A Community for New Hires
New to Z program's tools and resources help close the skills gap and inspire new mainframers
Image by Tim Boelaars
By Courtney Welu09/01/2020
A few years ago, some IBMers took the initiative to form a casual Gen Z workshop that brought new hires from IBM Z® and local clients together for a day-long event—the first in what would eventually develop into the official New to Z program. Today, the New to Z program helps close the Z skills gap by giving new hires a community to develop their passion for the mainframe.
“Our focus is really bringing together folks who are early on in their careers and on the mainframe,” says Theresa Hans, the New to Z program manager and Z advocacy program specialist. “It gives you that chance to get to know others, learn from others and hopefully grow both friendships and technical relationships.”
Hans believes that new hires who might be nervous to speak up or ask a question during events don’t understand that their employers want to hear what they have to say and value their input. “They want your perspective. You have such a fresh perspective, and the Z clients really appreciate that,” she says.
User Groups, Slack, Trivia and More
The New to Z program is aimed at anyone less than 10 years into their career and includes user groups, online discussion forums, a Slack workspace and even trivia nights. The program began with primarily face-to-face meetings at conferences, but virtual meetups have become central to the program. Now, these meetups are occurring across the world.
“It’s been a really great change to have our worldwide community actually interacting,” Hans says. “I think that’s something that I learned out of necessity over the last few months. We don’t really get to see all of that represented when we’re just doing face-to-face or conferences, so that’s been a big focus.”
Going virtual has aided in solving some of the program’s challenges. Hans says that one of the biggest initial issues was that companies rarely send several representatives to a conference, let alone their early tenures. Hans advocates for companies to send their new hires, because it won’t be long before they will be the ones giving the sessions.
“On the other hand, how do we enable this community digitally as well, and have such a low barrier at entry that anybody can join?” Hans adds. “Given that, it’s really about just getting the word out and making sure we’re connecting with people.”
New to Z made the move to virtual sooner than expected, but it was a welcome change. The program is growing and developing as Hans and her team learn about what types of events people will attend online and how to keep them interactive and exciting.
All Are Welcome
The New to Z program welcomes anyone and everyone to get involved. Though the program is run by IBM, it’s open to the entire mainframe community. Hans wants everyone to feel involved and empowered to create their own blog and video posts and host their own events.
“I think this is Stage 2 of the growth of New to Z, and then Stage 3 is that it’s really run by the community,” Hans says. “I’d hope that my role almost goes into the background a little bit more and that we see different leaders facilitating events and speaking at sessions.”
Her top priority going forward is for the community members to have more ownership in the group, generating their own content and advocating for the platform.
“Anybody who is just a little bit interested can see some success and then keep that moving,” Hans says. “New to Z people see this as a space where they can get involved and hopefully feel empowered by me or the team to just go out, do something and share their perspective.”
Hans sees New to Z success stories from new mainframers who are actively contributing to their community and taking advantage of the resources granted by the program. The following are a few of them:
“New to Z definitely opened up a lot more opportunities and has allowed me to meet many other people from all over the world that love to work on Z just as much as I do.”
Joe Suppes on New to Z Meetups
IBM client Joe Suppes, an infrastructure analyst in mainframe networking, finds the New to Z meetups helpful when attending events.
“Going to a new place where you don’t know anyone can be daunting,” Suppes says. “Knowing you’ll run into someone that you’ve spoken to through New to Z makes going to and opening up at these conferences that much easier.”
Suppes has also worked with Hans and her team to set up a New to Z event at a local college to help spread the word about mainframe opportunities.
“New to Z definitely opened up a lot more opportunities and has allowed me to meet many other people from all over the world that love to work on Z just as much as I do,” Suppes says. “That’s something I couldn’t say five years ago.”
“New to Z and Master the Mainframe help solve the skills challenges faced by the Z platform because they go beyond what's taught in the normal computer science and IT courses.”
Caitlin Mooney on Master the Mainframe and Student Community
New to Z and IBM’s annual Master the Mainframe competition have given college student Caitlin Mooney opportunities at the forefront of Z education that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
“New to Z and Master the Mainframe help solve the skills challenges faced by the Z platform because they go beyond what’s taught in the normal computer science and IT courses,” Mooney says. “In a lot of ways, it can put two and two together by really connecting what we learned and putting it to use while also teaching us about new areas and new careers in computing.”
