Because of the invaluable, irreplaceable intellectual property stored on mainframes, most enterprises and analysts now agree the platform won’t be decommissioned anytime soon. Paradoxically, most mainframe-reliant enterprises have already tied themselves into a snarl of disinvestment, leaving their mainframe environments vulnerable amidst a growing skills shortage.
For years, enterprises have failed to recruit and retain next-generation mainframe developers. As a result, the attrition of experienced developers holding decades of esoteric knowledge and skills leaves enterprises in search of a panacea to halt the detrimental skills shortage preventing the mainframe innovation necessary for success in a digital age.
If enterprises are to improve mainframe developer recruitment and retain talented next-generation developers, they must begin shifting away from outdated techniques and adopt an Agile culture, processes and tools. Further, by becoming Agile in combination with the right recruitment marketing techniques, utilities and resources, enterprises can simultaneously innovate the mainframe and attract millennials to it.
Innovating Culture, Processes and Tools to Become Agile
If a director or VP of mainframe development wanted to improve the mainframe developer recruitment processes, they could easily start by instituting a better culture and creating better jobs.
An Agile culture thrives on employee autonomy, collaboration and feedback, which is why it appeals specifically to millennials, as well as to modern job seekers in general who desire careers providing fulfillment at a deeper level than salary alone.
But enterprises must do more than promise an innovative culture and fun jobs to attract millennials to the mainframe. If void of modern processes and tools that enable creativity and help speed development, the innovative culture a job description promises will contradict the reality of stagnation the role provides, causing talented new employees to quit as soon as they’re hired.
The real presence of Agile development processes appeal to next-generation developers and can help improve mainframe developer recruitment. This is because Agile development processes leverage collaboration and communication to limit barriers that stifle productivity within and across teams.
Through Agile development, employees feel comfortable generating creative ideas, presenting them to management, and voicing opinions to others. In turn, this drives innovation.
Agile processes also encourage continuous feedback loops throughout the software development life cycle, but also in regards to regular employee job performance reviews and feedback about how their individual roles impact the business.
According to Compuware’s VP of Product Development, David Rizzo, mainframe development teams need tools like Compuware Topaz, an Eclipse-based IDE that provides a modern development interface, and ISPW, an Agile source code management, release automation and deploy tool. Through integrations and partnerships, Compuware’s modernized tools work in concert with the distributed and open-source software tools millennials encounter in web, mobile and cloud development, from companies such as XebiaLabs, SonarSource, Jenkins and others.
Agile mainframe development tools allow for open collaboration and are easy for developers of all experience levels to use. The familiar, intuitive nature of modern development tools demystifies the mainframe so virtually anyone with development experience can harness its power. They also serve as a major way to make the mainframe appeal to next-generation developers and improve recruitment.
Millennial developers need tools to be familiar and less intimidating, enabling them to experiment on the mainframe without having 30 years of experience. Outdated tools like the mainframe “green screen” are too unwieldy and esoteric for next-generation developers to master or enjoy using, and are a major impediment for enterprise IT organizations striving to make successful digital transformations.
What Recruiters Should Start Doing
Organizational change doesn’t occur within a hierarchical structure. The process of becoming Agile looks more like an organizational map covered in dots that must be connected through the innovation of culture, processes and tools.
Workplaces are interconnected by people with interrelated functions. As such, recruitment should involve the entire enterprise. Recruiters can improve the process of hiring and retaining talented developers for the mainframe by helping break down silos between teams and departments and working collaboratively and cross-functionally.
For instance, recruiters might work within their HR departments on different internal initiatives when it comes to employer relations or mainframe developer recruitment practices, and with hiring managers to understand what their teams need and to get feedback on what candidate skills or qualities are relevant for a job.
Recruiters should form strong relationships with leaders across the enterprise, especially with CIOs and VPs of Development. But they also must take feedback from candidates, new hires and current employees, and react appropriately by shifting their recruitment perspective to improve the work environment.
There are also best practices recruiters can begin implementing to improve the process of attracting, hiring and retaining new developers for the mainframe:
- Ramp up marketing: Millennials google everything, so it matters what kind of presence an enterprise has on the Internet. Jobseekers will look at job sites like Glassdoor, best places to work survey listings, and social media to learn more about what’s happening at a company. Generating content such as blogs, videos, infographics and other assets around an enterprise’s message as well as the mainframe environment is important because recruiters can share recent content that validates the company’s claims as a great place to do mainframe development.
- Offer summer internships: Enterprises should offer internships, but also ensure the programs involve hands-on projects that require the use of real development and problem solving skills. Computer science majors want to be developers and enterprises like yours want to hire them—so give them meaningful experiences that could prepare them for a full-time role. Compuware offers meaningful internships like this, and often to students who are unfamiliar with the mainframe. By empowering our interns to leverage their available programming experience and problem solving skills with our Agile culture, processes and tools for the mainframe, they leave with the knowledge and skills mainframe shops are looking for.
- Host information sessions: Enterprises should visit college campuses to promote their company and the mainframe platform in general. Bringing along millennial developers that already work at the enterprise opens conversations about what the transition from college into the professional world of mainframe development is like. Information sessions are also a way for enterprises to explain why their geographic location is appealing.
- Show passion: It’s important to bring to career fairs or interviews employees who are passionate about the mainframe and are strong presenters. Showcasing the zeal employees have for the mainframe, their company and their jobs demonstrates to potential candidates why mainframe developers believe what they do is worthwhile, important and enjoyable.
- Sell the importance of applications and data: Help candidates understand the importance of the applications they’ll be developing to give the job role deeper purpose in the greater scheme of things. Providing them with a consistent story from employees they meet or interview with solidifies the importance of the enterprise’s mainframe mission.
- Give new hires committed mentors: There’s a growing skills gap between experienced mainframe developers and new hires. Having one person that a new person knows they can go to without feeling like a nuisance is valuable for building confidence and expediting the mainframe knowledge transfer between generations.
In the realm of technology, especially in mainframe development, recruiters are challenged by a number of enterprise-wide roadblocks that make the process of hiring and retaining talent difficult. By becoming Agile and changing the culture, processes and tools of an enterprise, and by leveraging modern recruiting methods, enterprises can promise candidates an innovative, modern development experience on the mainframe and follow through with its delivery. As a result, the mainframe skills shortages occurring at enterprises will shrink, and mainframe innovation will flourish.
Photo by Liv Martin and Chad Morgan