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Family Ties | Two Generations of Family Working in the Mainframe
Luis Bonilla II, Mainframe Systems Programmer
Monday, December 18, 2017

I’ve worked with mainframes for about five years. Most of the experience has been while I attended college, when I held an entry-level seasonal position in Ensono’s tape library. In the last year, since graduation, I’ve been working in our mainframe department, which is where my father also works.

Like most of my millennial mainframer peers, I didn’t have access to college courses offering specific lessons on the mainframe like my dad did in the ‘80s. We came into our mainframe careers under different circumstances.

 

Learning the ins and outs

I usually say, “I didn’t intentionally follow my dad into computing.” Mainframe has great opportunities and it is a great way to build my career and learn new/different technology, so I will put it this way: the interest in IT runs in the family.

I got hooked in high school, when we built a computer and learned some coding in C++. Then at Northern Illinois University I got my degree in software development and became interested in mobile development and building websites. Software, hardware, coding – I like just about anything technology-related.

I really had no idea of the extent and power of the mainframe before I came into the department. I knew a little from speaking with my father (Luis Sr.) and keeping the tape library organized. Now I’m accessing that data and working with it, and it’s exciting.

 

IT runs in the family

My father has been working with mainframes for more than three decades. He knows the technology up and down, so he’s a great resource for me personally. He entered computing in a very different environment – he still recalls his first exposure in college, where he and his class were blown away by a demonstration of computer speed – measured in bytes.

I think he and I both find the biggest challenge comes when clients need to migrate old, unsupported technologies into modern mainframe operations. Their legacies – silos, operating systems, hardware and software, especially with a big company – can create vast and complex puzzles for us to solve.

My father has seen some changes within the industry, as you can imagine. He thinks the biggest may be the transition to user-friendly interfaces for mainframe applications and maintenance. That’s for millennials like me, in large part – we’ve grown up with clicks and links and menus. A clear, clean GUI makes it much easier to jump into the work than it was in the day of green-screen, no-menu, command-driven programs.

To me, it seems like not enough younger people are going into mainframe computing today. I’m told there are fewer courses offered in colleges, and it’s rumored that the few courses that exist may be dropped from college curriculums.

In my opinion that’s risky, because from what I can see – and dad agrees – the mainframe has a major role going forward in this day of big data and millions, even billions of transactions. But as the older generation retires, companies that run mainframes – and that’s virtually all the biggest ones -- will need a younger talent pool to replenish the workforce.

 

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