Nahuel Tori

(Nahuel Tori, Argentina far right)

Versión española

A few days before Christmas…

I got an email announcing the results IBM Master the Mainframe Contest South America 2012.  With much anxiety I opened the mail , and I received the pleasant surprise that I was in the first place .  I really did not expect it , as it was a competition with many challenging tasks , and a large number of participants from throughout Latin America .

The day of the awards ceremony in the IBM building, I was also surprised to meet some acquaintances : the second place went to a fellow of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Buenos Aires , whom he had invited to the contest and talked to enroll.  I also met by another acquaintance , a former co-worker, who studies at NTU.  The world is very small, and even more so the Mainframe : you always reconnects with old friends .

VIP Treatment

The prize for getting first place , was on a trip to the IBM plant in Poughkeepsie , which was great.  The plant is huge, like a mini city, with facilities that manufacture integrally all the teams: from the manufacture of circuits and assembly; testing; commissioning; and delivery to customers.

What amazed me about the entire system is using cold water from the Hudson River.  Cold water enters through pipes throughout the facility cooling all kinds of equipment and facilities : operation mainframes, servers and Green Data Center.  I could see that all buildings had cold water pipes on hand, and under all floating floors had water connections to connect directly to computers.  It is noteworthy that this water is completely organic, as it is returned to the river without any alteration or modification, only a few degrees difference in temperature.  And it saves a lot of electricity on refrigeration equipment.

The Other Winners

In Poughkeepsie I found the winners from other countries : the top three U.S. and Canada , and the winner of Spain.  I noted also the great hospitality and friendliness of all IBM employees that greeted the winners, who devoted two days to teach us and tell us your tasks on the ground, and chat with us about current technology and all the doubts that we had about what they do .

I think it was a very enriching experience both for my career and for my life, since I was able to meet many interesting and important people in the industry and the professions, while sharing their culture and offer some of their own.

Thank you very much for the opportunity , and until we meet again !

In discussions on efforts to combat the impending mainframe skills shortage, programs such as the IBM Academic Initiative and the Master the Mainframe Contest typically play center stage.  The Millennial Mainframer team has already written about the positives and negatives in the design and execution of these programs, but as with most articles on these topics, we have largely hitherto neglected discussing one of the most critical determinants of the success of training and hiring new Millennial Mainframers: corporate partnerships.

Some quarters seem to have a “Field of Dreams” attitude towards mainframe education.  The thought is that if IBM creates new and fresh (and preferably free) mainframe training materials presented in a millennial-friendly way, then bright young minds will become Millennial Mainframers to take the place of retiring mainframers.  In other words, “if you build it, [they] will come.”

However, based on my experience designing an IBM Academic Initiative course, I’ve learned that this is a fallacious line of reasoning because universities are very sensitive to the utility of new courses they introduce, particularly those that are tied to specialized proprietary technologies, like the IBM mainframe. For a new course to be approved by a department chair, a certain number of students must sign up to generate enough tuition revenue to cover the expense of offering the course.  If insufficient students sign up, then the course is cancelled.  Because universities exist off student tuition, they are incented to offer the sorts of courses that students want to take.  The central thought problem with solving the mainframe skills shortage via the IBM Academic Initiative is therefore the following question:

Why would an eighteen to twenty-one year old student want to pursue coursework in mainframe technologies rather than courses in web design, mobile app development, etc.?

Based on the experiences of successful IBM Academic Initiative universities, the resounding answer to this question is that a certain type of college student chooses to study mainframe technologies when they perceive that graduates that have taken mainframe courses have achieved higher job placement rates and satisfaction than students that have pursued other specializations.  This means that the success of any mainframe training program is  100% tied to its ability to train and place students in high-paid technical positions at a rate that exceeds the career prospects of other technical specializations.  Absent external support, this is a tall order for an educator of any kind, particularly given the general ignorance about mainframe computing among millennials and Computer Science academics.

I therefore propose that the only way to ensure this sort of success is through deep partnership between training programs and the Fortune 1000 corporations that will ultimately need to hire Millennial Mainframers to keep their critical IT infrastructure running.  By demonstrating a high-level commitment to the mainframe for the foreseeable future and directly supporting mainframe courses and training programs through joint marketing, internships  / co-ops, and a commitment to hire graduates that complete these courses, leaders of the Fortune 1000 companies that depend on mainframes can shape the thinking of millennials and encourage them to consider becoming a Millennial Mainframer.

I recently learned that MetLife has done precisely that through their collaboration with the IBM Master the Mainframe Contest.  Much of this work has been spearheaded by a forward-thinking MetLife Vice President named David Ditillo.  Recognizing MetLife’s decision to build a technology center in Raleigh and the need to begin to build a pipeline of technology talent, David reached out to the IBM Academic Initiative to learn how MetLife could partner with IBM’s efforts to help ensure a consistent pipeline of Millennial Mainframers.

One of the results of this collaboration is the following video:

There are a number of remarkable aspects to this video which I think clearly demonstrate the fantastic job opportunities for new Millennial Mainframers at MetLife.  If you listened closely to this video, you learned the following:

  • The “Mainframe will continue to be the bedrock of technology at MetLife; the foundation on which innovation, technology, and business grows.”
  • “The Mainframe is a Powerhouse,” which suggests that “if you’re into power computing and IT, then the mainframe is the place that you need to be!”
  • MetLife envisions that technological excellence will be driven by “bringing together Mainframe and Emerging Technology and taking those solutions to places never though possible.”
  • “The mainframe is a dynamic platform… [that] IBM is evolving to be mainstream, for instance… [through] Java.”

