There is a lot of discussion about the lack of mainframe curriculum in today’s college programs. I think that very few of the “Boomer” system programmers out there learned their trade in college, but rather, on the job. Perhaps a prime source of talent that can help address the aging workforce problem is being overlooked. Maybe we should start by looking in our own back yards!
One story begins in the mailroom of a small software house. Someone is needed to hold down the fort when the one computer operator on duty is on lunch break. Hey, the mailroom guy has some free cycles, so he is brought in to help and learns a few things along the way. Six months down the road, when a new shift is added, the mailroom guy becomes a full time operator. The newly minted operator hangs tapes, minds the printers, and watches the consoles. There are things to learn about print queues, spool datasets, initiators and job classes. Batch jobs and online regions need to be started and stopped, looked into when they are slow, troubleshot when the fail. To be effective, he needs to know the schedules and application flows. He learns JCL by osmosis and asks questions when things get tricky.
When the Tech Support team needs help, but the budget isn’t there for an experienced system programmer, the idea of hiring a trainee with the aptitude and right background comes up. Who comes to mind? You got it, the guy who had his start in the mailroom. As a system programmer, if you MUST get that call in the middle of the night, who are you hoping is on the other end? The person who already has institutional knowledge of the company, and just “gets it”. There is your candidate!
So if you’re that person starting out in the mailroom, spend some time learning. Install some software products if you get the opportunity. Review and analyze some system parameters. If you can manage it, pony up for a few IBM classes.
Mentoring seems like it is not as big as it once was, but with some well spent time, as a leader in IT, you can offload simpler tasks to the new person and free up your time for more complex matters. In a few years, you and the newbie could be more colleagues than teacher and student.
Every company has them. That junior level person that “gets it.” There is your raw material for the next generation of Systems Programmers.