Evangelizing Mainframe
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IBM Master the Mainframe 2012: Students Strike Back

Don’t be alarmed. The frenzied clacking you’re going to hear on Oct. 1 is just the sound of thousands of college and high school students logging into an IBM System z mainframe in a mad rush to complete the challenges of the 2012 IBM Master the Mainframe Contest. Keyboards across North America are bracing themselves.

The contest gives students a chance to log-on remotely from their dorms, homes, computer labs, coffee shops and even their favorite mobile devices, picking up prizes and sought-after enterprise computing skills as they go.

Designed to attract new students to the platform, the contest is advertised as “no experience necessary.” Contestants begin by learning how to log on to a mainframe, following screen shots that walk them through what might be an unfamiliar new world (75 percent of last year’s contestants reported that the contest was their first hands-on experience with a mainframe). As students become more comfortable with navigating the system, the challenges increase in difficulty and the prizes get bigger, culminating in extremely difficult challenges that would stump even the most seasoned systems programmer.

Each year, the contest introduces new technology and software to the students to help expand their skill set. Rational Developer for System z, an Eclipse-based IDE, will continue to play an important role in 2012. For the first time this year, students will also get to play with the system monitoring capabilities of Tivoli OMEGAMON XE on z/OS, and will get to kick the tires of Linux on System z. All of this is in addition to new challenges that tackle a wide range of concepts, from systems programming to JCL, DB2, JAVA, DFSMS, UNIX, REXX and many other topics.

Above all else, the contest aims to give students a positive mainframe experience. When asked if they “found the contest to educational, enjoyable, both or neither,” in a survey during last year’s contest, 85 percent of respondents said “both,” while only 0.5 percent said “neither.” Once they enter the mainframe world, students like what they find.

This positivity is reflected in the growing number of competitors. The contest has grown for seven straight years, from 750 students in 2005 to 3,936 students in 2011. In their own words, here are some comments from students about their favorite aspects of the contest:

• How open it is to actual beginners
• The little bits of humor intermingled throughout the instructions
• The "that's pretty cool" moments
• Learning a new system and getting to interact with an actual mainframe
• The thrill of finishing up one challenge and moving on to another
• Extremely easy instructions to follow, fun and interactive
• The range of menu navigation that was used. I am currently taking a class that deals with mainframe programming and some of the information here was very useful to me.

The prizes for this year’s contest in the U.S. and Canada include expenses-paid trips to the IBM lab in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., ASUS Transformer Infinity Pad tablet computers, custom Master the Mainframe T-shirts. and a wide range of custom Master the Mainframe and IBM swag, including hoodie sweatshirts, messenger bags and memory sticks.

For the biggest prize of all, employers can connect with the best mainframe students in the world by posting jobs at no cost to the job board at Systemzjobs.com. IBM will be directing contestants there to look for opportunities in the enterprise computing industry.

For the latest news and announcements on the contest, visit the Master the Mainframe Facebook page. Students can register on the contest homepage. The contest runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28.

2012 continues to be a busy year for mainframe contests worldwide. Poland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have already completed contests this year. In the coming semester, IBM teams will also be running student mainframe contests in Brazil, India, China, United Kingdom, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Australia, Spain, Russia and Taiwan.

Since its inception in 2005, the contest has run in 33 countries, with more than 45,000 students participating.

For questions on any of the worldwide mainframe contests, contact the IBM Academic Initiative System z team.

Good luck to the thousands of students who will be Mastering the Mainframe this semester! Or maybe it’s the mainframe that will need the luck.

Mike Todd is the IBM Academic Initiative System z advisor.

Posted: 9/4/2012 4:06:45 AM by Mike Todd

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