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Mastering Challenges

Former Master the Mainframe World Championship contestant shows how far the contest reaches

11/4/2015 12:30:40 AM | Journey back in time to 2003, when IBM first formulated its Academic Initiative program with the goal of educating and inspiring the next generation of IT students and enthusiasts regarding the wider spectrum of IBM servers—in particular, the mainframe.

That Academic Initiative has since evolved and transformed to include all manner of IT areas, including open source, cloud and, of course, all the available contemporary IBM technologies.

An important part of the Academic Initiative remains the Master the Mainframe contest, the first of which was conducted 10 years ago in the fall of 2005, in an early effort to introduce the IBM mainframe into academic environments and revitalize awareness of the server platform.

The mainframe remains the backbone of many of today's largest business enterprises, spanning almost every conceivable industry segment, which is why it's imperative to raise awareness and entice new IT talent into a mainframe world that quietly remains an indispensable computing platform responsible for the seamless functioning of today's technology-saturated world. To gain an appreciation of the industry segments reliant on the mainframe, you only have to look at the list of businesses that support the Master the Mainframe contest, which includes a who's who list of enterprises in the financial sector alone.

The original early Master the Mainframe contests almost exclusively involved students who attended North American high schools and universities. Now the Master the Mainframe contest includes competitors from around the world. Further, the contest now features a Master the Mainframe World Championships, where top winners come together in a competition that strenuously tests even the most confident and talented mainframe students.

Thirst for Learning

Abhra Dasgupta is one competitor who took part in the Master the Mainframe World Championships in 2014, where he quickly learned that the competition at the world-class mainframe level is not something to take lightly.

“The main difference was the competition,” Dasgupta says. “During the world finals, everyone was already a winner.”

And Dasgupta, 24, was definitely a mainframe and technology veteran winner in his own right. He says computer science was a major source of interest for him from a young age, and by age 15 he had decided to find a way to make a living in IT. The first coding language he learned was C++, and his thirst for IT learning just kept skyrocketing from there.

As a bachelor of engineering student attending Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur, India, he placed second in the 2012 national level Master the Mainframe contest in India, where he first became introduced to the mainframe world. As is often the case in today's world, social media was the catalyst that sparked his interest.

“One of my friends made a Facebook post about the Master the Mainframe contest India,” he says. “I like competing and solving new challenges, so I obviously decided to check it out. This was my first time learning about the mainframe. I really enjoyed the contest and was happy to learn something new.”

Continued Challenge

In 2013, Dasgupta started pursuing his master’s degree in technology at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, where the allure of the Master the Mainframe contest—with its associated rewards and prizes—followed. He competed in the India Master the Mainframe contest, surpassing his former effort and finishing in first place, earning himself the opportunity to take part in the 2014 Master the Mainframe World Championships.

“The continuing challenges were the best part of the contest, as they make things interesting,” said Dasgupta. “The whole thing was totally new to me, so understanding how things work was the main challenge. Once I became acquainted with things, I just kept going with the flow. Even though I had no real knowledge about the mainframe, the contest was so beautifully structured, I could learn as well as win the contest.”

Having completed the challenge of the Master the Mainframe World Championships, Dasgupta focused his attention on obtaining his master’s, which he earned this year. He's now juggling the demands of an early career, working for OLA-Cabs—which can be considered a sort of alternative to Uber in India—as well as working to establish a start-up business with his friends.

Unfortunately, neither business entails working with mainframes, or provides an opportunity for him to use his mainframe knowledge in general, but Dasgupta says he's optimistic that he'll find himself immersed in the mainframe world sometime in the future. He says he now has a deep appreciation for the mainframe, a computing platform he scarcely knew existed before learning about the Master the Mainframe contest.

“When I started competing for the first time, I had no idea what a mainframe even was and how much it impacts us on a daily basis,” Dasgupta notes. “As I learned more and more about it, I found it to be really awesome. Everyone in IT should at least once get to know about the how and what of the mainframe. Regarding Master the Mainframe, I would suggest that students just have patience and carry on with the flow of the contest, which is so beautifully designed, you can learn and win great at the same time.”

For a contest that was created specifically to advance awareness and education about the mainframe, it's hard to imagine a greater endorsement than that.

More Information

Find out more about the Master the Mainframe contest going on now in most locations.

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