zNextGen, Zowe Helping to Fill Gaps in Mainframe Education

One of the many projects that make up SHARE is the zNextGen project, whose mission is to expose younger mainframe programmers to technical concepts and provide career development education and opportunities. Warren Harper, recently named program manager of the Enterprise-wide Program and previously project manager of zNextGen, said he was encouraged by the strong turnout at this past summer’s event, which was part of SHARE St. Louis.

“Attendance has been steady,” Harper says, adding that he was particularly heartened by the number of young programmers who were sent to the event by IBM itself. “It shows they’re willing to make a continued investment in the platform, and that the mainframe will continue to be a priority system for the future.”

The IBM contingent wasn’t alone: banks, insurance companies and public sector agencies all sent groups of beginner system programmers to zNextGen, which hosted 24 total sessions. Projects like this one help the industry address important challenges, such as the need to tap into mainframe analytics.

“Analytics education is in huge demand,” Harper says. “Mainframe is a huge system of record for banks and other companies. They want to utilize this data and try to get some insight from their business.”

Workforce contingency planning is another major priority for corporate users. The mainframe skills gap results in many businesses employing veteran programmers who are approaching retirement, or recent college graduates who are completely new to the system. There are very few people in between, Harper noted, which can limit knowledge transfer.

“In colleges and universities, students don’t learn anything about mainframe software architecture or tools that people use to interact with the mainframe,” Harper remarks. “So new hires can be overwhelmed when they first start their career, and they hardly understand how to interact with the system to learn more.”

zNextGen can help solve that challenge through practical education, but young mainframers now also have another resource to help. SHARE St. Louis also marked the launch of Zowe, the open mainframe project and community that seeks to open up mainframe education and collaboration opportunities. One of the key benefits of Zowe is a simple, intuitive environment that is more in line with modern systems, making it easier for programmers to perform administrative, development, test, and operations tasks on z/OS.

Harper praised the collaboration that led to Zowe’s creation – its founding partners include IBM, CA Technologies, and Rocket Software – and is excited for the possibility of Zowe being one way to attract the next generation to the mainframe. Looking ahead, it will be important to watch how the community grows and contributes to the open source project, and what kind of support will be offered from its founding partners.   

The handful of Zowe sessions at SHARE St. Louis were well-attended and Harper expects the conversation continue at SHARE Phoenix in March 2019. Between the new platform, the growing community around mainframe technical education, and the consistent success of projects like zNextGen, the industry as a whole is moving steadily toward filling the knowledge void that led to the mainframe skills gap in the first place.

Learn more about Zowe in the SHARE blog “Opening the Mainframe: Meet Zowe,” or visit zowe.org to access code guidelines, a beta version and other resources.

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