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Mainframes Are Still Around, but Expertise Is Becoming Scarce

Consultant Orr, who has spent 40 years in the tech sector as a practitioner and an academic, said he sees offices with increasingly "schizophrenic" divisions of labor, where gray-haired workers handle COBOL and new arrivals take on the fresher tasks.

"In some cases, older people are clinging to mainframes like they're a lifeboat," says Orr. "There's a whole set of very important technologies for which there is no new blood and no huge investment."

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Meantime, mainframe addicts have banded together in groups such as the Network and Systems Professionals Association Inc. (www.naspa.com) and Share, a Chicago-based association devoted to education and networking for folks who use IBM technology (www.share.org).

And those mainframers currently in the hunt for work might try America's Job Bank (www.ajb.org), a source of government and federal contractor job listings operated by the Labor Department. Local programs such as the Northern Virginia Regional Partnership (www.nvrp.org) and MetroTech (www.metrotechitjobs.com) offer training and retraining in fresher skills to people with an interest in technology.

Instant Reply

In response to a recent column about restrictive severance agreements in the high-tech sector, reader Gloria Federico writes to share her surprise upon receiving such an agreement along with a pink slip from a Virginia start-up firm last month. The agreement required workers to promise not to sue the company in the future and to say they had not not been coerced into accepting the terms.

"When employees are abruptly laid off from a thriving company 10 days after Christmas, how can any agreement where the employee must waive rights in return for severance money not be considered coercive?" asks Federico, of Lovettsville, Va.

Two techies wrote to address a column last week on NetSlaves.com, an irreverent Web site targeted to workers with beefs against technology employers. One called the site therapeutic and said it provides more evidence that "throughout time, in any era, in any job description, there have been people who have suffered at the manipulation of their particular market."

Send tips, gripes and your impressions on punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at johnsonca@washpost.com.

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