Like Kahn, McBain at the Royal Bank of Canada is also concerned about the general drop-off in students enrolled to study computer science. When he asked professors at Mohawk what students were studying instead of IT, the answer tended to be biomedicine and forensics.
"It's a bit of the CSI syndrome," McBain quipped, referring to the popular TV series set in Las Vegas, Miami and New York that focuses on the work of three fictional crime scene investigation teams. "We need to create the same syndrome for IT," he added, so that students have more dynamic associations with careers in computer science. Thinking aloud, McBain wondered if companies coming together to form an industry consortium might help encourage students to study IT. Such a body could visit high schools and universities and lay out the potential job opportunities in IT.
Universities in the mainframe program are asking IBM how the school can define terms relating to mainframe computing to aid students' job searching, according to Susan LeVangia, curriculum manager for the company's Academic Initiative zSeries program and senior software engineer.
Every relationship IBM has with an educational institution is different. Some take all the IBM teaching materials, some take part and others use the tools from Big Blue as a basis for building their own mainframe course curriculum, according to the company's Bliss. The IBM teaching materials mostly consist of PowerPoint modules with 20 to 30 slides in each module and include speaker notes and lab exercises, LeVangia said.
IBM has established mainframe hubs that universities can log into for mainframe access if they don't have their own big iron. The U.S. hub is at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and can be accessed by any university around the world. Thirty to 40 universities are utilizing the U.S. hub at any one time, according to Bliss. IBM has other mainframe hubs in Brazil, China, Eastern Europe and India, and is looking at adding more hubs in Europe, he said.
Sidebar: Mainframes, computer science thriving in Poland
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, has its own mainframe. The school purchased a zSeries from IBM running Linux to support all the e-mail accounts of its more than 55,000 students on a single server. It's the university's second mainframe -- it had a model 4381 in the early 1990s, according to Bogusalw Mroz, the school's vice rector.
Poznan is the 150th university to sign up for IBM's mainframe education program. The first semester of offering a mainframe course has gone well, Mroz said. Looking ahead, the university plans to focus in on particular subjects, with mainframe security being a likely candidate for its own course, he added.
Unlike the U.S. and Canada, Poland doesn't currently have any problem filling computer science places. Mroz reports strong competition among would-be students with 10 candidates for each place in computer science. However, he notes that figure pales in comparison with the demand to study biotechnology where the university is seeing 80 candidates for every one place.
Kris Bulaszewski, manager of systems and technology at IBM Poland, believes the work with Poznan has gone very well. He gave a lecture to students on mainframes which was very well received. He hopes to do something similar with another Polish university by the end of this year.
Government, telecoms, banks and manufacturers in Poland are all using mainframes. Students with mainframe skills are likely to receive relatively high salaries as a way to encourage them to stay in the country. "It's an investment to keep good employees," said Bulaszewski. He was one of many people with IT skills who returned to Poland after working abroad when the country transformed into a market economy and a free society.