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Mainframe Open Education Project Aims To Help Bridge The Skills Gap

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The Open Mainframe Project launched the Mainframe Open Education Project back in 2020 to attract new developers to mainframe and bridge the technology gap.

In this episode of TFiR Let’s Talk, two coaches of Mainframe Open Education Project –  Yvette LaMar and Lauren Valenti – joined me to discuss the talent shortage in the tech industry in general and also more specifically in the mainframe space.

They talked about what companies like IBM and Broadcom are doing on their own to tackle the skills shortage crisis and how community projects like the Mainframe Open Education Project complement those efforts to solve this problem at a much wider scale.

LaMar and Valenti delve deep  into the Mainframe Open Education Project  project and how it is going to be a platform to help cultivate mainframe skills with the sharing of knowledge and ability to create and donate learning tools.

Key highlights of this video interview are:

  • Skills gaps are a universal issue with a workforce transition process involving the rebalance of experience and the next generation of workers. Valenti and LaMar discuss the state of skills shortage in the tech industry and what the key challenges are.
  • Valenti and LaMar discuss the ways talent shortages in mainframe are different from other areas.
  • Valenti explains how companies are dealing with the tech shortage crisis and the importance they are seeing with internal education programs to provide different platform experiences and an opportunity to align people with mentors.
  • The Mainframe Open Education project is being developed with the aim to provide open source and mainframe education and training. Valenti discusses their mission and how it will benefit people and help tackle the skills gap challenge.
  • Valenti and LaMar explain the scope of the project and who their target audience is.
  • The Linux Foundation already has a lot of educational programs. Valenti and LaMar discuss some of the existing educational programs and the community they are looking to build with the Mainframe Open Education project.
  • Valenti discusses why they need the community to come together, join and contribute and what their strategy is for forging a connection between students or people that are looking for a career in enterprise computing and the clients that are looking to hire.
  • Valenti explains the state of the Mainframe Open Education project and their roadmap. She discusses what they will be focusing on this year.
  • Open Mainframe already has a mentor/mentee program. Valenti and LaMar discuss the benefits of the program.

Connect with Yvette LaMar (LinkedIn)

Connect with Lauren Valenti (LinkedIn)

The summary of the show is written by Emily Nicholls.

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Here is the automated and unedited transcript of the recording. Please note that the transcript has not been edited or reviewed. 

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya, and welcome to TFiR Let’s Talk. Today we have two guests, two coaches of the Mainframe Open Education project, as part of Open Mainframe project, Yvette LaMar and Lauren Valenti. Yvette, Lauren, it’s great to have you both on the show.

Lauren Valenti: Thank you.

Yvette LaMar: Thanks for having us.

Swapnil Bhartiya: This is not a new problem. Linux Foundation, they keep coming with reports, surveys, where we see that there is a huge gap in supply and demand of talented folks. What kind of problem are you seeing in the mainframe space? Is it similar or is it a bit different?

Lauren Valenti: The things that we’re seeing when it comes to the skills gaps, we’re seeing that every industry is facing that transition process. And it’s not just a mainframe thing only. We’ve seen other industries like utility, trucking, nursing, and et cetera, and it’s a universal issue. So, what we’re seeing is that the industry is undergoing a workforce transition process involving the rebalance of experience and the next generation of workers. And we are seeing that sourcing talent can be a challenge for some of the companies. And let’s be honest, it is a competitive market out there today. There are many that are pursuing careers in different areas of different technologies. And then we’re also seeing that we have issues of many mainframe experts that are retiring.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Yvette, what is your perspective on this?

Yvette LaMar: Agree with what Lauren said. And really, there is the change of the workforce, the changing of skills. There is a lot of people learning either new collar versus education, but making that connection between the folks that have the talent, or even base skills, with the clients that need to also hire them. So, making connections there, I think there’s a challenge there as well.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What’s kind of also unique about mainframe is that, first of all, I think it probably predates me. It has been around for a very long time. And the fact is that, today’s modern economy, it runs on mainframe. People may or may not even realize that. But then there are a lot of projects, where you’re also trying to attract new developers. At the same time you’re also modernizing a lot of mainframe technologies. So the challenges, as you all so rightly said, that a lot of folks who are the engineers, they have been around for a very long time. So, to attract new folks who look at mainframe from a different… That kind of creates a new challenge for skilled folks. So, how does that make it different for you folks? Can you talk about that? Because your challenge is different from the rest of the industry, if I’m not wrong.

