Know Thyself

Know Thyself

This is the second installment of our five-part series on efforts to inspire, educate, and train millennials towards gainful employment in mainframe positions, such as systems programming and application development.  Yesterday we posed several questions that some consider heretical, particularly from the creator of a blog called “Millennial Mainframer:”

  • Are millennials actually receiving training in mainframe skills, finding mainframe jobs, and receiving adequate mentorship and training by experienced staff?
  • Are Millennial Mainframers merely a useful myth for dispelling concerns of a mainframe skills shortage when getting customers to upgrade their systems and software?
  • Do Millennial Mainframers actually exist in the flesh in any real numbers or are they the Unicorn or Loch Ness monster of the IT World… much talked about, but little seen in the wild?

In the Socratic tradition, this series of questions is not so much posed to draw individual answers, but more generally to encourage fundamental insight into the state of mainframe education. This dialectic is easily justified by the central role that new mainframe talent will play in ensuring mainframe vitality in the face of the impending mass retirements. Furthermore, given that one of Socrates’ most famous quotes is the maxim to “Know Thyself,” this post seeks to examine the Millennial Mainframer blog through the lens of the following question:

How successful has Millennial Mainframer been in attracting millennials to view its mainframe-centric content?

As of July 28, 2013, Millennial Mainframer has 1,457 likes on Facebook.  While this may seem impressive, closer examination of the number yields some interesting realizations.  Upon first glance, the Facebook audience seems to be fairly youthful.  In fact, more than 80% of the audience is 34 years old or younger.

A graph showing the age and gender distribution of Millennial Mainframer likes on Facebook.

However, the geographic location of the audience may be surprising to some of our readers:

A chart showing the breakdown of Millennial Mainframer Likes by country.

That’s right!  A full 55% of all Millennial Mainframer likes come from India, reflecting the fact that most recent mainframe job creation in recent years has occurred in outsourcing companies.  The United States comes in a distant second with 12% of Likes.  Egypt seems to come in third with 11.7%, but I have strong suspicions that many of those Likes are from fake Facebook-bots (curse you Zuckerberg!!!).  Brazil comes in forth with 4.3%, and the Philippines comes in fifth with 3.2%.  So there you have it.  Despite the content creators being mostly from North America, most of the audience is composed of “Indian mainframe freshers.”  This graph clearly matches Quasar Chunawalla’s perception that the numbers of Millennial Mainframers is downright “sizeable.”  From the point of view of Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, or Hyderabad, it probably seems downright silly to compare Millennial Mainframers to mythical creatures like Big Foot or the Nandi bull.

Looking at actual engagement on the Millennial Mainframer Facebook page paints a far different different picture.  In a given week, anywhere from 36 to 200 Millennial Mainframer fans may engage with our Facebook content.  However, the shocking fact is that millennials are by far the least engaged with Millennial Mainframer content.  Even though less than 20% of the Facebook Likes are from people 35 and over, this group is responsible for 58.4% of interaction with our content posted.  Additionally, there are some weird geographic oddities.  Even though the United States is only responsible for 12% of likes on the Millennial Mainframer page, they are the responsible for more than half of all interaction on our Facebook page.  This means that our fans from the United States are about 10x as likely to interact with content as our Indian fans.  Perhaps this is due to the preponderance of Millennial Mainframer being from North America or the fact that Millennial Mainframer typically posts content around the start of the business day on the East Coast of the United States.

A graph of facebook engagement on the Millennial Mainframer page.

The net result of all of this is that Millennial Mainframer’s most active fans turn out to be white men over 35 living in the United States.  Engagement with Indian millennials is low, but the number of likes suggests cultural affinity with the Millennial Mainframer blog.  This combination of being strong in Facebook likes from Indian mainframe freshers and general engagement from older US-based mainframers might suggest that our content would be popular with a group of Millennial Mainframers in the United States and other rich-world English-speaking countries, but that does not seem to be detectable in our numbers.

While it’s difficult to analyze our 242 Twitter followers to the same degree as our Facebook fans, Twitter analytics shows that around 55% of our followers live in the United States.  Given that this is similar to the geographical breakdown of our engaged Facebook fans, I think that it’s safe to assume that this group is quite possibly of a similar age demographic as well.

This trend seems to be equally reflected in our WordPress statistics.  As an example, my post last week with a Millennial’s take on the zBC12 announcement received around 300 hits.  A large number of these hits came from LinkedIn and Twitter, which I suspect is predominantly an older American audience.  Despite having quite a few Facebook likes, the actual number of folks that clicked-through from Facebook was only around 50 (Around 3% of Millennial Mainframer’s Facebook Likes).  Assuming that this traffic is similar to our long-term Facebook engagement numbers, I would predict that only around 20 of these readers were millennials.  This leads me to believe that millennials are responsible for only around 10-15% of the hits at Millennial Mainframer.

