It's Not the Mainframe, It's You
February 11, 2020

Chris O'Malley
Compuware

Many IT professionals have discounted the strategic relevance of the mainframe for years on baseless claims such as: "It's too expensive," "Software changes are too slow," "Delivery is inflexible," "Our talent is retiring," or "No one wants to work on the mainframe." The reality is that in this Digital Age, the mainframe's strategic relevance has only increased as the number of transactional workloads continues to rise on a platform that remains unbeatable in reliability, transactional performance, security, and transactional efficiency. Consider the following findings from BMC's 2019 Mainframe Survey of more than 1,100 executives and IT professionals:

■ 93 percent believe in the combined long-term and new workload strength of the platform, the highest level of confidence since 2013.

■ 52 percent believe the mainframe will support growth in new workloads — a significant increase from past years and a sign of IT and business confidence in mainframe capabilities.

■ 59 percent of executives recognize the mainframe as a platform for growth — an increase from 51 percent in 2018.

So why the ongoing dissonance between belief and reality? Many in DevOps and IT organizations wrongly focus their frustration on the mainframe, when the real problem is individuals' outdated technical prejudices and attitudes. Change is needed and it starts within one's own mindset.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

A growth mindset is open, positive, and excited about learning and practicing new ways of working. Too often, attitudes towards the mainframe reflect the opposite, a fixed mindset that ranges from threatened, to apathetic, to uninformed. A fixed mindset sees the mainframe as unable to change — forever outdated technology and a bottleneck to software delivery. But a growth mindset recognizes the unique virtues of the mainframe — unrivaled in performance, scalability, security and reliability — and the critical role it plays in the Digital Age.

Mainframe software development and delivery can be accelerated through the adoption of an intuitive IDE, Agile DevOps methodologies, and modern tooling. And mainframe code changes can be easily and quickly incorporated into every aspect of a modern DevOps toolchains — from source code management to unit and functional testing, to CI/CD processes and more.

Encourage the Next Generation of Developers

Perhaps you believe that the next generation of developers would not be satisfied in a mainframe career. Of course, new college graduates would dread the idea of working for a company with a fixed mindset and oppressed in a "status-quo" culture. However, when developers learn the new, innovative and challenging work that urgently needs to happen on the mainframe, as well as its resulting high-impact on the lives of everyday consumers and the global economy, they see a mainframe career as one that can provide them with challenging, prestigious and meaningful work.

Assuming the mainframe is not the career choice of a new generation is also counter-intuitive to the facts: the BMC survey also states that 60 percent of millennials believe the mainframe will grow and attract new workloads, compared to only 50 percent of baby boomers. There is latent excitement among newer generations of developers for mainframe work, and you are likely doing your organization a grave disservice if you discourage or demotivate these new mainframe stewards through your actions and your words.

Relinquish Fear and Embrace Continuous Improvement

Another aspect of a growth mindset is that it does not fear failure, feedback and the success of others, rather, it embraces them as part of learning. The word "measurement" can sometimes instantly invoke fears of learning an unpleasant truths or unhealthy comparisons. But you must fight against this resistance and seek fast feedback, learn through experiences and strive for continuous improvement.

You cannot improve what you can't measure, so DevOps teams must set meaningful metrics related to quality, velocity and efficiency, and continually nudge themselves beyond current levels. Start with your biggest source of waste or mainframe software delivery bottleneck. Experiment, iterate and observe. When you've resolved your greatest bottleneck, move on to the next, and never be satisfied with the status quo.

Ask Yourself, "Is it Me?"

Surveys are continuing to show ongoing mainframe relevance, and negative and dismissive attitudes can be very dangerous to mainframe-based enterprises. Especially when those attitudes are endorsed and promoted by IT leadership. It's time for those with outdated outlooks to fundamentally shift, because ingrained attitudes and beliefs are a primary impediment to the mainframe being unleashed. The mainframe itself isn't the problem — rather, it might be you.

Chris O'Malley is CEO of Compuware
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