Mainframe Education: Abida Mukarram on Raising Mainframe Awareness

In our recent “Millennial Mainframers” series, we’ve talked with the next generation of mainframers about the opportunities they’ve had and challenges they’ve faced working in mainframe. But, what about the educators responsible for teaching these up-and-coming mainframers? What do they think about mainframe education?

We caught up with Abida Mukarram, a computer science professor at Sacramento City College who is passionate about motivating young people in STEM. Abida brought some of her students to Student Career Day at SHARE Sacramento this year. We asked Abida about that experience and about the current state of mainframe education. Here’s what she had to say.

What was your experience like at SHARE Sacramento this year?

This was the first SHARE event that I attended, and my first experience was a very good one. It actually happened partly by accident. We had a guest speaker talk to one of my introductory computer science classes and she told us SHARE Sacramento was the next day. Some of the students from my class were inspired to go, even on such short notice. They were delighted to be able to sit down and share lunch with some of the senior technical people from major companies. It was a unique experience for them to speak with those people and have the opportunity for mentorship.

What did your students know about mainframe before attending SHARE?

The students knew nothing about mainframe before. One of them actually won third place in the Master the Mainframe hackathon and one came in fifth, which was motivating for them because they’d never worked on the mainframe before.

I think that for my students, the old stereotypes of mainframe still lurk. In textbooks, students see pictures of mainframes as these outdated monolithic beasts. But, coming out of SHARE Sacramento, the very existence of mainframe as an attractive option was exciting for my students. That realization was exciting for me, as well. I actually started programming on mainframes 30 years ago but hadn’t seen them in a while and assumed they fell out of fashion. It was a unique experience for me as an educator to hear about the opportunities that are there for my students.

Did attending SHARE make you think differently about teaching about mainframe in the classroom?

There are still no undergrad degrees available in areas like data science and machine learning. My students are often interested in those fields and others like them. But now I’ve realized that we need the mainframe in order to be able to do all the number crunching that those fields require. The mainframe is in a unique position to do that.

We’ve come full circle now where we really need z/OS machines. The future of data science and machine learning is exciting, but none of that can be done in a real-time fashion without the number-crunching power that the mainframe offers.

How do you encourage your students to develop the “outside the classroom” skills that are so important in this industry?

Going to the SHARE event was one thing I thought was important for students to do. Our goal is to have students immerse themselves in authentic experiences so they’ll be employable. SHARE was a great opportunity to connect the classroom with industry. Students were excited to meet with big employers and get the mentorship that is going to be so helpful in their careers.

What would you say to any students thinking about attending a SHARE event in the future?

I would definitely encourage them to go and take advantage of the fact that senior technical professionals have made themselves available to them. I would also encourage them to do their homework before going, and look up the companies in attendance and what skills those companies are looking for. It’s not difficult to do a 30-minute homework session on Google.

Even if you feel like you haven’t done much yet or don’t have a lot of experience, make sure to have a resume handy, because you can seek advice at the conference on how to improve your resume.

Join us for SHARE Academic at SHARE St. Louis to network, attend employer panels and compete in the Master the Mainframe hackathon. To register for SHARE St. Louis, August 12-17, visit event.share.org/register.

 

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