Yvette LaMar: Well, I’ll start. And Lauren, if you want to jump in, too. How I view it is, a lot of what they’re learning in universities today can be used on IBM Z. There’s modern tooling that absolutely fits, and that is one of the directions where we’re going. Because you have the ability and the toolings with VS Code, with Zowe, to use modern tooling… Python. It’s incredible. So, what we’ve found… And even with me, with personally hiring folks within my organization, if someone has cloud based skills, hybrid skills, AI, or ML, bring in them, they learn the platform and then they’re off and running. For those folks, it’s another platform that they learn and it has so much capability, but they can use the tools that they learned as well.

Lauren Valenti: I totally agree with you, Yvette. That’s what we’re seeing as well, even when working with our customers. We’ve all built our own internal education programs. Sending people to conferences and learning further, like a share. And then Yvette, like you were talking about, you’re bringing in these people who have different platform experiences, and perhaps we align them also, with mentors within our own companies as well. When we talk about all of this too, when we talk to our customers, what can they do, as well, to help themselves? Come to people like myself, or even like Yvette, that have these education and apprenticeship programs that can, again, help them further.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And as Lauren, Yvette, you also mentioned, the companies have their internal program. I also want to quickly understand that, how are companies trying to deal with this crisis? You did touch upon related to that, but if you can just go more in detail to understand how they are trying to solve this problem on their own.

Lauren Valenti: Sure. They are building their own internal education programs, but again, that requires staff. That requires budget. That requires their SMEs, their subject matter experts, that you’re taking away from their everyday job to go and do that. And so again, companies when we talk about the different internal education programs, for instance, I know from a Broadcom perspective, we do have what we call the Vitality program, which we’ve developed innovative… It’s an innovative, skills development program to cultivate the next gen in mainframe talent, at a low to no cost. And in partnership with our customers, we source, we grow, and we really retain the talent with the result of helping our customers manage their mainframe in the hybrid data center. We also what people are doing is opening up internal new hire programs. So for example, we did that and we are expanding it to our customers. So they can also get that value and benefit as well and provide the foundations needed to turn them into software programmers, let’s say.

Yvette LaMar: And along those lines, within IBM we have what’s called the apprenticeship program that’s available in the U.S. And we’re actually bringing a skills acceleration program global. But for the United States employers, we’ve teamed up with Franklin Apprenticeships, The Urban Institute, and the U.S. Department of Labor to develop skills for diverse talent for any location in the United States. And it’s really cool because it’s available to clients across the United States and provides recruitment services, targeted new collar candidates, including P-Tech students, vetted through a pre-apprenticeship program. There’s over 320 hours of virtual training, learning paths based on joint client defined competency standards for our mainframe CIS admin, as well as application developers. And it really just is dedicated to making sure that there is a robust pipeline for our clients to hire from. In addition, we have what’s called IBM Z Xplor, which is a learning platform that’s available to everybody.

It’s actually really fun. And it gets people just learning core enterprise computing to fundamentals on IBM Z and then growing off to advanced concepts. It’s fantastic. It has badging through Credly. So it’s industry recognized badging. And then we also do activities like a student contest once a year as well open to students. So it’s really making sure that they get that hands on access to a Z OS and a Linux on Z system. Cause you don’t normally have that, but it’s something that we really want to make sure that’s available to everyone at no charge and just can continue the learning.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. Now, if you look at Broadcom and IMU folks are like the big company, but not every company can have all the resources to run these kind of program. So are there any such educational program there which can be used by anybody? Because as I said, not everybody can afford to have those kind of programs internally.

Yvette LaMar: Why Lauren and I are here is about the Mainframe Open Education project, because this is where we are looking out to the community to provide content that may augment what we’re doing at IBM or with Broadcom.

