September 19, 2019 DevOps

Finding the Next Generation of Mainframe Developers – Part 1

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Overview: Finding new developers to continue the important work of maintaining the mainframe is an important one. This series gives an overview of the process and how we find our amazing team.

Who will carry the torch?

It seems like the plot right out of today’s popular movies featuring superheroes saving the world: A contingent of mainframe developers, which have solidly maintained this important resource for worldwide companies for decades, are slowly leaving the workforce for their much-deserved retirements. Someone needs to continue the work, but who? Who will take on the monumental task of continuing to support mainframes which process, share, house and protect the world’s most important data?

Who has what it takes?

Many large organizations use the loss of experienced mainframe talent and an inability to find new recruits as an excuse to do nothing and maintain the status quo. But not Compuware. Compuware came up with the answer: hire new Computer Engineering graduates, train them, and most importantly, give them interesting work. With mainframe technologies only being taught in a handful of universities, this was a special task. So, Compuware set out to find better ways to continue to support the mainframe and went looking for the right people to recruit for the team which would carry the company and its customers through the next 50 years.

The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them
in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
Steven Spielberg

It isn’t as easy as taking out an online ad and waiting for people to come, staff at Compuware need to have a presence at college career fairs, give talks at universities to regularly reach out and recruit. They look for computer science graduates, but not just anyone, they look for people with attributes and skills—intelligence, problem-solving, a passion for the work, dedication, team players—to take on the job.

One or two phone interviews are followed by lengthy on-site conversations with multiple staff from a variety of departments and expertise. Along with the typical interview questions to ensure the candidate is a good fit for the job, there’s also discussion of benefits and company culture. Because many candidates are moving to the area, filling them in on what’s available in the Metro Detroit area, afterwork activities and opportunities for growth are covered. They are also promised specialized training that will start on their first day.

It’s important for the Next-Gens to understand how very important this work is to the world.”

Who’s training who?

Next-Gen mainframe developer new hires participate in a 6-8 week accelerated training class to bring them up to speed with programming languages, workflow processes, problem-solving and the team culture of Compuware. They are encouraged to ask questions, work on smaller tasks as part of an assigned team with real work and are surrounded by support at every turn. They have mentors who have been with Compuware for decades teaching and showing them the way, and they also have peer mentors doing the same. The learning process can seem overwhelming at times, but mentors reinforce that there’s time to learn and no pressure to get it all at once. One mentor noted, “There’s so much information to learn for new developers to take in, but we tell them not to worry, it’ll take time. You’ll get there.”

The trainer learns too.” 

The accelerated training program, along with support of peers and mentors and doing actual work on projects drives a sense of friendship among the groups. As in any good learning experience, the trainers and mentors learn too. Not only that, but Next-Gen developers bring new energy to the work. Their questions and ideas shine a new light on it. One long-time developer noted the experience had given him a new perspective about the work, “You get excited about the mainframe all over again.”

Mission established, course set

The task of finding new developers with the right stuff to take on the responsibility of upholding Compuware as the mainframe software partner for the next 50 years, as well as hit quarterly release targets, is an exciting one. Compuware created a new way of recruiting this new development workforce to continue the work started by others over 40 years ago. It’s been going very well. Millennial developers stay, learn, teach, thrive and produce and their mentors know the mainframe will be in good hands when they decide to answer the call to retirement.

In the next two blogs, we’ll profile several Next-Gen developers who will share their experiences in becoming part of the Compuware team and taking on this awesome responsibility.

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