One lingering question has persisted in conversations about the future of mainframe: What’s the best way to improve the perception of the industry in the eyes of younger IT talent so they see the mainframe as attractive as any other modern computing system?
The SHARE St. Louis summer conference featured a number of sessions to help businesses attract, recruit, and work alongside younger IT professionals. Kyle Beausoleil, a software engineer for Rocket Software and a millennial mainframer in his own right, hosted one such session in St. Louis, and said he’s empathetic to the challenge companies face in hiring young talent.
“You don’t want to spend all that effort hiring someone and have them leave two months later because you don’t have a workplace that’s conducive to modern talent,” Beausoleil said.
Even so, he believes many companies may be overthinking the challenge. Millennials are just like any other employee at the start of a career, sharing the same motivations, fears, anxieties and aspirations, regardless of generation.
The mistake many businesses make is framing their view of young professionals based on clichés, Beausoleil explains.
“It's not about avocado toast, fidget spinners, or Tide pods. That’s just the stuff that hits the news, not the stuff that runs a business,” said Beausoleil. “In my session, I never said anything about millennials that wasn’t true of every generation.”
Even the word “millennial” is emotionally charged and leads to false narratives, he argued.
“We often attribute a lot of modern approaches to modern problems as if they're millennial-driven solutions, when they're really technology-driven solutions,” he said. “It's not just millennials staring at their phone: everyone with a phone does it. I think people conflate those things. It’s a new phenomenon so it must be millennials that started it, but we're just attributing it to them. Millennials aren’t the only ones who can be tech savvy — plenty of people have been that way their entire careers.”
Looking at this younger generation of IT professionals from the right perspective can make it simpler for employers to communicate with, understand, and ultimately recruit them, Beausoleil said. Additionally, it’s important for employers to learn lessons from other fields of business that have faced the same sort of skill gaps.
“Other industries have had to go through this exact issue of finding new talent because of a generational divide, and we get focused on the things that make us unique because we are a unique community,” he said. “Other companies solve it preemptively by having a constant pipeline of new hires and keeping a variety of talent so they’re never reliant on one group, whether it's age- or location-based. It takes time and effort to solve, but it’s getting better in mainframe because more people are realizing this isn’t a magical problem only we have. We can use the same lessons other people have learned.”
Beausoleil added that he was encouraged by the launch of Zowe, the open mainframe project and community, which was announced at SHARE St. Louis. Zowe seeks to open up mainframe education and collaboration opportunities, and it’s backed by founding partners IBM, CA Technologies, and Rocket Software. That cross-industry collaboration, plus the stated commitment by the founding partners to invest in the new community, left Beausoleil intrigued by Zowe’s potential.
“This is not just some small thing that the community is going to access. Zowe has the potential to change how the mainframe community is going to share their solutions with each other,” he said. “By standardizing this basic set of tools, we’re investing in the future in a way that is meaningful, and that people will recognize.”
Zowe may also be one way to help with recruiting fresh mainframe talent, especially Gen Z individuals who are still in high school or college, but in a more passive and organic way, Beausoleil remarked.
“It will make a big difference in the adoption of mainframe as a career choice, because it takes away some barriers to a career in mainframe,” he said. “The open source community is where most young engineers first learn about computer science. Zowe will be one of many ways to make it easier for people to research what they need to know to find a job in the field, learn about this technology, and feel less intimidated when they come across a job ad for a Z programmer, for example.”
Ultimately, Beausoleil thinks Zowe has the capability to demystify the mainframe in the eyes of young computer programmers, in the same way open source communities broke down educational barriers for other forms of computer science. This, coupled with employers who are ready to communicate openly with the next generation, makes for a positive direction forward.