Lauren Valenti: The Mainframe Open Education project, we’re bringing the concept of open source to mainframe education and training. And really what that mission is is to deliver our mainframe users a convenient platform to either create, to donate learning tools so that we can cultivate those skills and allow for that knowledge sharing, and that community contributions. And like Yvette basically focused on it’s really a community-based platform. And we offer a collection of knowledge within the community who are leading the way for the future mainframe technicians and mainframe users. Or those who are new to the mainframe will be able to tap into this knowledge gained from decades of experience of mainframe subject matter experts. They’re able to obtain learning paths and even learn about other vendors/partners that offer, let’s say, security solutions, DevOp solutions, or AI ops, but we’re really trying like Yvette, I want to reiterate what she was saying is really leveraging, or I should say, taking advantage of what is out there already and bringing it to one place so that everyone can get the same benefit that we all have.

Yvette LaMar: And, and the other thing to point out also is different ways of learning because all of our programs are built a certain way, but not everybody learns exactly the same. And so that was one of the things that was also a priority for the Mainframe Open Education is different mediums. So it could be video. It could be audio. It could be hands on. But different because people learn differently.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What is the scope of this initiative? Is it just not to share knowledge with them? You did mention their hands on, but is it also, how do you know that, Hey, they are learned. Is there any certification after they finish the course? I just want to understand the whole kind of walkthrough of the course. What does it look like?

Lauren Valenti: What I want to clarify here, too, it’s it’s really about the foundations, right? We’re laying the base. Because what happens is also when you get into the intermediate and advanced that’s where we want to be able to send people to go to the Pro Techs of the world or Interskill. To learn more and further. So really what the platform and the program will provide is the foundations itself.

Yvette LaMar: We want to make sure that we’re driving toward industry standard recognition, because then that is something that the employers can look for across the board.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And who is the kind of target audience for? Because I do understand that it’s very, very foundational, basically to just get their foot in the door kind of thing. So if you can say, “Hey, these are the folks that we are looking for.”

Yvette LaMar: Well, I can say it from my side, it’s anybody who’s interested in enterprise computing. You can look at students at universities, P-tech, but people that are career changers, returnships. We’ve been, and I think Lauren, you might have this with your vitality program, but with our apprenticeship program at IBM, we’ve got people who used to be a truck driver that now is working as a CIS admin and someone coming back from raising a family. So we’re getting this really broad spectrum of people that are interested.

Lauren Valenti: Very diverse and even French teachers. We’re realizing French music teachers. I mean, it’s amazing. And they’re really taking to and again, a place like this to send them to, and to start learning about what the mainframe is is something that’s well needed.

Yvette LaMar: But what’s also really a benefit of this is the community and getting to know the people that are like-minded that think this is really cool. First of all, the Open Mainframe Project is a community of like-minded individuals that really see the strength of IBM Z platform. But it’s also the community. It’s really a tight knit close, like going to share, everyone knows everybody. And so if you’re coming in new to be working on an IBM Z, and you go to share, you feel like, oh, wow, this is so cool to be involved with such a neat community.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Linux Foundation is a massive umbrella. They already do a lot of educational programs, certificate programs. So have you worked with other programs within the Linux Foundation, a lot of cross pollination happen, a lot of inspiration happened. So in order to build this course, it would just come from these two companies or what kind of communities around this course?

Lauren Valenti: Yeah. I know that there was a Cobalt training that was already created for the Open Mainframe Project. We are not reinventing the wheel. We want to take advantage of what’s out there already, especially within the Open Mainframe Project and really bring that in. And it’s not just with Broadcom and Mainframe. There’s Kyndryl. There’s a couple of others. Pro-Tech I’d like to give a shout out to. That has been tremendous. And we’re just trying to kick start it because we have, we have content, and we’re trying to put as much as we can, but it’s really about the community. And it’s really about getting other partners that are in the ecosystem to help us. It’s about getting universities involved, professors, anybody who’s in retirement that wants to come back. Again students, right? We really want to get everybody who has the subject matter expertise in this community and driving content.

Yvette LaMar: We have members on our committee that are professors and educators. And they’re looking at, with the material that’s available, they have all this stuff that helps the students get ready to do a Z Explorer, or do a contest, or something like that. So it’s getting than I don’t know if it’s lower than foundational, it’s like deeper or, or earlier level education that helps them be successful in what’s available from the larger companies. And on top of that, you also mentioned the retirees. The IBM Z retirees are a huge group of people that have so much knowledge, and they are extremely excited about the Mainframe Open Education project. So we’re bringing them cause they they’ve got years of material, especially for the foundational and core concepts and stuff. So they’ll be bringing, I wouldn’t say it’s new ideas, but it’s I want to say, well-tested ways of doing things and working with the systems. And it brings that years of experience that may get lost when someone retires without having someone else to transfer that knowledge to.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What is your strategy? How do you actually reach out to universities or retirees? You did mention that program. So just to better understand that. Yeah.

