In z/OS Communications Server, we have a multitude of System z experts who have been working on the mainframe for decades. They have watched the mainframe grow in technology from its early stages and know how it works from the inside-out. Surprisingly, there is a new generation of future System z experts on the rise and we have discovered that the overall exposure to the System z platform is not as common as it once was. Still, there are many universities that do not have any courses within their curriculums focused on System z or mainframe technologies in general. This makes the learning curve for some new hires to be a daunting challenge.
To help give our new hires a head start in z/OS Communications Server, we established a new initiative called zStart (pronounced Z Start). The objective of zStart is “to improve the onboard process for new hires by learning from present hire experiences and providing solutions to overcome challenges new hires may face”. Since the beginning of its existence we have had many new hires and interns join the zStart team to collaborate and generate solutions for the challenges being faced and provide feedback about the implemented solutions. The consensus is that this initiative is a great opportunity and gives new hires a better outlook on System z. Because of its current success and the potential to impact more new hires, we have begun to expand the reach of zStart to different areas and organizations. They, too, have found benefits from participating.
Here are just a few of the ideas that we have implemented based upon the feedback and discussions from the zStart teams:
Local tour of mainframe labs: The mainframe is so virtualized that many members do not get a chance to actually view the hardware they work on everyday. Providing these tours allows members to put a “face to a name”.
Education sessions between departments: In many companies, the “separation of duties” concept is more prevalent when it come to System z. There are many departments with different roles or tasks related to System z. But there are many departments that are dependent on one another. We have determined that giving new hires the opportunity to learn about other System z areas or organizations will allow them to have a better understanding of their roles and the importance to the entire organization. Having a high-level understanding of other areas provides a more global view of how the mainframe works.
Study groups on key topics: As in college, when it comes down to crunch time to study for tests or finish up a project we have found that working together in groups works best. Being able to collaborate, brainstorm and ask questions of one another helps bridge gaps in our understanding. The need for great mentors is important but being able to discuss mainframe related topics further with peers with relative experience solidifies these theories and technologies into memory.
Roundtable sessions: As a new hire, it is expected that you have a million and one questions about System z, but there are some who feel uncomfortable or intimidated asking questions to the System z experts due to the fear of being perceived as one who cannot grasp these concepts. Because of this, we establish roundtable sessions where new hires can discuss any concerns they have with peers with “relatively” recent new experience (1 -5 years). This allows for a more supportive environment where new hires don't feel the need to have to impress experts. Through these sessions, we have discovered that there have been many unanswered questions that several attendees had and never thought to ask (even those with 1-5 years of experience). Now, we are able to learn together and have a better understanding of System z.
So, to return to my title, how do you zStart? What initiatives do you have in place to help reduce the learning curve new hires may have in your System z centric companies and organizations? Are you finding them to be effective? Has our zStart initiative sparked a new sense of urgency to implement something in your area in order to ensure continued competency and expertise for years to come? System z is a platform that is here to stay and companies need to plan now for the future to avoid the mainframe from becoming a “black box” in their environment.
To learn how to get started or for more information on zStart, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.