Career advice: Mainframe career prospects

Cynthia Nustad, Senior vice president and CIO at HMS, also answers questions on forensics and network administration as a career path and the best programming languages to learn.

Cynthia Nustad of HMS Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader Cynthia Nustad Title: Senior vice president and CIOCompany: HMS

Nustad is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about the future for mainframe programmers and more. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

What are the prospects these days for an unemployed mainframe programmer/analyst with 30 years of experience? Interesting question. At my company, we just had a very lengthy discussion on this topic. We still successfully leverage the mainframe for some of our products and get great performance and scale from such equipment. One thing we considered in our discussion was whether there would be enough talent 10 to 15 years from now able to work on those tools. Our vendor was able to put our minds at ease by telling us about universities that are growing their educational offerings to teach students these technologies. In short, I think the prospects continue to be good for experienced mainframe talent.

I have been considering a career in computer forensics and network administration. Any advice? These are very exciting areas in IT. For these specialties, I would recommend spending the time to get certifications pertinent to the specific areas you are passionate about. Yes, certifications can be time-consuming, and clearing the testing hurdles is challenging. But such certifications will set you apart from others trying to get the same job and will help advance your career. And because network administration and forensics are changing very quickly, recently minted certs are a way of telling employers that you are keeping up to date.

I liken the network to the heartbeat of a company -- you don't want it to skip a beat, so maximum uptime is imperative. That means security and risk management should be part of the discipline.

Finally, you should develop your skills in public speaking, presentations and communications. This is helpful for areas like these that are routinely audited and reviewed. And being able to clearly explain to nontechnical people such as the executive leadership key aspects of these important areas and how they help drive business value will also contribute to your success.

What are the best programming languages to be familiar with for someone entering the IT field today? Currently, there is tremendous employer demand in many programming areas. The key thing to do is ensure that your capabilities are well rounded. A programmer who can do analysis, create database structures, write clean code, create testing structures and clearly communicate all that has been done is a very valuable asset.

Businesses are seeing the data that they retain and analyze proliferate. That means that people who understand the programming used to support data and analytics are particularly in demand. If your interest lies in this direction, you should get to know and understand key new data technologies, ETL languages and business intelligence tools. If your passion is to create applications and systems, we seem to be looking for Java and .Net talent constantly. Lastly, I always suggest that you investigate and leverage open-source tools. They can be excellent options for certain needs.

Read more about it careers in Computerworld's IT Careers Topic Center.

This story, "Career advice: Mainframe career prospects" was originally published by Computerworld.

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