Yvette LaMar: Exactly. Because I was going to say, from within IBM that’s actually what my team does is we have a whole IBM Z skills initiative team, and they go after educators across the glob. They go into clients and help them train their, new to IBM Z staff. The people that are coming in new to the platform that have already been hired in, but they also make that connection between students or people that are looking for a career in enterprise computing and our clients that are looking to hire. So we make those connections there. And then through the Open Mainframe Project, that’s a huge open source community. So IBM is very much involved with that. And especially, I’m particularly involved with the Mainframe Open Education. So even in our group, we have people that are in business, like Lauren and I. We have faculty educators that are in there. We have students. We get interns. And so we have a diverse organization or group that helps us make sure that we can pull from our own ecosystems and bring them in and network and bring them in.

Lauren Valenti: Anybody who does want to contribute to the Open Mainframe project, we do have a Open Mainframe webpage that we are inviting… The one thing that I also wanted to mention is that we did identify, because I know we’ve been talking about this project the last year, a year and a half. We did identify the new platform that we’re leveraging, and we’re using GitBook as the platform to host our open education content. And we have begun, like we said, identifying, developing, and curating those education materials. And again, we need the help of the community, and in order for them to join and contribute, it would be great to have them go to our Mainframe Open Education project on our Open Mainframe Education webpage. You can attend our monthly community meetings to help guide and contribute at least the education of what we’re putting out there for the next gen or even those that are existing today. Or you can reach out to Yvette Lamar or myself and we’ll help get everyone started.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Where do you stand today in terms of where the project is now? How much you have achieved. And then we can also talk about what’s in your roadmap. What are the things that you’re working on this year?

Lauren Valenti: So we identified the platform. So that’s where we are right now. And what we’re really trying to achieve is getting more contributors, right? Again, we don’t want it to just be a Broadcom, IBM, as well as Kyndryl. We need the help of the community out there today. Yvette, I know you just talked about the retirees that are out there, and they’re connected. So we’re trying to recruit them, but also anybody within the OMP project, we’d love to have. The more content that you guys can put out there, the better. At least we can go and again, take advantage of what’s being put out there, but also you can contribute within the GitBook platform. Any content that you have, you could put it right in there. We tried to make it easy and convenient for everybody to contribute.

Yvette LaMar: Absolutely. The big thing is like with the retirees, was there material that was helpful for you when you were learning? I mean, there’s going to be stuff that is consistent in learning those base fundamentals, but then there’s also, as you look at what’s available from IBM, Broadcom, what’s available free of charge. Is there something that you think that could augment that? Tell it a little bit differently, be a precursor to it. Because with what’s available out there right now you get hands on experience, which is fantastic.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And you’re talking about your experience should not get wasted, Open Mainframe, you folks already have mentor/mentee program as well. So does that also kind of work with that because not only do they bring experience, but they also bring how to work on that. And they also kind of inspire people to work on those projects.

Yvette LaMar: The big thing I would say, I’ll jump in on that one first and then… The mentor/mentee is fantastic. Because if you think about if someone is just starting out with their career in enterprise computing, they’re going to come in and they may be one of two, or maybe just one, against someone who has 30 years experience, and they may not feel comfortable asking the questions, or they may not understand something. So having a mentor that’s available. That’s been there, done that. They can ask those questions and get good advice that will help them in their career. That’s the one thing I think is awesome.

Lauren Valenti: Absolutely. And we’ve been actually having mentors join this project as well as part of the core team, as we mentioned earlier. It’s very important to get them to also look at something that we’re building, and ensure that whatever we are building, they understand it. Right? And then it’s speaking to them as well.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Lauren, Yvette, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about, of course not only this education program, but also the big problem, the challenge that is there either way in the industry, no matter where we look at and the initiatives that are from IBM, of course, Broadcom and the large and open mainframe community. So thanks for sharing those insights. And as usual, I would love to have you folks back on the show whenever the new updates are there in the program. So thank you for your time today.

Lauren Valenti: Great. Thank you.

Yvette LaMar: Thank you so much. Thanks for having us.

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