Recycling That Mainframe Computer

The leasing office occasionally sends out a missive that gets taped to the front door of each apartment in the complex. Sometimes this makes for interesting reading. One such missive a few years ago about what can or cannot be flushed down the toilets implied that recreational sex (condoms), having babies (diaper wipes) and being a woman (tampons) will no longer be permissible behavior. (I wrote a 500-word flash story, “Circling The Drain,” around that particular premise.) A recent missive had a list of recyclable items to turn into the leasing office for an e-waste recycling drive. One item popped out on the list: Mainframe computers.

When I worked as a quality assurance software testing intern at Fujitsu in the 1990’s, our virtual world division got a new vice president from Japan who previously worked for the mainframe division. He took our group out to Jade Cathay restaurant on First Street in San Jose to get to know us. When the hostess handed him the menu, he ordered the same stir fry with tofu dish for everyone. Somehow I ended up sitting next to him. Not wanting to offend my host, I ate everything on my plate even though I never had Chinese before. We all suffered a severe case of massive heart burn later on, as that dish was very spicy.

He asked me if I was a mainframe programmer, and became disappointed when I told him that I wasn’t. (I didn’t volunteer that I was only an intern.) He asked around the table if anyone else was a mainframe programmer. No one else was. He informed us that Fujitsu was always looking for mainframe programmers. That statement puzzled everyone, as our group had nothing to do with mainframes. A month later he returned to Japan to lead the mainframe group again and got replaced by a more Westernized vice president who wasn’t looking for mainframe programmers.

Despite the popular misconception that mainframe computers are obsolete and long gone, they’re still around for processing massive amounts of data that can’t fit into the cloud. One of the hottest I.T. job market is for mainframe programmers who know COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). With the previous generation retiring, and many colleges stopped teaching mainframe computers years ago, there’s an acute shortage of skilled workers.

Unlike other areas of I.T., you can’t simply download a mainframe computer to your desktop and grab a book to learn how to program it. You need the actual room-sized hardware to get any practical experience. Most large companies that depend on mainframe computers are training programmers in-house. There’s no practical way to learn mainframe programming on your own.

Needless to say, no one turned in a mainframe computer at the leasing office.

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