Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The mainframe ecosystem has had several generations of people in charge of it, each learning from the previous while bringing their own abilities, insights, and eventually experiences. While it's somewhat arbitrary to draw a line between each of these, it can help in understanding where we are today, so let me give it a try.

But first, I'd like to thank my two commenters from last week's post: Jim Michael, my friend and mentor and someone who is approximately in or next to my "generational band" though much wiser and slightly more chronologically gifted, and Kristine Harper, my friend and a leading member of the current new generation of mainframers (Gen-E referred to below).

Now, I'd say the first generation of mainframers are those who started their careers before the advent of electronic computing. Let's call them "Generation Able." Many of them had been in the military during World War II, and brought that culture and scrupulousness to their establishment of the culture of computing, and eventually to mainframe computing.

I'll designate the next one, "Generation Baker," and group those who started their careers on early computers, and ended up spending most of their careers on the mainframe.

The third one, "Generation Charlie," are those who started out on the mainframe when it was already in place and running - some time in the mid-to-late 1960's, the 1970's, and 1980 to 1982. For them, computing was mainframe was computing for the formative years of their careers.

In 1983, Time Magazine declared the PC "Man of the Year" and the world of computing changed forever. Suddenly, everyone spoke of the mainframe in the past tense as they looked to the future of computing on other platforms. Those hardy (or foolhardy, depending on whom you ask) few who went into mainframe careers were seen as non-mainstream, to put it politely. I was among them. We are "Generation Dog," and I include everyone who came on board before Y2K preparations took off, around 1997. We are few in number, because many from the previous generations were still around, organizations were not investing well in building a new generation on the mainframe thinking it was going away, and mainframes were requiring fewer and fewer people to keep them running, even as they continued to grow their capacities, but also their reliability and maintainability.

Y2K changed everything, as organizations realized they had invested too deeply into highly-functional mainframe environments to simply move off, so they had to update their code to survive the turn of the millennium. The world was slowly waking up to the fact that the mainframe had become a fixed foundation of large-scale IT. Those who have begun their careers since this time, while still slim in numbers, knew they had brilliant careers ahead of them, being responsible for the most important computing platform on earth. I call them, "Generation Easy."

Suddenly, everything is changing, and the ultimate generation is about to arrive: "Generation Fox." They will inherit a mainframe unlike that of their predecessors, and take part in its becoming so. The mainframe will be simpler to maintain, manage and deploy new applications for than ever, and will likely show itself to be the optimal platform for top-quality cloud computing. Unlike their technically-oriented predecessors, many in this generation will be as focused on business results as on the bits and bytes of how-to. And, if (as I expect) a tipping point of rediscovering the mainframe is reached, this new generation will also balloon as organizations invest in using the mainframe for the newest and most leading edge applications.

However, they're not here yet, and the first five generations are made of highly-competent, trustworthy, hard-working technologists who have passed down practices, cultures and user groups that have become the infrastructure of this essential platform. We will continue to need their ilk at the foundation of mainframe computing, regardless of how many of the new business-oriented generation flood in. So, my advice to organizations looking to the future of their mainframes is, hire quality now, mentor them, get them tried and proven, and then you'll be able to ensure that the mainframe continues to run well as all the Gen-F's start to flood in. Because your mainframe's not going away, but Gen's A through D are, and soon.

Next week, I'll talk about some of the ways to get a new generation in place on time to respond to the imminent challenges and opportunities on the mainframe.


  1. Yo, "Dog"! Great post :-)

    As a generation "Charlie" mainframer, I salute your insight to go into this career when the trend seemed to point away from the mainframe. I am so glad to see what you, and your generation "Easy" colleagues, are doing to try to make sure organizations make the most of their mainframes and prepare for the mainframe renaissance I hope generation "Fox" will take as given!

    I'd be happy, as the rest of my "Charlie" colleagues and I retire in the coming years, to see that the mainframe is getting the main-stream respect and recognition it deserves.

    Keep the posts coming, Reg!

  2. How ironic that I was born in the year when PC was named "Man of the Year" haha. My favorite post so far Reg. You should share this on the zNG page.