The mainframe – already by that word, most people who question me about my job either have no idea what I’m talking about, or are shocked that one even exists anymore. One person even asked me, “Why would you want to work on something so old?” What’s interesting to me about this comment is its uniqueness to computing. Ford came out with its first automobile long before IBM came out with its first mainframe, but engineers and designers of cars are not hassled about working on dinosaurs. So, what’s the difference here? Why is old synonymous with obsolete in our industry?
I think the cause of this is visibility. And I don’t mean this in some kind of abstract manner; quite literally, the general population, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t see or hear about mainframes. Cars can be seen, touched, and explicitly used every day. Likewise, people use their smartphones, tablets, and PCs constantly. But 20 years ago, people weren’t walking around with smartphones and tablets. It might seem like a revolutionary change, but for the most part people are still accessing much of the same information. The difference is the device we use to get to it.
If we imagine the auto industry taking on this same trend, there would be something like an “iBench” which carries people around. Moving the bench would be a car driving underground with a big magnet that applies the necessary force. After years of not seeing wheeled cars driving around, of course people are going to doubt the relevance, and probably even the existence, of cars. However, the need to move people from one place to another doesn’t go away. Likewise, the need for reliable, fast computing isn’t going to disappear with the next iPhone. The mainframe satisfies this essential paradigm, and has for a long time, so it’s hard to imagine a future without it.
What do you think about the mainframe as a career choice?