Mainframe development tools

How Gen X Can Build a Mainframe Environment Millennials Love

Art, music, fashion—even shoes—are all examples of one generation’s reaction to the status quo. At times, these reactions may cause disagreements and tension between generations as differences are unearthed, but they also often illuminate signs of progress and innovation, like the kind we’re seeing in today’s modern mainframe development tools.

In my last blog, “Why Gen X Is Responsible for Mainframe Innovation,” I talked about how expert mainframe developers of the baby boomer generation have been programming one way—with the green screen—for decades, and they’ve become profoundly good at it. But as these experts retire in droves, there’s a serious need to attract millennials—and Gen Z, at this point—to those positions.

Gen Xers are next in line to oversee the mainframe. It’s their job to convince millennials that distributed web, mobile or cloud development aren’t the only available career paths, and that the mainframe offers unique work-life benefits. But if Gen Xers are to succeed, they must understand how millennials expect to function in development roles.

Understanding the Millennial Work Method

Drastic methodological differences exist between millennials and their mainframe forbearers. Millennials are an entirely different breed of developers. They’re usually proficient in languages like Java and use integrated development interfaces (IDEs) like Eclipse. Reading obscure command lines on a green screen is counterintuitive to the program and data visualization they’re familiar with. To them, Agile development is standard, and DevOps is normal for the software development lifecycle.

If mainframe shops want to advance the critical business logic on their mainframes and preserve their competitiveness, they have one choice: innovation. As the next leaders on the mainframe, Gen Xers must take on a millennial perspective and start driving innovation based on the contemporary ideas that the generation is familiar with. To attract millennials to the mainframe, it’s time to provide them with modern mainframe development tools like those they love to use in distributed development.

What Modern Mainframe Development Tools?

Based on the trajectory of the digital economy and the state of the mainframe workforce, it’s clear we need to discontinue the old habits of mainframe development, including slow development lifecycle processes and clunky tools like ISPF, and jump into the Agile-DevOps stream.

Today’s developers aren’t interested in using tools that are 3270-based. They want tools that run on a modern, discoverable, commonly-used interface like Eclipse and can integrate with various mainframe and non-mainframe development tools.

Integrations with other DevOps tools are necessary to inject new processes into the mainframe development environment that suit next-generation developers’ needs. This mainframe-inclusive DevOps toolchain should resemble something like this:

An Eclipse-based IDE that contains 1) a program analysis tool to visualize undocumented, old or complex mainframe programs and 2) a data editor tool to locate, visualize and edit mainframe and non-mainframe data. These tools are essential for developers to stay productive and on track during two-week sprints.

These tools should integrate with an Agile source code management tool, essential for parallel development, automated deployment and easy rollbacks. Integrating this tool with a release orchestration tool like XebiaLabs XL Release is essential for release automation. Tools like SonarLint and SonarQube should be used to ensure the quality of code that comes out of these processes.

To ensure these operations are done Agile and collaboratively, teams need a solid project management tool like JIRA that tracks bugs and technical issues and fosters efficient communication.

Collectively, these cross-functional DevOps tools, used within the Agile development process, will allow all developers, specifically your next-generation programmers, to improve productivity and ultimately transform IT.

By integrating modern mainframe tools with other non-mainframe DevOps tools, inexperienced mainframe developers are able and willing to work on the mainframe and feel comfortable. This is the only path to stopping the skills shortage due to the disinterest next-generation developers have in outdated, complex tools and processes. The alternative is to scare millennials away with outdated tools, and, therefore, neglect the innovation of critical mainframe applications and data your company runs on and needs for a successful digital transformation.

In my next post, I’ll cover the importance of using continuous integration in your millennial-friendly mainframe environment, and what benefits are of doing that.

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Steve Kansa

Steve Kansa is a product manager at Compuware. He has extensive experience in Agile application development across a wide variety of technologies and industries. Working with Compuware's Topaz products, he is focused on enabling modern DevOps capabilities for mainframe technologies.
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