The Importance of the Old Guard on the Mainframe
RACF engineer Eric Baumgardner issues a call to action for experienced mainframers to share their knowledge
Developing Mainframe SkillsIn my career, it was always apparent to me that I was hired to fill one of these future gaps. However, even as I gained more experience and confidence and was all but guaranteed a job opportunity, I never looked forward to the day when the senior members of the department would retire. Although it meant more opportunities for me in my career, I couldn't help feeling the loss of knowledge and expertise. I believe that one of the main reasons I was successful in the mainframe industry was because of the people who were willing to teach me “the ways.”
When I began my career in mainframe, I had previously graduated with a degree in communications, and my only other job after college was in sales. I was simply looking for an opportunity to get my foot in the door in the IT sector and when I found that opportunity at a company, I had two options for learning after acquiring the job: I could either study the documentation or learn from my senior coworkers.
As someone who didn’t have a degree or any real background in computers, the documentation was difficult to understand, and some of it was quite intimidating due to the sheer number of pages. Therefore, I preferred learning directly from the experienced staff. Fortunately, my team was comprised of knowledgeable and supportive individuals who were willing to share their expertise with me. Each person had a unique skill set that helped me to gain a well-rounded understanding of RACF.
For the next several months, I had the privilege of being taught by five experts who shared all their tips and tricks of the trade with me. I was eager to learn and asked every question that came to mind. They patiently taught me the best and most efficient ways to handle processes on the often-complicated mainframe. Each of them offered a different perspective and approach. As a result, I gained a vast amount of knowledge that I would use throughout my career. I often think of my skillset as a patchwork of all the people in that department. Without them, I wouldn't have a career today. They were not only supportive within the mainframe, but they also had a positive impact on my personal life. Their mentorship was vital to my skill development and continued to benefit me throughout my nearly seven years at the company. Although I have since moved on from the company, the lessons learned from the experienced faculty prepared me for other work in the industry.
Call to ArmsFor me, the importance of experienced mainframers was always immeasurable. With a significant number of these experts set to retire, it becomes even more crucial to ensure that the next generation of mainframers can navigate the complex systems and avoid potential pitfalls.
For people in the next mainframe generation, take it from me: The knowledge you can gain from making connections with experienced mainframers is invaluable and you should enjoy it while you can. No amount of documentation could have prepared me for some of the things I have experienced so far in my career. The little tricks I learned ended up saving me countless hours of wait time and will continue to do so. Mainframe vets offer so much more than any documentation of the subject can and their experience allows them to avoid a lot of typical mistakes and past problems.
Navigating how each system works and making changes while avoiding outages is what makes the mainframe veterans the most valuable. Their ability to stick true to the 99.99% up-time the mainframe offers by limiting possible production issues helps the mainframe live up to its name. Up-time is a major factor in what makes the mainframe the machine that just won't die and without the older, more experienced generation, the ability to maintain that reliability may be affected. Experts can help the situation by being more active and understanding the value of their knowledge base.
This can be achieved through various ways, such as:
- YouTube and modern social media: One of the most effective ways to get into contact with the younger generation is to use the media outlets that they use. There’s a big opportunity for experts to use YouTube as an effective knowledge-transfer tool. Creating tutorials, educational content and tip/tricks with the viewership numbers that modern social media brings could really help spread mainframe knowledge.
- Mentorship: The value of mentorship can’t be understated. Obviously, it helped me a TON. There truly is no substitute for one-on-one learning.
- Documentation: Other than the valuable IBM manuals, there are a limited number of options in terms of educational mainframe resources. Plus, a lot of documentation is antiquated and could use some modern tweaks with modern graphic design. Getting years’ worth of valuable knowledge and know-how onto paper—or into blogs and articles—will help young mainframers for years to come.
About the author
Eric Baumgardner is an IAM RACF engineer at Huntington National Bank.
See more by Eric Baumgardner