes," Rosen said in a recent interview. "But the trainee said, number one, he had a job and many of his friends didn't, and, two, he said he could see how his [future] career was laid out."

The potential market for young people with mainframe expertise is expanding as big iron specialists head for retirement in the U.S. and Western Europe opening up vacancies for new mainframe professionals. Elsewhere in the world, notably in China and Eastern Europe, companies are investing in more mainframes as they increase their computing power and therefore are looking for more staff to run the systems.

Share will offer access to its global membership including professionals working in Fortune 500 companies, academia and governments. The intention is for both Share and IBM to offer mentoring and internships to those young people signing up to join zNextGen, the release said.

ZNextGeners will also have a special section on a recently established mainframe community Web log (http://mainframe.typepad.com/) where they can share information and connect with their peers, according to the releases. Individuals already blogging on the main area of the site including IBM staffers, John Patrick, president of Attitude and former vice president of Internet technology at Big Blue, and Peter Armstrong, corporate strategist at BMC Software, and James Governor, RedMonk principal analyst and co-founder.

IBM has been hard at work trying to raise the mainframe's profile among educational institutions, teachers, and students with its Academic Initiative Program for the Mainframe for the past couple of years. To date, IBM has established courses in zSeries mainframes in 150 universities around the world with the ultimate aim of turning out 20,000 mainframe literate IT professionals within the next five years. Around a quarter of IBM's revenue comes from its mainframe business if sales of associated software and storage are factored in, according to industry analysts.

The company is also planning to run a mainframe contest with prizes for students in the U.S. and Canada kicking off in September. The contestants will all be given accounts on a z/OS hub and asked to complete a series of challenges. No previous knowledge of mainframes is necessary to enter the contest, according to the release.

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