Mainframe Future is Bright

What people want in a career has remained fundamentally unchanged for the last 50 years. In a Gallup poll of workforce trends, pay remains the number one consideration. Additionally, people want work-life balance, job stability, interesting work, and opportunities for growth.

Fortunately, a career in mainframe technology offers it all.

Mainframe Market Projections

According to Allied Market Research, the global mainframe market was valued at $2.9 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $5.6 billion by 2032.

North America dominated the mainframe market in 2022, thanks to financial and retail industries spending more on mainframes to support growing online transactions. But the Asia-Pacific segment is expected to see the highest growth in the next few years, arising from mobile and credit card transactions in China and India.

What else is driving increasing mainframe use? The internet of things (IoT). Connected devices across healthcare, retail, and production require real-time data updates. Each of these unique updates consists of data accesses, database storage, and various computing cycles, which can increase by 20x or 100x depending on the operations performed. 

All these factors demand high-end computing and fast processing, which is solvable by – you guessed it – mainframes.

While the mainframe industry isn’t exactly recession-proof, it’s close. 

Mainframe Job Market

Computer and IT jobs continue to outperform other fields in terms of IT salaries and growth. Some jobs are projected to grow as much as 32% from 2022 to 2032, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Planet Mainframe fielded a student survey at the UK GSE conference in the fall of 2023. In it, 65% of respondents said they anticipate mainframe technology to increase in use and relevancy. They’re right.

Nearly three-quarters of business and IT executives believe mainframes have long-term viability in their organization, and more than 90% expect to expand their mainframe footprint. An Allied report suggests that the mainframe might actually become more relevant in the years ahead. 

In a Forrester predictions piece, nearly 90% of professionals working in enterprise computing agreed that the job market for professionals with their skill set is growing. Additionally, 75% believe there is a shortage of their skills.

While new growth is exciting, mainframes already serve as the backbone of large-scale enterprises. Existing servers performing admirably today still require new employees to maintain them and keep up with the latest trends and technologies. 

Mainframe Job Opportunities

When the UK GSE students ranked their top reasons for considering a career in mainframes, they put career opportunities first. 

There’s not an agreed-on number for how many jobs support mainframes. Career expert company Zippia says there are over 20,087 mainframe operators currently employed in the United States. Another source suggests that enterprise computing careers comprise the bulk of four million computer and information technology jobs. 

A January 2024 ZipRecruiter search returned 10,294 open enterprise computing jobs in the United States.

Mainframe-related roles cover a broad spectrum of positions, including system administrators, database administrators, mainframe developers, security analysts, and performance analysts. There are also roles in areas like mainframe testing, DevOps, and cloud integration. 

The demand for mainframe skills is not limited to a specific geographic region. Plus, the pandemic accelerated the acceptance of remote work, and this trend extends to mainframe-related roles.

Mainframe Salaries

Generally, professionals in the computing and technology field earn a median annual salary of  $91,000 annually – more than double the US national median salary of around $42,000 annually.

The rules of supply and demand come into play here. High demand drives the need for mainframe skills, but there is a low supply of skilled professionals as employees retire. As a result, a career in mainframe technology can be quite lucrative.

The median mainframe programmer salary skyrocketed to $112,558 in 2024, according to ZipRecruiter. That’s about $40,000 higher than the median salary for computer programmers in general.

Computer hardware engineers – excluding program developers and web developers – earn an average annual wage of $140,830, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

COBOL programmers are another in-demand position, and arguably one of the most difficult roles to find and fill.

Table: Average COBOL Programmer Salary

SourceLow-end Annual SalaryHigh-end Annual Salary
Salary.com$72,756$91,270
Zippia$63,000$112,000
Payscale$49,000$99,000
ZipRecruiter$84,000$198,500

Payscale: COBOL Programmer Salary in 2024 | PayScale
Salary.com:COBOL Programmer Salary | Salary.com
Zippia: Cobol Programmer Salary (January 2024) – Zippia
ZipRecruiter: Cobol Programmer Salary: Hourly Rate January 2024 USA (ziprecruiter.com)

Is Cloud a Career Snuffer?

Are there any concerns about a mainframe career? Students in the UK GSE survey said their greatest concern is that their skills will become obsolete as Cloud and distributed systems grow.

And yet, as a Deloitte report states, no matter how attractive Cloud platforms become, the mainframe continues to offer a compelling value proposition. Mainframes successfully host applications that can’t be moved to the Cloud because it would be either too cost-prohibitive to refactor applications, or it’s too risky. Culturally, businesses that use mainframes are notoriously risk-averse. 

Instead of being a possible negative, the Cloud instead creates a new career opportunity. Professionals with skills in mainframe modernization, cloud integration, and hybrid computing are in demand.

Mainframe Careers – A Bright Future

AI, IoT, and Machine Learning may be the popular kids, but they can’t do anything without the processing power of mainframes. Infrastructure has never been sexy, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. 

The UK GSE student survey respondents believe that working with mainframes would offer more job opportunities, more unique skills, and better pay compared to other IT careers. The data supports this.

In a world where technological disruptions are commonplace, the mainframe industry remains a bedrock of stability, offering professionals a secure and enduring career path.

Are you an aspiring mainframe professional?
Learn more about how to grow your mainframe skills in this article.

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