Monty Solomon wrote:
> By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff | August 26, 2005
> They're the grizzled, unglamorous veterans of the computing world,
> middle-aged men and women who don't create best-selling computer games
> or dazzling special effects for the movies. All they do is quietly run
> the most important computer systems in the world.
The mainframe world is rather specialized which makes this an even
harder challenge. First, there is a small group of non-IBM
mainframes, such as Groupe Bull (formerly Honeywell). There may
Unisys out there as well. Some companies must support more than one
depending on prior data centers' legacy.
Within the IBM world there are specialities:
1) Computer operators: physically run the machines -- handle things
like printers, tapes and cartridges, disk drives. Much work is
automated now (disks are usually fixed, cartridges have auto loader
silos), but there is stuff to be done.
2) System programmers: This is specialized people who maintain the
operating system for a particular installation. There are three
operating systems, MVS, VSE, and VM. Some companies must support more
than one depending on prior data centers' legacy.
3) Application programmers: Usually COBOL and CICS, but there are
various database programs new and old; plus other work in Fortran and
4) New stuff like Linux and C and web development. Some centers use
the solid COBOL/CICS on the back end and GUI on the front end to get
the best of the old and new worlds.
The mainframe world got overpopulated in 1999-2000 with many people
trained and hired to work on Y2K conversions. Mainframe people were
once in great demand, then the market collapsed (at least in NE US)
and many people were laid off, never to work again in the field.
Others took a 50% cut in pay just to have a job, such as a senior
person earning $80k forced to take a junior position making $40k or
else pump gas on the overnight shift.
The mainframe takes a lot of care and support. However, it has
tremendous capacity to serve thousands of users simultaneously very
reliably and very quickly. It is extremly rare that my employer's
mainframe or its traditional network goes down. Remote networks,
servers, and local PCs go down all the time. The hardware revolution
in cheap memory has hit mainframes as well, and the boxes have
tremendous memory and speed.
The mainframe's basic architecture is great at keeping the system from
crashing from errant programs. The basic storage protection works
great. The channel system for I/O is much better than a "bus". The
operating system assigns peripherals to the proper application and
One advantage of older people is that they've made every mistake
they're gonna make and have years of experience behind them. If there
is a problem, they'll know where to fix it fast.
The article mentioned people passing on. Sadly, that is true too, I
just was at a funeral for a wonderful woman who died suddenly at 61
from a stroke. (She was a smoker, FWIW).