What does it mean, “to have a character”? Imagine you grow up in an environment where the computer you manage is the only computer the company has. And if that computer stops working, the company stops working. And by “stops working,” I mean passengers left on the ground, payments not made, trucks waiting to be filled at docking stations – you get the idea.
With the CEO literally standing behind you until the problem is fixed, you build character. You think before you act, you test, test again, and then test again.
You implement all kinds of procedures, and stick to them, you treat your computer with respect, but above all, you are passionate about the system that you manage.
Traditionally, one of the common elements of a mainframer’s character was that we were not the most flexible of people. We simply could not afford to be flexible. This is one of the reasons why many of the Fortune 500 companies still rely on their mainframes for a large part. The combination of an archetypal “mainframe character” and a piece of hardware (IBM’s System z) that has evolved over the years into the reliable, stable and modern platform that it is today, is still unmatched.
But times have changed.
Today’s mainframers (I prefer to call us Generation Z) have a different role than they used to have. In the past, all of us were specialists in one particular area, and we did that very well. But the staff cuts we faced forced many of us to take up additional work. Most of us are now a "jack of all trades and master of one," and where our specialization in the past meant we worked with a limited set of tools, now forces us to use many different tools to get the job done.
On top of that, a lot of new technology has been thrown at the mainframe in the past few years: TCP/IP, Webservices, support for mobile applications (after all, the data used by that iPad internet banking app has to come from somewhere), and many of us have already been involved in big data and cloud initiatives.
The System z is just another (integral) part of the IT infrastructure.
This means that we simply HAD to become more flexible. If all of this was not enough, our upper management required a more agile and business oriented approach. Since most businesses depend on IT for a large part, IT had to respond faster to changing business needs, which was not easy for a group of people with an average age of 50+. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the harder it seems to become to stay flexible. And for years, younger people (the ones who force you to stay young…) did not join our ranks. They grew up with distributed systems and looked at the mainframe as something from the past.
Every team, no matter what project you work on, has to be a good mix of people: experienced people, inexperienced but enthusiastic people, young people, “not so young” people and people of different genders. This way, everybody learns from each other – and the “everything was better in the old days” discussions will be reduced to a minimum. And slowly but steadily, I see younger people joining the Generation Z ranks. And where they do, things work better.
Mainframers show less of a “mainframe character,” and in that transition, they turn others into more of a “mainframe character.” It builds the best teams I’ve ever seen, and in companies that have teams with younger people, the mainframe plays a different role.
It suddenly turns into a valid alternative again when new projects are discussed.
Being a mainframe character alone is not enough, and it can even be quite dangerous. You think wearing the “There are 10 types of people in the world: Those who understand binary, and those who don't” t-shirt may be co ol (and trust me, I have one), but wearing it in the office makes you a mainframe character, and only that. You have proven for years that you are more than that, and it doesn’t hurt showing it to everyone else as well…
Marcel den Hartog is Principal Product Marketing EMEA for CA Technologies Mainframe solutions. In this role, he is a frequent speaker on both internal (customer) and external events where he talks about CA Technologies mainframe strategy, vision and market trends. Marcel joined CA Technologies in 1986 as a Pre-sales consultant. Before this, he worked as a programmer/systems analyst on VSE and MVS systems, starting with CICS DL1/IMS and later with DB2. He is still an expert in CA Easytrieve and Cobol and has hands-on experience with many CA products. He was responsible for managing CA’s pre-sales teams in The Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa for a number of years. Prior to his current role Marcel worked as a Linux Development Architect for CA’s Linux and Open Source team. In that role, he served almost two years as a board member of the Plone Open Source Community.
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