Most importantly, David Ditillo expressed the thought that as “the future of technology,” the training and recruitment of Millennial Mainframers is critical to driving the next generation of innovators capable of synthesizing mainframe and emerging technologies into solutions to allow them to leapfrog over their competitors.  For this reason, David and the rest of the MetLife team “would love the opportunity to have you part of our MetLife family.”  Indeed, MetLife has already begun hiring Millennial Mainframers.  One of these was Natalie Chalco, a recent hire that explained her decision to join MetLife as follows:

“Right now MetLife Technology is undergoing a huge change.  They are… becom[ing] leading edge.  I have the opportunity to get my hands in.  Being new the field, it was a great opportunity to me.”

If you are interested in learning more about mainframe opportunities at MetLife, I would highly suggest checking out their synapse web site.  The design for the site is fantastic, and I highly approve of the way that they portray their mainframer:

metlife mainframer

The purpose of this article is to share some Master the Mainframe Tips for Success that I’ve learned through my experience competing in the past four contests.

A little about myself

When I was taking AP Computer Science at Gabrielino High School, my teacher Ms. Evelyn Torres-Rangel approached me and suggested that I consider participating in the IBM Master the Mainframe Contest. My first response was mild bewilderment. Like most millennials, I had never learned about mainframes before that time. If I didn’t really even know what a mainframe was, how could I possibly be experienced enough to compete against other students?

It was not until I visited the official website and saw the words “No Experience Necessary” that I felt more comfortable about participating in the contest. I eventually enrolled and competed in the contest, and in a way, I started an annual tradition that has continued on into my undergraduate studies at UC San Diego. This year will actually mark my fifth time participating in the Master the Mainframe Contest.

The reason that I keep coming back to this contest is the critical role that mainframes play in many large enterprises, organizations, and society at large. Because of their great computational power, mainframes enable business and organizations to process a large amount of transactions instantly. I suspect this is also one reason that mainframe developers are very well paid and well respected. Unfortunately, this importance seems to be lost on many schools or universities, as courses on mainframe topics are unavailable to most students. Nonetheless, the Master the Mainframe Contest is a fantastic way for students to overcome some of these obstacles and learn about the mainframe.

How to be successful at Master the Mainframe

Here comes the most exciting part for all the contestants out there. I will share some of my personal experiences and tips on competing in the Master the Mainframe Contest.

Part 1

The challenges for part 1 are very similar every year. To get ahead of the game, you may want to do the following before the contest starts:

  1. Download 3270 emulator: This is what you use to connect to the mainframe. Get the latest version from Tom Brennan Software. Please note that this is a 30-day trial. Before the contest starts, you will receive an email containing the license key. Alternatively, if you use a Mac, you may want to read Sean McBride’s post entitled “Mac 3270 Zen.”
  2. Connect to the mainframe: If you open up the emulator, you will see Host IP Name or Alias and IP Port. The IP varies from year to year, but the port usually is 623. Again, you will receive an email specifying the IP and port ahead of time. Try to connect to the mainframe once you have received the information. You should be able to see an ASCII art of z/OS.
  3. Know your user ID: You don’t want to spend your precious time on the day of the contest digging through your emails. Your user ID will be something like IBM####. On the day of the contest, use LOGON IBM#### to log on.
  4. Follow the instructions: To win the Master the Mainframe T-shirt, you have to complete this part 100% correctly, which means do exactly what the instructions say.

Hopefully with the tips above, you are able to resolve any technical difficulties ahead of time and complete challenge 1 and 2 without any problem.

Part 2

Part 2 is a little bit more challenging, but the prizes are much more attractive! Although no programming knowledge is required, it would definitely help!

  1. Be ready for lots of JCL: You will spend a great amount of time working with JCL (Job Control Language). You may want to review the basics, but there is no need to spend a lot of time learning it beforehand. I would suggest spending most of your time on other languages. See the tip below.
  2. Why not spend more time on JCL? This contest covers JCL very well. Most of the information it gives you will guide you through the contest. However, the materials you learn from an outside source might be different/more advanced. If you are new to this language, learning it beforehand might confuse you even more.
  3. Get familiar with C, Java, and SQL: In contrast, the contest teaches you only a portion of C, Java, and SQL. You may want to study these languages ahead of time. Even if you are not planning to be a mainframer, these are some essentials skills that will help you in your future career.
  4. Don’t rush through it: Advanced programmers tend to rush through part 2 in one day, hoping to be the first 60 contestants to submit their work and get the awesome prizes. But to win the prizes, you not only need to be fast, you need to be 100% accurate. I would suggest taking your time and reviewing all your works before submitting.

Part 3

Part 3 is the most intensive part of the contest. You will have a couple of months to work on it. Unfortunately, this part is very different every year, so I don’t have any specific tips to share. One general rule is: apply the skills you have learned from the previous challenges. Below are the topics covered in the U.S. & Canada 2012 Contest:

  1. Job Control Language (JCL)
  2. TSO, ISPF and SDSF
  3. Systems programming fundamentals
  4. Advanced systems programming
  5. System utilities, system commands, system log and system catalog
  6. Collecting and reporting information about the z/OS environment
  7. Optional (but encouraged!): Rational Developer for System z, an Eclipse-based IDE for System z

Conclusion

So those are the tips and suggestions that I’ve learned over my past contests. If you are a Master the Mainframe veteran and have other suggestions for new contest participants, please post them as a comment below! If you are a student considering enrolling in the contest, please feel free to ask me or other Millennial Mainframers questions below or in the Millennial Mainframer activity feed.

Over the next few weeks, IBM will update the official IBM Master the Mainframe – North America page with 2013 contest information and open up registration.  If you end up having any issues getting started with the contest, please feel free to post your problem in the Millennial Mainframer – Master the Mainframe Forum.

Good Luck!