Millennial Mainframers: Warren Harper on The Need for More Knowledge Transfer

The mainframe may be unfamiliar to many undergrads studying computer science, but that wasn’t the case for Warren Harper. You might even call it a family business: both of Harper’s parents and his sister worked in mainframes in the past, which gave him a much more positive view of the industry and its career prospects compared to his peers.

“My peers mostly hadn’t even heard the word ‘mainframe’ before,” Harper said in a recent interview with SHARE. A graduate of the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Harper has spent the past five years as a developer for BMC Software. He’s also been an active participant in the SHARE community; as Project Manager for the volunteer-driven zNextGen initiative, he hosted several zNextGen sessions at SHARE San Jose last spring.

Still, despite his familial connections, getting up to speed on the ins and outs of mainframe technology took some time, Harper said. He sees the transfer of knowledge from experienced mainframe professionals to the younger generation as the biggest challenge facing the industry in the next five to 10 years.

“I think we’re on the right track, but time will tell,” he said.

As part of our new blog series profiling the next generation of mainframers, we asked Warren about his path to a career in mainframe and his vision for the future of the industry. Here’s what he had to say.

Coming out of school, what were your top career priorities?

Learning was (and still is) my top career priority – especially coming out of school. I also wanted to make sure the work was interesting and generally enjoyable – if it isn’t either of those things to you, you’re in for a tough ride.

Did a career in mainframe ever seem like an attractive possibility? Why did you ultimately choose this path?

It definitely did. I heard a lot of great things about the industry from people in it. The only negative comments or news about the industry that I saw were from people who didn’t know anything about it.

Did you face any challenges getting started?

The most difficult part of getting started is the skill gap. You have a swath of mainframers with a great deal of experience, and another group with little to no experience trying to take over the mantle as seasoned professionals retire. The knowledge transfer can seem like a daunting task to both parties.

What do you think of the resources available both to current mainframers and to younger programmers looking to join the industry?

This is one area where our community is definitely lacking. We don’t have an established online spot for Q&A. I hope reddit’s r/mainframe becomes more popular – especially with senior mainframers, who are the people who can answer our questions!

Are there any specific resources that have been helpful to you in your career?

The main resources for me have been my colleagues at BMC and SHARE. Fortunately, the senior mainframers in the industry care a great deal about the future of this platform and have taken a vested interest in bringing on new mainframers.

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

Data analytics and security are the big ones to me. The more you hear about security breaches, and as governments hand out bigger fines for these, the more attractive mainframes become. And of course, companies will want to make use of all the data they have on mainframes.

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

I’d tell them the platform isn’t going away any time soon, and that there’s still plenty of space for innovation.

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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