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Commitment to train IT pros is low

Mainframers seem to get all worked up over the issue of training. It's not that they're opposed, on the whole, to training--far from it. It's rather that training--or what passes for training, if you're a cynic--seems like an afterthought in many mainframe shops. Even companies that have embraced next-generation workloads such as z/Linux or z/WebSphere often give short shrift to training, at least as far Big Iron vets are concerned.

This situation is not unique to mainframe shops. Most IT pros would say the training and ongoing educational opportunities available to them are the merest shadow of those that were common at the height of the dot.com boom.

"I can't speak for my current job--[where] I haven't had any training [opportunities]--but with my previous employer [where he worked until 18 months ago], training was on an as-needed-only basis, and even then a lot of it was just going through the motions," says a software engineer with IBM Global Services. He cites the example of a third-party Oracle 10g training seminar he once attended. His employer paid for him and several of his co-workers to attend--but only for 3 days. "It was obvious that most of [my co-workers] didn't want to be there, and he [the instructor] covered the material at such a fast pace that it was almost impossible for anything to sink it. [The training] just seemed to be a formality, at most."

His experience is a common one, Big Iron vets told us, because the mainframe is viewed as the Old Faithful of enterprise computing. Despite talk of new mainframe workloads, much of the work in Big Iron systems operation still takes the form of maintenance activities, such as operating system or application upgrades or new feature requests. There's little opportunity for training or continuing education there.

This situation rankles some mainframe hands. It wouldn't sting so much, says Ted Tiefeld, a principal with Big Iron consultancy Tiefeld & Associates, if IBM and some of its partners weren't also trumpeting their own mainframe training initiatives--programs such as zNextGen--which are designed to help recruit and groom the next generation of mainframe professionals. zNextGen is wonderful, as far as it goes, Tiefeld acknowledges, but doesn't IBM also have a responsibility to the Big Iron technologists who helped skipper the platform through its darkest days?

"This training of the next generation of mainframe professionals is coming at the expense of seasoned professionals in their 40s and older who are unemployed yet eminently employable," he argues. "The problem is that no one wants to pay honest wages for experienced workers, and prefers to exploit young trainees," he asserts. "There are plenty of mainframe workers out there who are perfectly capable of doing what is needed today in business. They have just generally been ignored due to age, and [they] have become disillusioned with the ways American business and IT have descended into ignorance, foolishness and inefficiency."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor. He can be reached at daedalus@percipient-analytics.com.

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