Greetings fellow Mainframers! My name is Dontrell Harris, a Senior Information Technology Major at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, NC and successful applicant of the Master the Mainframe contest.  I first would like to thank both old and new visitors for visiting the blog, and would like to extend a special thanks to Sean McBride for inviting me to participate in blogging with such an exclusive group of individuals. It is more than an honor to be able to share my experience, ideas, and opinions with you all.

Dontrell_Harris

For those unfamiliar with “Master the Mainframe”, it is an annual contest hosted by IBM Academic Initiative System z.  It comprises of 3 separate parts, Easy, Medium, and Hard if you will, with each part consisting of challenges that gain in difficulty and complexity as you progress.  It is typically scheduled to run from early October to late December. The contest is intended to provide students, high school and college, the opportunity to work with mainframes, an opportunity that many are not able to experience. The contest is designed for participants who are both familiar with mainframe technologies and also for those who have never seen or heard about a mainframe at all. This is where my story begins.

My Story

In the Fall of 2012, I began my junior year at North Carolina A&T State University with a goal of obtaining my first internship after starting my collegiate career very shaky. I had GPA issues that I knew I could not and WOULD NOT let define my true character and knowledge level.

That semester, I enrolled into the Intro to Mainframe Operations course, a newly offered course to the program. The course was being offered for only the second time when I took it. My school is very fortunate to have a mainframe, System z9 to be exact, on campus, which was supposed to host much of the curriculum for the course. Unfortunately, the coursework did not start because of network complications until the middle of October, a couple of weeks after I started my “Quest” with the Master the Mainframe (MtM) contest.

On October 1, 2012, IBM opened the contest up to the 4700+ registrants, including myself, and I was immediately HOOKED! 

Part 1 gave the participants an initial walk-through of how to navigate through the mainframe and the ISPF panels with the use of a terminal emulator client. It was all so new to me, but I thought it was extremely COOL from the start.

Part 1 was given the completion time of 1 hour… I did it in 15 minutes. From that point, I spent countless hours working on the contest, despite how difficult some parts were. There were some nights where I would stay up to 5:00 am in the clubhouse of my apartment (I had no internet in my apartment) just to complete as many challenges as possible.

When I arrived to Part 3, most of my sleepless nights were result of me trying to overcome just one individual challenge. By the way, Part 3 of the contest is equivalent to a Real World experience that someone with an actual career would face. There was a particular challenge in Part 3 that had me stumped for over 5 days. Needless to say though, I defeated that pesky challenge. As matter of fact, after all those sleepless nights and countless hours of working on the contest, I finished the contest in its entirety in exactly One Month and a Day (November 2, 2012).

Finishing the contest helped me establish a confidence within myself and abilities that was never there before. I felt proud of my accomplishments, but did not understand the importance or significance of achievement.

Of the 4700+ participants in the contest, I was only 1 of 28 to complete the contest in the entire Nation, and the ONLY and FIRST participant in North Carolina to complete the contest as well.

Those accomplishments helped me grasp my career choices and also began to open major doors for me.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to intern with IBM in RTP, NC as part of the z/OS Communications Server team as a software/network tester and also become a recipient of a System z scholarship.  Though I was not a Top 5 winner this year in the contest, I truly feel that I am still a winner with all of the available opportunities and awards that have been presented to me. It has truly changed my life in many aspects.

Master the Mainframe Tips

Even though no Mainframe experience is necessary for the Master the Mainframe contest, some skills will be needed in order to complete the contest in its entirety.  You will have to have some programming knowledge and maybe even a few networking skills, but nothing too major.

The biggest tip that I can offer is just to have the willingness to DOPatience, and that “DON’T QUIT” attitude! There were plenty of times where I felt that I just could not go on in the contest because something became very hard, but I just kept pushing myself and working towards solving whatever problem it was that I was facing, and surely I defeated the obstacle.

Just like with any problem, there is a solution… you just have to figure it out!

Seize the Opportunity…

 MtM Contest is the perfect opportunity for students who are still searching for their “niche” or just someone who loves technology, but just unsure what direction they want to go with it.  I truly believe that it is more than worthwhile for college students to learn this technology.  The demand for students with mainframe-related knowledge has never been higher and the opportunities for challenging and fulfilling careers have not either.  The beauty of it all, in my opinion, is that no matter what technology based skill-set one may possess, it can be utilized within the mainframe environment.

For those students who love programming or building databases, guess what… There is a Career for YOU within the Mainframe environment!

I personally aspire to one day become a Technical Consultant, particularly in mainframe technologies.  I am fascinated with the endless solutions that the technology is able to provide to business clients…a lot solutions that clients will never realize that they need. I am just grateful that with Master the Mainframe, I am able to NOW have career aspiration to work towards.

(*** Please follow me at mainframemindedaggie ****)

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