A volunteer group of young mainframe professionals is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its formation at the SHARE conference in Boston this week.

In 2005, 30 participants met at a bar called Dillon's in Boston to kick off zNextGen, which is supported by IBM and SHARE. Today the group has more than 700 members representing 200 enterprise companies and 24 different countries.

To mark the milestone, "we're meeting at the very same place where we met five years ago," says Kristine Harper, 27, the project leader for zNextGen and a mainframe software developer at NEON Enterprise Software.

The mission of zNextGen is to provide an opportunity for newcomers to network with their peers, connect with mainframe veterans, and continue their education and professional development. The group is active on social networking sites including Facebook and LinkedIn, and members stay in touch through a forum hosted on SHARE's website and monthly teleconferences. The latest teleconference, for instance, included a live demonstration of RDz, IBM's next generation mainframe application development platform.

At this week's SHARE conference, zNextGen members can attend educational sessions tailored to their needs, as well as network and socialise with peers.

Founded in 1955, SHARE is an independent, volunteer-run association of IBM users. Its educational conferences cover a broad range of enterprise IT issues, but the group has a legacy of mainframe expertise. In a survey released at this year's show, SHARE's member organisations named the ageing of the enterprise IT profession as one of the top five issues they're facing.

The zNextGen group pays an important role in cultivating new talent, says Al Williams, president of SHARE.

"This is the way we think we're going to grow the next generation of IT professionals, not just mainframers. We're all on that bandwagon," Williams says. Looking at the attendees at SHARE's conferences, "we're beginning to see younger faces, more active faces, and maybe even a couple of younger candidates running for the board."

At this week's SHARE conference, Harper plans to attend sessions on technologies she uses in her daily job, such as IBM's Assembler language, IMS (Information Management System) and z/OS, plus a few unknowns. "It's always fun to go to a session on a topic you've never even heard of, to branch out and explore the mainframe even further," she says.