This afternoon I had the absolute joy and honor of presiding over the graduation of our first Step it Up America class at Fiserv.
For those not in the know, Step it Up America is a program that reaches out to Veterans and offers them a chance at pivoting from their current jobs and circumstances into Information Systems and Computer Science careers. It is an absolutely amazing program centered around some amazing people.
Our program centered around Mainframe Operations and Mainframe Systems Programming. For the young men and women who were in the class, it was a rigorous 20+ week hands-on course. This program is not for the faint of heart. It requires a real dedication and commitment. The class was held every day at our Terrell Mill Technology campus from 8am to 5pm. There was homework each night, and of course travel times to and from the campus which in Atlanta traffic is a real commitment unto itself. There were tests they had to pass, skill-sets they had to demonstrate, and it required great focus and attention to ensure that those who were to graduate really meant it. They pay off? Guaranteed, well paying jobs on our mainframe teams and the rocket-lauch start of an amazing future for each of them.
I was able to personally witness an incredible transformation of these students every day as I watched and interacted with them as the program developed. From not knowing anything about the technology at all, to coming out with specialties in Mainframe security, Capacity Planning, Automation, and more. These folks poured their hearts and souls into personal transformations and it was absolutely wonderful to watch and experience. Over these past weeks I was able to spend time with them in the kitchen, breaking bread, joke, laugh, and somewhere in between have quite a few serious conversations about futures as well. We brought in people from across the company to share wisdom, knowledge on how the business worked, and give them access to the best that we had to offer. Because knowing the technology alone is not enough. Its also important to understand the business.
Finding Mainframe talent in the wild is getting harder and harder to do. Schools no longer teach it, college kids want to focus on newer technologies, and the existing workforce is beginning to dwindle as retirement looms. The challenge of course is that in many financial institutions, healthcare companies, and beyond – Mainframes are at the core of some extremely large processing and I would venture to say are the primary technology mechanism that moves money around the world. The rare-ifed air nature of it all, means that people with those skill sets are in high demand when they do become available. For us, this was a great fit to bring in younger and motivated folks into an area where salaries and the future are only headed upwards. In other words, a pretty significant career.
Inevitably there will be some jack-wad reading this post who will get all high an mighty about how we should have taught them Go, or Python, or Linux or whatever. That Mainframes are dead. While those are great skills to learn – and I encouraged those students to continue to expand their knowledge in all areas, the truth is I can get those skills by the bucket-load from just about any university in the country. Finding Mainframe people? Much harder… and their pay and our commitment will be equally rewarding as a result.
As veterans, they are in my mind, heroes and courageous from the start. They were willing to place their lives in the service of others which few opt to choose. This program and their innate courage allowed them to once again pivot into a scary set of life choices. The difference being that this time they were betting on themselves.
Watching the entire graduation ceremony and seeing the excitement in their eyes, looking out over their families who were in attendance who beamed with pride, and feeling the nervous energy of new beginnings it was hard for me not to get choked up. I choked up even more when they gave me an award and then I just about lost it when students began sharing their own personal journeys to get to this day.
I am pretty sure that I came off like an incoherent dork in my speech. I kept getting caught up in the stories of each of these individuals and the future chapters that have just opened up for themselves. I am so very proud of these folks. The mission, dedication, and passion they exhibited was palpable.
To look into their eyes it was hard not to see the fires of their passion lighting up some very bright futures.
Today was a pretty great day.