Through its Share user group and ZNextGen young programmers organization, IBM has been working to make high school students more aware of the existence of mainframe systems and the career opportunities therein.
While recruiting at the college level is not new to IBM, recruiting teenagers is a new approach embraced after the company identified what it considered an information gap at the younger age group.
Marc Smith saw this firsthand while volunteering as a System z University Ambassador three years ago.
"It was apparent that these students knew nothing about the mainframe, nor how they are used in industry," said Smith. "After this initial presentation I realized that in order for us to 'feed' the university programs we have seeded, that we need to get students looking at the colleges that offer mainframe topics."
Smith worked with IBM's Academic Initiative to get the word out to students before they chose their college, rather than after. One effort has been to organize small Mainframe Career Exploration Day events around trade shows and conferences. At the events, high school students are invited to talk to IBM vendors and customers about the importance of the platform to their businesses and are encouraged to ask career-oriented questions.
The Academic Initiative team has also expanded its "Master the Mainframe" Contest to high school students in for the first time in the 2007 to 2008 school year.
Kristine Harper, zNextGen's project manager and an assembler programmer at Neon Enterprise Software considers expanding their outreach efforts to include high school students a "logical step."
"We've had some penetration at the college level [and] wanted to figure out how to advertise these career opportunities to students and their parents earlier on. Much of the problem with mainframes is the stigma attached to them," said Harper, who joked that she was "born into" a Big Iron career as both of her parents have worked as mainframe programmers.
One of the most effective ways to improve the mainframe's image, according to Harper, was to simply show one to students and their parents.
"Having it in the room and letting people see that it took up the space of a refrigerator versus a whole room or a big iron box really helped."
What also helped was explaining to students that they didn't need to have a four-year math, science or engineering degree to get a job working on mainframes. Harper has seen that potential community college students and the two-year schools themselves are the most open to the mainframe career opportunity.
"A lot of people who go into community colleges are interested in a specific career; specific career paths are a harder sell at larger universities. Community colleges are all about the job opportunities students will have right after and we're able to tell these students that this is real. Many companies-including ones we are introducing you to right here-run on them and they need more people," said Harper.