Nahuel Tori

(Nahuel Tori está en el extremo derecho)

English version

Unos días antes de Navidad…

Me llegó un mail de IBM anunciando los resultados del concurso Master the Mainframe Sudamérica 2012. Con mucha ansiedad abrí el mail, y recibí la grata sorpresa de que había terminado en el primer puesto. Realmente no lo esperaba, ya que fue un concurso con muchas tareas desafiantes, y una gran cantidad de participantes de toda latinoamérica.
El día de la entrega de premios en el edificio de IBM, también me sorprendí al encontrarme con algunos conocidos: el segundo lugar en fue para un compañero de la facultad de Ingeniería de la UBA, al cual había invitado al concurso y charlamos al inscribirnos. También me encontré con otro conocido, un ex-compañero de trabajo, quien estudia en la UTN. El mundo de sistemas es muy chico, y más todavía el de Mainframe: uno siempre se vuelve a encontrar con viejos compañeros.

El tratamiento “VIP”

El premio por obtener el primer lugar, consistía en un viaje a la planta de IBM en Poughkeepsie, el cual estuvo estupendo. La planta es enorme, como una mini ciudad, que posee instalaciones donde se fabrican integralmente todos los equipos: desde la confección de los circuitos y ensamble, hasta el testeo, puesta a punto y envío a los clientes. Lo que más me asombró de toda la instalación, es el aprovechamiento que realizan del agua fría del río Hudson: a través de tuberías se ingresa el agua fría a las instalaciones, la cual se utiliza para refrigerar todo tipo de equipos e instalaciones: funcionamiento de los mainframes, servidores y un Green Data Center. Pude apreciar que todos los edificios contaban con cañerías con agua fría a disposición, y debajo de todos los pisos flotantes había conexiones de agua para conectar directamente a los equipos. Es de resaltar que esta utilización del agua es totalmente ecológica, ya que es devuelta al río sin ninguna alteración ni modificación, apenas unos grados de diferencia de temperatura. Y además permite ahorrar mucha electricidad en equipos de refrigeración.

Los otros ganadores

En Poughkeepsie me encontré con los ganadores del concurso de otros países: los tres primeros puestos de EEUU y Canadá, y el ganador de España. Quiero destacar también la gran hospitalidad y amabilidad de todos los empleados de IBM con que nos recibieron a los ganadores, quienes dedicaron dos días a enseñarnos y contarnos sus tareas en la planta, y charlar con nosotros sobre la tecnología actual y todas las dudas que tuviésemos sobre lo que hacen.
Creo que fue una experiencia muy enriquecedora tanto para mi carrera profesional como para mi vida, ya que pude conocer a muchas personas importantes e interesantes de la industria y sus profesiones, a la vez que compartir su cultura y ofrecer un poco de la propia.

 

Muchas gracias por la oportunidad, y hasta el próximo encuentro!

 
 

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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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!