Think Millennials Don’t Want to Work in Mainframe? Think Again

There’s an industry notion that says young IT professionals feel the mainframe is outdated, and they’d rather work on cool and exciting projects on new platforms. That’s a myth, according to one millennial.

Luisa Martinez, an IBM mainframe professional, said most young IT pros don’t have any opinion about the mainframe, because they’ve likely never learned anything about it.

“To us, it’s just a different platform,” she said.

As a result, millennials often don’t know about the great career opportunities they could have in the industry. Martinez has learned that first-hand.

A graduate of Orange County Community College and SUNY New Paltz in New York, she started her career in IT as a software developer for a small company. But, on the recommendation of a professor, she applied for a mainframe role at IBM, despite knowing very little about the company or platform.

“I was worried about my lack of background at first. I didn’t know z/OS or anything about the mainframe before I accepted the offer,” she said.

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem. IBM runs an internal training program for its new mainframe hires. The company’s large new hire network meant she could learn alongside her peers, and she had access to an experienced company mentor to ease her training.

Despite her initial concerns, Martinez said she’s found a rewarding and exciting career in mainframe. In the time since, she’s delivered talks about her experience at several industry events, including SHARE. Her message: millennials would love a job in mainframe if they knew just how well it would align to their career goals.

What Do Millennials Want?

Many young professionals want a career where they can make an impact. The mainframe is a perfect fit, according to Martinez, because it’s the backbone to mission-critical IT resources for so many large corporations, from airlines, to banks, to retail stores and more.

“I didn’t know that in college, but now that I’m working and see how critical the mainframe is, it makes me excited about the work that I do,” Martinez said. “I meet so many new hires that feel the same way.”

Corporate training also fulfilled Martinez’s desire for a career with growth and education opportunities – a desire shared by many of her peers, alongside typical benefits like job security, a good salary, and a good work/life balance.

Of course, recruitment is a two-way street, and having taken the jump herself, Martinez encourages her fellow millennials to keep an open mind to a career in mainframe once they’re ready to graduate.

Tips for Hiring Millennials

Over-focusing on specific programming skills could hurt recruitment efforts, Martinez warned. When millennials scan mainframe job ads and see programming languages they don’t recognize, they might be less likely to apply.

“If you list a bunch of acronyms, like COBOL, IMS, CICS, that will intimidate people right out of college. It’s not something that’s common knowledge,” she said. “Instead, include a list of characteristics that you want in a new hire: strong programming skills, great at problem solving, a passion for learning. That way you can attract people who would be perfect for the role with some training.”

Traits like natural curiosity, a desire for adventure and the ability to multitask are invaluable in mainframe work. These just so happen to be traits shared by many young IT professionals, who are ready and eager to try new things.

Another important tip: companies need to break the habit of calling the mainframe old and outdated. Again, most millennials don’t think of it that way, but hearing it from folks in the industry may turn them off from applying altogether.

“I’m not sure where that mentality comes from, but we have to change it and instead focus on how important the mainframe is to IT,” Martinez said.

Chances to Learn

Some programs also offer a pipeline to fresh IT talent. The IBM Academic Initiative works with clients to build relationships with schools to find, train and hire young professionals. It includes a jobs board that could be a rich resource for talent.

Knowledge sharing presents another opportunity for filling the skills gap. Combining the deep platform expertise of industry veterans with the knowledge of APIs and web programming found among millennials could breathe new life into the mainframe.

“There’s tons of room for innovation in mainframe, and millennials want to play a huge role in that.” She said. “When we merge skill sets, we can come up with cool new projects that will move the platform forward and introduce innovation.”
Innovation is bound to lead to more excitement around mainframe, in turn making a career in this field even more appealing for young IT pros.

One note of interest for millennials at this year's SHARE Providence is the Master the Mainframe Hackathon. Sponsored by IBM and Rocket Software, this hackathon is open to college students with a valid student ID, the competition includes fun challenges that reveal the power of z Systems in Application development. Participants will earn points toward prizes for each section they complete, and the participant with the most points will win a Raspberry Pi.

The hackathon is part of Student Career Day on Tuesday August 8, which includes a full schedule of educational sessions and access to industry experts and technology partners. Students can register for free at - just choose the “Student Career Day” registration type and use the discount code SDC17 to apply.


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