So in conclusion, the sad truth is that Millennial Mainframer largely fails to attract millennials to view its mainframe-centric content.  Older US-based mainframers seem to view the content, like it, and re-post/tweet/share it, but because they don’t have many connections with younger mainframers, this doesn’t result in a meaningful uptick in millennial exposure to mainframe content.  I believe a key reason for this is that most of the entry-level mainframe job growth has occurred in India, Brazil, and Philippines, so older American mainframers just may not know many Millennial Mainframers.  The failure of this blog to engage with millennials in places like India, Brazil, and the Philippines is most likely tied to the fact that most of our content creators are in North America, leading them to create content with a US-focus.  This clearly suggests that Millennial Mainframer must develop a new marketing strategy.  Firstly, it must more closely collaboration with IBM Academic Initiative to build a wider base of millennial mainframers around the world.  Second, it must consider ways to better serve the tastes of the Indian mainframer market without losing its global focus.

Then again, my analysis may not be spot-on, and there may be a variety of other reasons for our failure to engage Millennial Mainframers.  What do you think?  Am I correct that nearly all Millennial Mainframers are in locations like India, Brazil, and the Philippines?  Is there a way that this blog can better reach millennials in the United States and Europe?  Do you have suggestions for driving engagement with millennials in Brazil, India, and the Philippines?

Tune in tomorrow as we turn our analysis to the Master the Mainframe Contest.

Are Millennial Mainframers as mythical as Bigfoot?
Are Millennial Mainframers as mythical as Bigfoot?

For the past two years, Millennial Mainframer has sought to provide a “fresh perspective on all things mainframe.”  Nearly all of this “fresh perspective” has come from young millennials working in mainframe positions or studying mainframe topics at universities, such as Marist College or Rochester Institute of Technology, who were willing to write blog posts on aspects of the mainframe that most interested them.  Our content has been voluntarily created without solicitation or support from IBM or any other vendors as a public resource to other young mainframers. My hope and attention with this blog was to attract a younger readership than other mainframe blogs, and perhaps to eventually grow the blog into a social community and support network for trading best practices, training resources, and suggestions.

By some metrics, the Millennial Mainframer blog has been a resounding success.  The number of hits to the site have grown continuously over the past two years.  We’ve been cross-linked by a number of vendor and industry blogs and websites, re-tweeted by IBM Vice Presidents, and even listed on a variety of “Suggested Website” slides presented at SHARE.  Most importantly, we have created a space for first-time bloggers to project their voice into the generally-older mainframe blogosphere.  Considering the late nights and weekend that our content creators have spent writing and promoting this content, we have celebrated each of these small victories as vindication that our Millennial Mainframer perspective will only grow stronger as older workers retire and we assume responsibility for mainframe deployments around the world.

Despite this wonderful growth and name recognition, I have gradually come to the conclusion that Millennial Mainframer is failing its core mission of building an audience of mainframe students and other young mainframers.  While we intended to position ourselves as a medium for millennials to produce original technical content for consumption by other millennials, we’ve instead become a medium for millennials to produce content for older mainframers and IBM leadership.  This assessment is based on data from WordPress, Google Analytics, Facebook, and Twitter.  This theory leads me to some interesting conclusions, including that a majority of the hits on our entry-level “how to” posts may very well be by mainframe professionals that likely already know how to do everything that the author has written about.  I’m not sure why an experienced mainframe professional would care to read these basic articles, other than perhaps deriving some level of bemusement.

This has been a bit of a heart-wrenching realization for us.  If we’re not effectively reaching students and other Millennial Mainframers, we may not be making much of a meaning impact on the long-term vitality of the mainframe as we had previously though.  Could it be because of something we’re doing wrong?  After some introspection, I believe that there are certainly some things that we can do better to reach millennials.  However, I believe that the fundamental problem with writing a mainframe blog targeted at millennials is that our target audience of Millennial Mainframers is far smaller than expected, particularly to the level of engagement that would be interested in either reading a mainframe blog.  This potentially suggests that existing efforts have been insufficient to handle the mounting mainframe skills crisis.

