CA tries to groom next generation of mainframers

CA Inc. has been working to lure a new generation of talent to the mainframe platform as part of an initiative aimed at easing the process of managing and installing its mainframe software.

The vendor today announced that 143 of its 166 mainframe products have been upgraded in accordance with the “Mainframe 2.0” strategy, which was announced last year.

CA also announced Mainframe Software Manager, an application for managing and implementing CA products on IBM's z/OS platform that features a graphical user interface built with Google's Web Toolkit.

By automating or streamlining many routine tasks, experienced mainframe system administrators will be able to focus on more important matters and hand off some duties to less-seasoned IT staff, according to CA.

Much of the Mainframe 2.0 development work is being done by younger programmers, such as at CA's facility in Prague, according to Mark Combs, senior vice president of the vendor's mainframe business unit.

The programmers there are recent college graduates with a general computer science background. “They typically came to us with no mainframe experience,” he said.

CA, IBM and other companies are looking for new blood because the mainframe workforce is rapidly graying. A study that CA commissioned last year found that 80% of respondents had mainframe workers who were eligible for retirement either immediately or within two years.

However, there is ample, albeit latent, interest in mainframes among younger programmers, according to Combs.

“Most kids who come out of college with Java or C [experience] get to work on Web pages,” he said. “It's going to be five years or more before they get to work on anything mission-critical. … We go out and get them to listen to us, and the light bulb goes off.”

One CA recruit is Mark Rodmell, who works at the Prague center. After graduating from college, Rodmell was looking for an IT job but couldn't find anything satisfactory. He and his wife subsequently moved to Prague and he landed a job working with CA.

Mainframes provide a challenge unlike any other in IT, Rodmell said, referring to “the sheer scope and depth of knowledge and skills” he has had to learn. “I kind of refer to it as a black hole, but in a good way,” he said.

Meanwhile, CA's efforts to make life easier for seasoned mainframers seems to be working, said user Richard Resnick, manager of IS, systems and operations at University Community Hospital in Tampa.

The hospital has a wide range of CA products, and applications like Mainframe Software Manager will cut down on the amount of time he currently spends going through documentation before installing products manually, Resnick said.

“It's going to make my job a lot easier. I'm a one-man shop,” he said.

Resnick, who has worked at the hospital for 16 years, is also aware that he won't be there forever, and that easier-to-use tools will help the hospital make a smooth transition. “At some point I'm going to leave, and it's going to be someone else's job to do it.”

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