7 tricks to get millennials working on the mainframe

Given the stability, resiliency and reliability of the mainframe, it’s no surprise that most CIOs say it is here to stay; if anything, mainframes are more important than ever.

The mainframe has sat at the heart of most enterprises for more than 50 years, and processes over 30 billion transactions every day to keep the digital world turning, providing a steady foundation for innovation.

It is for this reason that the introduction of new technologies, such as mobile, IoT and cloud, is making mainframe usage soar year over year.

However, marrying new and old technology will always come with unique challenges, particularly relating to skills.

To ensure continuity as mainframe stewardship passes into the hands of millennial developers, the vast knowledge built-up by veteran mainframers needs to flow to this younger generation, or there is a risk it will be lost.

The challenge is that the mainframe is often misunderstood; it’s not seen as ‘cool’ and the younger generations tend to think it’s more complicated than it is.

>See also: Mainframe programmers can have beards too

The good news is millennials aren’t afraid of command lines and crazy command syntax and managing hundreds of servers. So, the question is, how do you “trick” these millennials to start to work on the mainframe?

1. Make it look like everything else

First, the mainframe connection needs to be hidden inside of the tools they are familiar with using.

Don’t make them use some free 3270 emulator with an obscenely coloured user interface.

You can provide them a modern interface to the mainframe with multiple choices of Eclipse-based tools.

These tools provide drag and drop and contextual online help. They also provide a sophisticated editor with code completion and other time saving features.

2. Let them own it 

Next, let’s not make their first big project retrofitting some obscure financial rule into 7,000 COBOL programmes. Let’s find a new piece of development, perhaps a batch program.

Ownership is a powerful incentive, so let them own it.

3. Give instant feedback

Once the developer has found the location for their project, provide a basic working programme template.

Make it easy to deploy the program into a test area so they can experiment with the code quickly and get an understanding of how the pieces fit together.

Most companies have well-defined code templates sitting around that haven’t been looked at in a decade.

>See also: How to overcome the top boardroom cloud sticking points

It’s time to dust those off with a quick review to make sure they still meet your site’s coding standards and architecture criteria.

Hand over this template and JCL in a form that can be compiled/linked and run and get out of the way. The millennial will figure how to write the business logic.

4. Easy on the JCL (and the other stuff)

Consider doing this batch programme with the latest compiler and the highest architecture level your hardware supports and ensure compiler optimisation is turned on.

It’s an opportunity to discuss MIPS pricing, how optimisation affects performance, and the issues of debugging optimised code.

It can also be a first step in their introduction to JCL and mainframe files. These are two items a millennial probably hasn’t seen before.

5. Break it down

Learning a large complicated system all at once is time consuming and frustrating. Why not provide tooling that allows ongoing discovery?

Most green screen tools assume you know where everything is located.

Eclipse-based tooling allows you to easily look through your systems and piece together the larger picture.

Don’t point them at outdated system diagrams and 10-year-old unmaintained system documentation.

>See also: The evolution of virtualisation

Teach them to use tools that dynamically find the information and present it in a graphical view. Eclipse file explorers or CICS and IMS explorers provide a great way to become familiar with subsystems and the programs that run on them.

6. Help them understand the code

As they begin to work on large (sometimes giant) applications, provide them with application analysis tools.

These tools provide a faster road to understanding large systems so they don’t have to look at thousands of lines of COBOL code to get an understanding of how the application flows and the data gets used. Runtime visualisation is a great learning tool.

The new developer can see programs starting, datasets being opened and closed, business logic functions being called all without the time0consuming effort of finding the source files and trying to make sense of it.

Access to application analysis tools will reduce the on boarding time for your new hires.

7. Automate, automate, automate

While you’re at it, provide automated deployment tools to reduce the manual steps of getting programs compiled, linked and added to modules in the correct test, integration and production systems.

It will eliminate mistakes and drama for the new people. It will also help make all your developers more productive and, let’s face it, even experienced people make mistakes.

The automation can hide the fact that many of the systems have name size limitation, so one letter “naming conventions” don’t have to be remembered.

A millennial using automated analysis tools, source code-level debugger in Eclipse, and automated deployment can be productive much sooner.

Your new millennial programmer will start to show their more experienced colleagues how much more productive they can be.

>See also: The most in-demand developer skills in 2016

Smart millennials are more than capable of figuring out the mainframe.

Providing modern tooling to make the job of learning vast systems easier is the least we can do.

Let’s show the mainframe platform in the best light by showing that modern tooling can reduce the learning curve and improve programmer productivity by reducing the number of manual steps.

Bits are bits but how you work with them and the tools that help can make world of difference in job satisfaction.

Let’s build a mainframe workplace with excited millennial mainframers.


Sourced by Glenn Everitt, technical product manager, Compuware

Avatar photo

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

Related Topics