mainframe skills
March 7, 2019 Workforce

Transition Smarter: Saving Mainframe Skills, One Expert at a Time

Overview: The mainframe is changing. Training and the way we transition mainframe skills and knowledge must change too. Here’s how Compuware is helping with Topaz Team Profiles.


If you’ve been working on the mainframe since the early days, you probably no longer worry when some pundit says, “The mainframe is dead.” We’ve all heard it so many times and yet, here we are. The mainframe is a thriving business platform. However, there is one issue that should cause us concern.

While many of us experienced mainframe pros had mentors helping us begin our journeys, it still took years before we deemed ourselves competent and credible. There was (is) so much to learn and understand; it’s a complicated set of systems. Mainframes work as well as they do because of our expertise.

Given all this time we’ve invested, who will replace us when we retire? And do companies have the time to wait while new mainframers become experts?

Looking Beyond Training

Following at our heels is a generation of skilled developers who are eager to apply their passion, skills and ideas to the mainframe to help businesses transform. These are ambitious people who grew up in a digital world where information was secured and consumed quickly, and knowledge was built almost as fast.

While these go-getters are clearly willing to learn from us, they won’t tolerate spending years “coming up to speed” on what today is often misinterpreted as an unsexy platform in the shadows of cloud, mobile and web development. (We know better, but…)

The answer to this challenge isn’t to just build more really great mainframe training programs. Read the documentation? Oh, that’s right: No one ever wrote any. Pairing a newbie with just one Baby Boomer mentor? There are too few of the latter and neither group has the time as mainframe workloads grow and the number of mainframe experts shrinks, as Compuware discovered in a 2018 commissioned report from Forrester.

DevOps Ups the Stakes

If this isn’t bad enough, mainframers used to have the luxury of time. With applications being updated only once a year, the cycle moved slowly and deliberately, enabling even the newest member to figure things out.

With DevOps and Agile, application change cycles are dramatically faster. There isn’t time to let someone new figure it out and play a role. Only the best, brightest and most experienced can deliver quality code at that pace.


Learn how you can achieve mainframe DevOps.

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Download Compuware's Achieving DevOps Guidebook Series


So, will DevOps and the challenge to train a new generation kill the mainframe at last? Of course not. For one, we’re much smarter than that and won’t let these challenges beat us. Everything about the mainframe is changing. Training and the way we transition mainframe skills and knowledge must change too. For another, organizations can’t afford to not solve these problems—they must find a solution.

The Solution: Mainstreaming the Mainframe

The solution to overcoming challenges on the mainframe, including how we spread knowledge and build mainframe skills, is to bring it into your mainstream cross-platform DevOps ecosystem. Compuware has been dedicated to providing modern tools that support this transition—including the shift in culture and processes—for 18 consecutive quarters as of April 1, 2019.

Recently, Compuware further mainstreamed the mainframe by adding a new feature, Topaz Team Profiles, to its Topaz suite of products to capture the experience and expertise of mainframers.

As a long-time developer starts to work, they build Projects, which contain necessary code artifacts. Code, JCL, data and other aspects of application work can also be part of a project. Any other team member can import the profile and begin to work with all components assembled.

Note: Projects work really well in building unit and functional testing environments.

Everyone can easily understand and use the capability. You can drill deep into the project or start from the highest level. It’s as if you have a direct link to the original developer, a USB connection to their brain, all without taking the expert away from his or her work. Even after the original designer retires, their projects remain, ensuring the expertise is never lost.

Want to get your mainframers up to speed faster, giving them the opportunity to make a real contribution to the team and your business? Check out Topaz Team Profiles. The mainframe isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t change the fact that we need new people to understand it, value it and advance it after the original experts are gone.