The mainframe sector’s shortage of young blood is no secret. Hemanth Rama is bucking the trend. At 35, he’s a positive child in a sector stereotypically populated by aging — be honest guys, those knees hurt a bit, right? — COBOL programmers.
Hemanth recently beat 1,400 other nominees from 38 countries to clinch the IBM z Champion award 2018 for his outstanding contribution to the mainframe field.
He took the time to answer some questions from Computer Business Review about what seems to be an unusual career choice for a millennial…
Why go into mainframes?
Despite several myths, mainframes attract due to their longevity. They run the most critical computing work of our world’s top banks, insurance companies, healthcare organizations, utilities, government, military, and other public and private enterprises. Mainframes host about 70 percent of world’s data. Ninety-six of the world’s top 100 banks, 23 of the top 25 US retailers and nine of the world’s 10 largest insurance companies, run on mainframes. Given these staggering stats and widespread industry usage, as careers go, it is not a bad idea! More personally, I fell for mainframes when I was introduced to their fantastic architecture back in 2005 at Northern Illinois university (NIU) during my graduate curriculum — I developed a Student Operating System (SOS) in assembler language using an IBM 370 simulator that demonstrates various MVS (Multiple Virtual Storage) concepts such as interrupt handling, channel programming etc.
Other than a talent shortage, what are the mainframe industry’s current biggest challenges?
Two other bigger challenges Mainframe industry facing are 1) The high cost of ownership and 2), challenges around modernization. In terms of cost of ownership, the software that runs on mainframes is charged typically by monthly licensing charges (MLCs). These costs are based on peak MSUs (Millions of Service Units) i.e. the measure of workload consumption on a mainframe. As the data that moves through mainframes increases due to a high-volume digital footprint (for example, mobile computing) so do the software costs. A solution to address this challenge would be automated soft capping that aids proper distribution of MSUs for peak reduction, and thereby lowers costs. In a nutshell, putting mainframes on autopilot mode. I have received three patents in this area.
With regard to modernization, since the inception of mainframes occupying entire big rooms (hence the nick name “dinosaur”) to the current size of a typical household refrigerator, mainframes have gone through a tremendous shift in modernization. However, there are several ongoing areas of modernization needed to attract and retain young talent who crave for doing things modern ways: e.g. with PC-based editors for writing and maintaining code; app-oriented controlling mainframe operations; APIs to work with, modern buzzwords like cloud, AI, blockchain, Big Data and analytics etc.
Where do mainframes fit in a world moving toward blockchain?
As blockchain networks grow, i.e. increased participating members, and transactions, the scalability of platform becomes of prime importance. Mainframe platforms are well known for scalability. Another example, is security: blockchain thrives on permanent unalterable data; security is of the utmost important feature for hosting any blockchain. Mainframes are known for superior security features, such as digital signatures and hashing encryption — and by seamlessly integrating with the transactional data already on a mainframe, makes it the best fit to host blockchain.
What advice would you give to young mainframe talent?
My advice to young engineers out there is not to be intimidated by the sheer depth of the mainframe world. There are others out here to help you navigate Planet Mainframe! For starters you can a) attend some of the best mainframe international conferences such as SHARE, CMG, IDUG etc. b) Join the zNextGen SHARE community. (Free to join – I volunteer there as a project officer!) zNextGen is a user-driven community of over 1,000 members, representing 24 countries for new and emerging mainframe professionals that has the resources to help expedite your professional development and skills. c) Read blogs, articles and magazine written by various experts. If it’s not immodest of me to say, I write regularly on myriad of topics on mainframe at many popular IT websites and magazines! d) Don’t be shy to ask questions at various forums such as reddit, Linkedln etc.
What are the current top mainframe trends?
Here is my observation on the current trends in the mainframe world :
DevOps – Yes DevOPs for mainframe are real. z Companies are adopting!
APIs – Share amount of data that resides on mainframe are now being exposed via RESTful APIs.
Blockchain – Mainframe with its best qualities are poised to host blockchains.
Analytics – The gigantic data that mainframes house are gold mines for data scientist analysis. Expect greater value out of mainframes!