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Help! I'm bored with mainframes

Hi Jon,
I'm a mainframe programmer (COBOL/Assembler/CICS) wishing to break into another platform. I'm finding that after spending almost six years in mainframe programming, I am not growing and I feel like I'm getting "left behind" by my peers in the Web technologies. Last week, I listened to an interoperability talk and could only understand less than half of what was being discussed -- XML and J2EE terms of which I have no exposure whatsoever. Why I was even at that talk was out of curiosity and/or boredom. My user group tells me that since SAP people are in demand, I should try SAP to break free from mainframe. I've contacted a SAP account manager about taking up a tech course. Which would you recommend as a first step -- ABAP or NetWeaver?

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I have already addressed an ABAP versus NetWeaver question in this batch of answers, so if you scroll through you'll see that one, and read that I am more enthusiastic about NetWeaver development with web and Java-based tools than I am about ABAP -- though it never hurts to get some ABAP skills together also.

But let me address your other question, which is your desire to move on from mainframe programming. I think that's a good idea. You definitely want to learn Web-based programming techniques, which is yet another reason to focus more on NetWeaver than ABAP. The nice thing about pursuing SAP for you is that many SAP customers still "port" data and information from legacy systems, sometimes directly to the Web. What you want to do is find these larger companies that are using mainframes as part of a heterogeneous, web-facing enterprise system. Those companies might find your current mainframe programming skills appealing, and be willing to train you in Web-based programming as well as SAP-related programming. I do think that SAP users would be good for you to target, but in the final analysis, breaking into SAP is less important for you than getting out of the mainframe programming business. It's fine to continue to draw on your mainframe-related skills, but you don't want them to be the only tool in your toolkit going forward.

This was first published in May 2005

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