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Is mainframe administration still a viable field to go into? And if it is where would you get started on learning how to administer and program against a mainframe?

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migrated from Nov 15 '10 at 16:31

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You might want to play a bit with the Hercules emulator from IBM zSeries and it's predecessors.

There's a few older releases of OSes like IBM/VM, OS/360, MVS available here.

If it's viable? Yes, even if the market share it's limited, is actually quite stable.

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It's funny, this is really one of the most interesting questions I've read on SF and I've been thinking about my answer to it longer than I normally would, so here goes.

As Robert mentions people have been sounding the death knoll of mainframes since I was a kid and initial thoughts on the subject would be to run away from the area - there's definitely more client/server systems out there and this has marginalised jobs in mainframes.

That said the jobs in this field are usually pretty well paid compared to say linux-based jobs. The main reason is that it's typically large companies who buy mainframes and they're inherently mission-critical systems too. Some of the best paid contractors around are mainframe guys and I know just how high IBM's professional services costs for these systems can be.

One thing about mainframe support and development is that these systems are often under very strict change control with straightforward upgrades/patches etc. being planned over months and quarters. This means that support staff often have an unusually high degree of 'research time' available to them - i.e. get a job in this world and you'll have plenty of time to skill up in other areas if you have the motivation. Another benefit of working on these large, critical system is that of job security, sure these machines get replaced and people lose jobs but usually not without significant notice, it's not uncommon for a mainframe to take two years to replace in a business, giving you time to look around and/or skill up elsewhere.

Now if you're after the thrill of a start-up you'd be better going the linux route, it allows for very rapid prototyping and movement from proof of concept into production, but if you prefer a steady state environment I wouldn't shy away from mainframe work at all - as I say you could end up making more money anyway.

I hope this of some help.

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Depends how you see it really. The Mainframe is one area that people expected to die a while ago yet keeps hanging on, and delivers really good availability and power into certain kinds of areas where it's still a good choice for an organisation with a lot of data to process.

The approach to the technology in the mainframe arena is very different to that in the LAN server network arena, so it is still a specialist area: even if a mainframe has Linux installed on it, say, experience with Linux on a x86 type server will only take you so far on a mainframe.

But the question is, how many jobs are out there, and are they in areas you wish to work. IF... (and this is a big if) the market continues for mainframe systems then the market will continue for mainframe operators and admins. As older people in those roles retire or move into other career roles there will be room for new mainframe operators. I'm just not sure how many.

I second Vitor's suggestion to look at Hercules. It really is an incredible bit of kit that can give you an idea of the environment. It's not a substitute for real experience, of course.

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Every fall IBM seems to offer a "Master the Mainframe" contest that might interest you. Registration is closed for 2010, but perhaps the documentation would still be interesting.

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My understanding is that the typical way to start with mainframes is by being a tape operator.


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