Speaking with some of my peers has provided additional anecdotal support of this hypothesis, including instances of students taking mainframe courses but then going into other areas of IT, young mainframers losing their jobs during downsizing because they weren’t as ‘essential’ as older mainframers, and various so-called mainframe schools not actually offering mainframe coursework on a consistent or predictable basis.  Based on this thought, I have decided to spend some additional time looking at the IBM Academic Initiative, the Master the Mainframe contest, and the blogosphere to get a better idea at the success rate of these programs in shifting the demographics of the mainframe technical community and preventing the long-predicted mainframe skills shortage.  Are millennials actually receiving training in mainframe skills, finding mainframe jobs, and receiving adequate mentorship and training by experienced staff?  Or are Millennial Mainframers merely a useful myth for dispelling concerns of a mainframe skills shortage when getting customers to upgrade their systems and software?  Do Millennial Mainframers actually exist in the flesh in any real numbers?  Or are they the Unicorn or Loch Ness monster of the IT World… much talked about, but little seen in the wild?

Stay tuned to Millennial Mainframer this week for a detailed multi-part series on this topic:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll be providing detailed information demonstrating why we that Millennial Mainframer is failing to attract millennial interest
  • On Wednesday, we’ll be looking at the Master the Mainframe Contest
  • On Thursday, we’ll be looking at the IBM Academic Initiative and Mainframe offerings at universities around the world
  • On Friday, we’ll be tying all of these topics together for a final comprehensive conclusion and discussion

“Walker, your treads are
the path and nothing more;
walker, there is no path,
the path is made when walking.”


Seven years ago, I had little idea of what life would hold for me or my professional future. Back then, I was self-assured 19 year-old Computer Whiz working as a Systems Administrator and taking vocational training in C programming and Oracle database administration. I thought that I knew everything about computers, and I planned to begin a degree program in Computer Engineering in anticipation of moving on to bigger and better things.


I discovered how surprising life can be when IBM offered me the chance to take a quick three-week boot camp in something completely new: the IBM System z Mainframe. At that point, I really didn’t know anything about mainframes, but like any good technology geek, I couldn’t pass up the chance to learn something new. During the first week, I intensively studied Job Control Language (JCL) and started to learn about topics like batch processing.  During the second week, I began to learn about various critical aspects of z/OS systems, including storage, operations, ISPF, SDSF, and JES2.  During the third week…

Well, I didn’t actually get a third week, as three of the trainees in the bootcamp were then pulled aside and selected to interview with IBM for employment as a Computer Operator.

Two were selected (I was one of them ).

On my first day as an IBMer, I learned that I had a choice between two open positions. One position would allow me to learn batch and the systems administration of UNIX systems, and the other would allow me to focus on administering z/OS systems among large mainframe clients, which were mostly banks.

It’s not very difficult to discover what my choice was.

Despite the fact that I had only just begun my IT education, IBM gave me a great opportunity to enter in the vast and incredible environment of the Mainframes.

Over the next months, I was definitely the newbie on the mainframe team, but I gradually learned the various components of the System z mainframe while picking up the mainframe mentality. Despite previously having minimal knowledge about mainframes, I discovered many of amazing attributes of IBM System z, including:

  • The mainframe’s traditional ISPF interface (“Intuitive and Simple Panel Facility”).
  • The orders, operations and monitors (such as SDSF) that allowed me to easily track the progress of processes and control the actions of the system.
  • The clear messages in the mainframe’s JOBLOG & SYSLOG and good documentation that helped me understand what was going on.  I actually continue to think that IBM has the best documentation of any IT vendor.


These experiences led me to realize that I really wanted to become a Mainframe Systems Programmer and resulted in where I am today.

If I had to offer advice to a young IT student thinking about mainframes, I would suggest the following:

  • Read the free IBM Redbook Intro to the New Mainframe: z/OS Basics where you can learn the core concepts of mainframes and Enterprise Computing.
  • Enroll the Master the Mainframe Contest where you can get hands-on experience working in a mainframe environment.  Although this program started in the United States, it is now expanding to Europe, India, China, Brazil, and many other countries.
  • Follow the IBM Academic Initiative, which is working hard to promote mainframe education worldwide.


There are way more opportunities available to learn the mainframe now than when I took my IBM Mainframe boot camp seven years ago, but I think that, like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. Who knows?  Maybe this could turn into your “big break” like it did with me.  

I hope you enjoyed my insights as a young Millennial Mainframer and don’t miss my next article!  If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment below. You can follow me on Twitter at @Guirix and join my ongoing discussion on Cloud Computing on the Mainframe at Cloud Mainframe Computing!

About the Author 

Álvaro Guirao López.

MBA Entrepreneurship (In Progress), Innovation & Entrepreneurship Business School
B.S in Computer Engineering, King Juan Carlos University.

Álvaro entered the Mainframe world when he starting working as a System z Computer Operator at only 19 years old. Over his career, he has learned the great capacities of mainframe hardware and software while promoting up the mainframe systems programming ranks in the banking sector. Álvaro currently runs a consultancy dedicated to helping various clients throughout Spain in the areas of mainframe technologies and systems programming