Bridging the Generational Gap
How to combine knowledge from different generations to help create a collaborative and diverse workforce
By Jessica Shabet (Muszynski)01/22/2021
The most common question I’m asked at conferences and external vendor meetings is: “How did you get involved with mainframes since it’s not taught in like it used to be?” My answer used to be that it was a happy accident, I was at the right place at the right time. In reality, I worked with a team that was open and receptive to training me, a team that saw the gaps, a team that saw my potential. I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggle that mainframe teams are faced with every day and how it can be a dauting task to plan for the future infrastructure when most of your staff is “of retirement age.”
I believe that one of the key contributors to this age gap is a lack of information about the mainframe from schools and companies. I’ve learned to love the term “millennial mainframer,” but didn’t know what it was until someone took me on a tour of the hardware floor at the data center and pointed it out. I didn’t know that green screens were still used until my first day of on-the-job training when my mentor said “Okay, now start a new TSO session.” This was immediately followed by a blank stare, and questioning myself on whether this was really the right fit.
I’ve spoken at numerous SHARE conferences both as a key speaker and in panel discussions about ways to bridge the generational gap. I continue to use my experience learning CISC from the ground up to help current teams feeling the stress and struggle of finding the next generation of mainframers. I’ve narrowed my suggestions down to three action items.
- Engage your local community
Computer science clubs are often open to hosting guest speakers during their monthly meetings. Much like the career fair, this will give face time to students who already have an interest in technology and gives you a chance to promote and expose students to the power and potential the mainframe has. If the logistics and locations allow you can even look into hosting a data center or office tour. Transparency is important to the younger generation because if they are going to work with your company, they want to know that it’s like beforehand.
*Pro tip* IBM hosts a yearly “Master the Mainframe” competition that’s free to all college students. I participated by teaching the first Master the Mainframe module alongside a few Next Gen IBM employees in a computer science meeting at Framingham University in Framingham Mass., September 2019. This module was an introduction to ISPF commands and setting up a terminal session. Using free online learning from IBM can be an excellent opportunity for students to get the right exposure to working with the mainframe. Exposing students will show them it’s challenging but also rewarding and there is always someone that is up for the challenge.
- Revamp your expectations
- Building a training plan
I also strongly suggest taking advantage of every available online or in person training that IBM or other companies have to offer. Investing in their knowledge shows that you are invested in their success and future, which is important to anyone starting a new career. Sending them with another teammate to a conference or vendor meetings shows that you value their opinion and want them to be part of the team.
I hope that this helps anyone who finds themselves in the difficult scenario to hire new talent. It’s a challenging ordeal, but in my nine year career I have found that the people on the mainframe are natural teachers and want to share the wealth of knowledge they’ve collected over their careers.
Note from the author: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer.
Jessica Shabet (Muszynski) is a systems engineer.