How Can I Become a Mainframe System Programmer?

Research what it takes to become a mainframe system programmer. Learn about training and education requirements, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Computer Programming degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Mainframe System Programmer?

Mainframe programmers develop and maintain applications for mainframe computers. They write and test code to ensure that the applications will run successfully, and know how to search for coding mistakes to solve a malfunctioning application. They might also update or add to existing applications that are becoming out of date. Many work alongside software developers. The following chart provides an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Computer information systems, software development
Key Responsibilities Develop new programs that run on large computer systems, modify or adapt existing applications, fix bugs and perform other maintenance tasks on the existing code base
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% decline (for all computer programmers)
Median Salary (2017)** $78,166

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **

What Training Options are Available for Mainframe System Programmers?

You can find associate's degree programs in computer information systems or software development that will include courses in mainframe programming or even a mainframe programming emphasis. Bachelor's degree programs in computer science or management information systems may also touch on mainframe programming, but typically engage a wider range of computing topics. COBOL is the primarily language covered in mainframe-related programming courses, as well as CICS, MVS and DB2.

Where Do Professionals Work?

Your employment prospects are uncertain. According to Data Center Journal (, companies continue to migrate away from mainframes for cost efficiency reasons. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( doesn't offer projections for mainframe programmers specifically, and foresees an 8% decline in employment of computer programmers as a broad category from 2014 to 2024.

However, according to, large organizations that process a huge volume of data - financial institutions, insurance companies, healthcare providers and government agencies - remain committed to mainframes and are having difficulty finding qualified replacements for retiring programmers and specialists.

What Will I Do During the Workday?

You may develop new programs that run on large computer systems, modify or adapt existing applications to new purposes or fix bugs and perform other maintenance tasks on the existing code base. Development of new applications is typically a team effort in which you, other programmers and prospective users work out a program's specifications and create diagrams and flowcharts that provide a map for its implementation. You would then write, test and debug the program's code. Adapting an existing application is a similar collaborative process. Maintenance entails a line-by-line examination of code for errors. Because IBM controls the majority of what remains of the mainframe market, you will do most of your work on IBM systems.

What Could I Expect to Earn?

Figures for May 2015 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that all computer programmers earned a median salary of $79,530. The 10th to 90th percentile range of income was $44,450 to $130,800. Computer programmers working in the securities and commodity contracts intermediation and brokerage industry made the highest incomes. According to mainframe systems programmers in particular earn a median salary of $78,166 as of January 2017.

What Are Some Alternative Related Careers?

Software developers might also work with mainframe systems. They develop systems and application software in order for computers to run specific tasks. IT managers are in charge of all computer-related activities within an organization. They decide which programs are most appropriate for the goals of the organization. Both of these careers also require a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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