Mainframer stereotype bucked by 23-year-old woman

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In a sea of middle-aged men roaming around the Share mainframe conference this summer, there walked an anomaly: Kristine Harper. The 23-year-old has been an associate developer since last year with mainframe software vendor Neon Enterprise Software Inc., which is also known as NESI. She is also a leader in zNextGen, an initiative by Share to build a younger community around big iron.

Harper defies the stereotype around mainframers, being young and a woman. In a recent interview, SearchDataCenter.com asked her how she got into mainframes, what about the platform appeals to her, and why there isn't more fresh blood working on them.

How did you get interested in mainframes at such a young age? I always tell people that it's not my fault. Both my parents were mainframe software developers. It's sort of in my blood. My senior year in high school, I took an independent study course from my dad to learn all the basics. Each summer during college, after graduating from high school, I had an internship with NESI. That's where I learned the majority of what I know now....

Why aren't you administering Linux and Windows boxes like most people of your generation? When you see the power of how the mainframe can have so much control over things, you get over a little Java program that you can use to run a game or something. I felt like this was more challenging, and I could go further with this type of job. With the mainframe there's so much to learn. There are so many things going on. It's like you can play this game forever and never reach the highest level. That aspect of a mainframe career got to me, and I never looked back.

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What does IBM have to do to get young people interested in mainframes?
That's definitely the question of the year. IBM has already been working to address this problem through the Academic Initiative program. We have to get past the stigma that the mainframe seems to have with the younger generation. Most people don't know the mainframe very well. My peers told me I was crazy for going into this career. IBM is trying to get schools to teach this curriculum. It is a problem being worked on, but it's one of those that can't be solved in a week or a day or a year. How did you get involved in zNextGen?
It sort of began at Share in Boston, which was in August of 2005. They held a little get-together for younger people at a tavern, and that went so much better than people expected it to go. I got involved in it by participating in that. The next thing I knew they decided to make zNextGen a full-fledged project this year. They designated me as project manager, and I was happy to take on the job. Tell my why zNextGen is such a good thing.
As I'm sure you're aware, there's not exactly a flood of new mainframers coming into the business. The goal isn't to get people interested in mainframes necessarily, but for those getting into the mainframe, there wasn't a community for them to speak and reach out to. We're sort of there to encourage people to come to Share, to branch out in the mainframe community, use your resources out there, build a network of friends and mentors. We sort of have this goal to be the gateway for newcomers to the mainframe. What are some new, upcoming plans for the group?
We have plans to really work with projects to make sessions more beneficial to members. We also do have some things hopefully planned outside of the Share conference. I was just up in Poughkeepsie, [New York], for an IBM course, and we had a dinner event up there. Hopefully we'll do more of those.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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