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Career Story: Mainframe Systems Programmer

Mainframe Systems Programmer

Job Title: Systems Programmer (Mainframe)

Type of Company: I work for a very large, international computer company. The division in which I am employed provides outsourcing services to other companies and runs and manages their mainframe computing environments.

Education: BS, Resource Development, University of Rhode Island

Previous Experience: I started as a computer operator after college. I worked my way up through different levels of responsibilities within Operations, ending that career path as an operations manager of a small data processing center.

Job Tasks: I am responsible for the integrity, availability, and overall "health" of the operating system that runs large IBM mainframes. Problem determination and problem analysis and resolution is a large part of my work. I also do research on other potential problems and proactively implementing fixes for those potential problems.

A typical day involves sitting in on meetings to provide my technical input on issues or projects that could have a negative (or a positive) impact on the overall computing environment. Gathering research results and acquiring the identified fixes and then getting those fixes onto the mainframe environment is another task I perform.

A very large part of the job today involves keeping the systems "compliant". That means maintaining audit trails and audit records of all kinds of different activities and changes that have been made to the system(s). SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) compliance is a BIG DEAL these days. There are lots and lots of government regulations that must be adhered to or there are financial penalties to be paid. Our customers (and my employer) do not like having to pay penalties for anything, especially something that is preventable. Over the course of the last 10 years or so, the administrative parts of my job have gotten more and more burdensome and more and more time-consuming. I probably spend 75% of my time doing things that have nothing to do with REALLY maintaining the operating system; they have to do with "crossing the t's and dotting the i's."

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is being able to delve into new technologies, both software and hardware, that are constantly developing. I also enjoy interacting with other people all over the world. I can be in a meeting with people from the USA, Brazil, France, England, India, and Hungary.

The worst part of my job is the ever-increasing burden of administrative busy-work that we are required to do in order to stay in compliance with various regulations. I call it "administrivia" because it is trivial as far as productivity is concerned. Yet it occupies a large part of the job these days.

Job Tips:
1.) Study BOTH mainframe and distributed environments. Mainframes and smaller computers are both important parts of today's business environment.

2.) Though it usually involves quite a bit of travel, start out as your own consulting firm. Do not go to work for some corporation. The corporate world these days is rife with bureaucracy and "political foolishness".

3.) Learn the operating system(s) AND some of the major subsystems AND some of the larger, more common applications as early in your career as possible.

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