Attracting millennials to the mainframe – Developer interview part 2

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In yesterday’s blog I talked to recent university hires in my IBM Problem Determination Tools for z/OS product team in Perth, Australia, about their perspectives on doing development on the mainframe. They are Alexander Poga, Christine Jenkins, Travis Thorne, Josh Armitage, and Michael Froend, millennial developers who have played an excellent part in driving new ideas.

The other day, I had a chat with this group to better understand how they perceive development on the mainframe. What follows is part 2 of that discussion.

What is one piece of advice you would offer to mainframe teams who want to attract millennial developers?

Josh: The most important aspect is to have a culture of inter- and intra-team learning. There isn’t the same level of safety net on the internet for mainframe-related queries and problems (to my dismay), and said safety net is something millennials will have sadly become dependent on during their university studies. The depth of the domain expertise within mainframe development teams is staggering, and having structures in place to facilitate the passing on of this knowledge is something that will attract keen millennial developers.

Travis: Whatever you do, don’t make your interns run regression testing. It’s the most reliable way to drive them away. Instead find new / exciting tasks, which interact with mainframe systems as a side effect. For example, have them create an app for mobile, web, or PC that uses host resources in an “interesting” manner. That way everyone benefits, existing developers will be exposed to the new languages / ideas and millennials get a gentle and exciting introduction to the mainframe software.

Alex: Keep up-to-date with what is going on in the wider industry and adopt modern development tools and techniques. It is much less appealing to join a team using antiquated bespoke tooling and technologies that increase the learning curve and slow down development. Ideally, skills learned while developing on other platforms should be transferable to working on the mainframe and vice versa.

Michael: I actually believe we can look forward to a growing interest in mainframe applications in the next few years among millennials. The integration of mainframe applications with cloud-based frameworks could bring mainframe development back into the limelight as an important part of creating many new and interesting web apps. Another way to make sure mainframe development remains attractive for potential millennial developers is to provide them with modern tooling. Giving a familiar environment to those coming fresh out of university or non-mainframe development positions would not only garner interest but also reduce the time it takes to become productive.

Christine: I agree. Present the positives to millennials; an opportunity to learn and be challenged by mainframe development paired with an opportunity to strongly contribute their own skills and knowledge of current tools to transform and improve the development process.


I’m thankful for the fresh perspective provided by these millennial developers, and for all the innovation they have been driving into IBM products. A common theme here is that what matters for attracting millennials to the mainframe is that we embrace a culture, processes, and tools associated with DevOps and Agile.

Development on the mainframe provides a lot of exciting challenges, and we need to make sure that we do not force millennials to travel back 20-30 years in time as they help us attack those challenges. We also hear that we need to establish the right mentoring model to enable millennials to succeed. Within IBM, we are pushing hard on getting more university hires into our z product organization because of the innovation developers like ones in this group are driving. We believe our customers will benefit from doing the same.

Please share your experiences in the comments below.

About the Millennial Developers:

Alexander Poga is a Software Engineer and DevOps advocate as part of the IBM Fault Analyzer for z/OS team. He is passionate about improving development tools and practices and creating elegant software solutions. He is currently assisting in the DevOps transformation of z Systems development. When not working (or acting as tech support for friends and family), Alex spends far too much time thinking about fast cars, planning his next gadget purchase, and playing video games with friends.

Christine Jenkins is the Test Lead for the File Manager for z/OS development team and has recently branched out into mainframe software development. She is passionate about automating as much of the testing process as possible. In her free time she enjoys playing board games with friends, ballroom dancing, and planning dance events.

Travis Thorne is a Software Tester for the Fault Analyzer for z/OS development team in Perth, Australia. He received his Bachelor of Software Engineering from Curtin University of Western Australia and worked with IBM as part of a joint University project. Over a four-year career there, Travis undertook a number a roles, including development of ISPF-based software, automated 3270 testing, build automation for a number of Eclipse-based products, and more recently Test automation for batch programs, eclipse applications, and web frameworks. In his spare time, Travis competes in amateur cycling races and events around Perth.

Josh Armitage is a 24-year-old voracious learner. When he isn’t throwing himself down into a 3270 emulator, he’s an aspiring competitive ballroom dancer who spends what spare time he has nose deep in the next book on his never-ending list of recommended reads or chasing his dream to be a polyglot.

Michael Froend is a 23-year-old Graduate Software Engineer who started working at the IBM Perth Lab in February of this year, after transitioning from an intern role in 2014. He came to the lab fresh from university and is constantly learning new things from the more experienced vets. When he isn’t working, he likes going to the beach, rock climbing, hanging out with friends and playing video games.

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