Millennial Mainframers: Theak Pel on What College Students Should Know About Mainframes

Despite being used across 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies, mainframes manage to maintain a low profile, passing under the radars of most recent graduates looking for their first job in IT.

That was almost the case for Theak Pel, who works on mainframe infrastructure for U.S. Bank. Through an internship, however, he discovered that mainframes offered the possibility of an exciting and fulfilling career.

“There’s a misconception that mainframes are going away or are dead, but it’s the opposite.” Pel said in a recent interview with SHARE. “Mainframes are always keeping up with the latest technology and they’re able to incorporate new stuff, as well as maintain legacy applications.”

As part of our new blog series profiling the next generation of mainframers, we asked Theak why other young IT professionals should consider a career in mainframes. Here’s what he had to say.

Can you describe your professional background and your path to the mainframe industry?

I came to U.S. Bank a little under four years ago as an intern to learn about z/OS. I found out that very few schools teach it these days. After my summer internship, I was offered a full-time job working with the Manufacturing Vendor Services (MVS) group. I had no prior background in mainframe, but my internship provided an opportunity to learn more about the technology. That’s how I got started.

What do you like most about working in mainframe?

It’s a great field to get into. There is a lot to learn and do. Being exposed to this kind of technology really opens doors. You can do anything IT-centric that’s part of the mainframe. Banking, insurance and airlines all rely on mainframes to run their business. A lot of people aren’t aware of that initially.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the mainframe industry in the next 5-10 years?

The biggest challenge is awareness of the technology. There are concerns with the aging workforce – folks that have worked on mainframe technology that’s been around for a long time. A handful of my coworkers have 25 to 30-plus years of experience working in this industry. Schools don’t really teach it anymore. By the time skilled mainframers retire, there will be a skills gap and a shortage of potential hires.

Some of the technology in terms of working with mainframes, like Cobol or JTL, any of those languages, aren’t that well known. I believe that IBM and other companies have tried to modernize these mainframe tools so it’s more similar to the open source tooling that college kids are familiar with. That’s the right approach, especially when you want to recruit younger kids.

If you had to persuade a current college student toward a career in mainframes, what would you say?

With the aging workforce, there’s definitely a need for people to come on board and work on these technologies. There is always something interesting to work on, and an opportunity to keep up with the newest stuff. It’s not just specific z/OS skills, either – you can run Linux on mainframe using mainframe hardware. College students should be aware of that. There are numerous opportunities in mainframe. That was an eye opener for me; that it was a great opportunity to go in and learn new things. And it’s fun!

Check out the SHARE Content Center for more articles, webcasts and presentations touching on important issues in mainframe, including technology, training and industry trends.


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