Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Specialize! The paradoxes of the mainframe I.T. job market


The job market mid to late 2006 sounds like a world of crazy contradictions. Recruiters call, and seem (sometimes speaking English in a way hard to understand on a cell phone, at least) anxious to submit my resume, even if I haven't worked in a formal mainframe job for 4-1/2 years. For that one reason alone, I suppose, many of the submissions don't go anywhere. There is a second main reason, however. My experience, however lengthy, is not specialized enough in one specific area.

In the mainframe area it is easy to identify some specializations where employers are eager to find people who will relocate temporarily for long term contracts. Most of these would be W-2, and the contractor would be responsible for housing himself/herself in an extended stay corporate apartment out of the rate. (Generally, I am told, that would not be excluded from taxation if the assignment went over 364 days in a year.)

Some of the specializations are MMIS (Medicaid Management Information System), but practically all states require that a contractor have a minimum of 24 months MMIS experience, preferably within the past five or so years. These jobs favor people who got into the MMIS market and stayed there.

Another speciality would be DB2 internals, support, and fine tuning, since high transaction volume DB2 systems performance is often very sensitive to design decicisions (like what kind of joins to use in selects).

Another one that occurs is Vantage for Life Insurance and Annuities. There is a "Vantage Rules the World" problem in the life insurance business. Vantage has its own propietary IO access methods (whether to VSAM or to DB2) with specific conventions in call statements and link editing that must be followed exactly, and are often hard to understand, requiring people to develop narrow expertise. So again, when an employer needs a Vantage consultant, it needs him/her badly, but the person must have very specific experience. There was a similar older system, VLN, that was developed in the 1980s, but the company went under, and Vantage took over the market.

You also find desire for experience with welfare and social service systems in state governments, and these often require experience with Case Tools, which were all the rage in the early 1990s.

Finally, you will find cravings for experience with orphaned mainframe technologies that have largely been replaced, but for companies still having them, they have a filling needs. One example would be IMS, which seems cumbersome to people today, especially IMS-DC.

In the post 9/11 period, we heard a lot about companies sending mainframe maintenance and technical support overseas to India, even production support (night time cycles could be maintained by people working days with the 12 hour time difference). There are open questions as to how effective this has been and whether some of this work is coming back.

But some of these observations explain the nature of the mainframe market today. It favors single people, without family care obligations, who can leave home and live alone for months at a time (with high hourly rates but without fringe benefits). Some will question the social responsibility of this kind of employment practice; but it is not intentional from the employers, it is more an anamoly from how things have evolved. Curiously, it is an outgrowth of what we call libertarian culture.

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