Because of her passion for Master the Mainframe, Mooney has attended numerous events to discuss the significance of Z. She presented at the Enterprise Computing Community Conference at Marist College and participated in VM Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University. The vice president of her college’s Master the Mainframe club, she also received two internships as a direct result of her participation in the competition.
“Having started at a community college means that internship opportunities can be extremely hard to come across,” Mooney says. “Master the Mainframe has created a platform for a diverse set of individuals who are passionate about and enjoy working with mainframes, providing us with the skills and opportunities to be serious candidates for internships.”
Scott Smith on IT Career Connections
Scott Smith got his job as a CICS® administrator for Northwestern Mutual through an IT Career Connections event hosted by New to Z.
“I never thought my life could turn around so quickly,” Smith says. He advises students and those new to the mainframe to reach out. “Stay connected by using LinkedIn, network with professionals in the field, attend events and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Communication is vital in any area of work. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to share their knowledge.”
Smith actively tries to help those new to the mainframe by collecting a list of resources about non-mainframe languages that any person can afford and understand. He has spoken with his own company and the IBM learning team to get more resources out there and make sure people know they exist.
“A major flawed perception that people have of the mainframe stems from a lack of resources and dissemination of knowledge, something New to Z is directly combatting,” he says.
“Being involved has had a huge impact on my day-to-day job role because I have the opportunity to socialize with like-minded peers.”
Harvi Singh on Conferences
Harvi Singh works for BMC and is the co-chair of the GSE 101 stream and a founder of GenZ networking. “Being involved has had a huge impact on my day-to-day job role because I have the opportunity to socialize with like-minded peers,” he says. “We can share useful training resources and talk about technical advancements on the platform without the fear of judgment by someone within our organization.”
Singh hosted the first standalone GenZ event in the United Kingdom, where an invited student secured a position at BMC Mainframe Services. The student says that the informal networking with early mainframe professionals helped his decision process.
“It’s certainly a lot easier than sitting in an interview room talking to a technician 30 years your senior,” Singh says.
“Having someone in your generational age in your corner at any time of your career is a plus.”
Jessica Muszynski on Mentoring
When systems programmer Jessica Muszynski started her career in the mainframe, she felt isolated and had a tough time relating to older colleagues. Joining the New to Z program allowed her to make friends through meetups online and at conferences. She believes in the importance of advocating for the mainframe to create job security for mainframers.
“When I went to a local college to talk to the computer science club, I stressed the fact that there are serious gaps for mainframe jobs,” Muszynski says. “It’s really unfortunate that even a history of mainframe 101 isn’t a college course anymore. The lack of education about it in schools adds to the knowledge gap that’s the bigger issue in the Z community.”
She advises her peers to reach out to young college students with an interest in technology. “I don’t think that New to Z people are either too young or inexperienced to be a mentor in some way,” Muszynski says. “Having someone in your generational age in your corner at any time of your career is a plus.”
For the Community
Hans emphasizes that the Z community will work best with everyone participating, contributing and sharing their own stories. She and her team want New to Z members to feel the reward of participating when they can have sessions hosted by experts on what people express interest in.
“If you’re passionate about something, the community isn’t just a chance for me to help share your story. It’s a chance for me to connect you with some resources that you wanted to give you that opportunity to take a leadership position,” Hans says. “We’re always trying to learn and change the program, so we welcome feedback. It’s just a really exciting time for the community.”
Get Involved With New to Z
Looking to get more involved in the New to Z community? New to Z is an open community primarily for anyone who has been working on the platform for less than 10 years and is looking to build their networks, careers and technical skills. Here are some ways you can get involved with the community:
- Write a blog post about your mainframe origin story. How did you get started on the platform and what are you looking forward to learning in the future?
- Take a selfie video. Record a 30-60 second clip of yourself, your teammates and your work-from-home office, introducing yourself to the community.
- Create a tutorial for something new you’ve been working on
- Join the community to start sharing your ideas.
Courtney Welu is an editorial intern for IBM Systems magazine.
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