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IBM Competitions Ask Students to Master the Mainframe

Despite the fact that mainframes are about to celebrate their 50th birthday, they aren't going away any time soon. And that's why IBM has expanded its "Master the Mainframe Contest" to include a world championship designed to entice young people to consider learning more about workings of these general-purpose, very large, very fast servers.

The annual Master the Mainframe contest has drawn 68,000 high school and university students since its launch in 2005. Current participants must attend schools that are part of IBM's Academic Initiative, which provides institutions with curriculum and software for teaching their students computer science, information technology and related subjects. Contestants don't need mainframe experience; students build their knowledge as they move along in the competition. Those who competed in 2013 had the opportunity to win Google Nexus 10 tablets, branded clothes and accessories, and trips to IBM's mainframe lab in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Top students from the previous events have been invited to join in on the world championship. The latest iteration will offer 15 preliminary challenges, such as deploying business applications written with Java and COBOL using DB2 for z/OS APIs. Students will participate in those activities remotely with an online leaderboard tracking their progress. Thirty finalists pulled from these early contests will travel from their home countries to New York City in time for the anniversary of IBM's System/360 mainframe, the first computing machine that could be upgraded and used for multiple purposes within the enterprise.

Students attending the special event will work in teams on a "grand finale challenge." The efforts will be evaluated by a "distinguished panel of judges," according to the company. One student will be named the "Master of the Mainframe World Champion."

Representing the United States will be Mugdha Kadam from the University of Florida, who is currently seeking a position as a mainframe business or systems analyst; Elton Cheng, a third year bioengineering major at the University of California, San Diego; and Rudolfs Dambis a student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

"The Master the Mainframe Contest is a great way to get the millennial generation excited about enterprise computing," said Martin Kennedy, managing director, global enterprise systems, Citi. "I've been following the contest for a number of years and have made successful hires from both IBM's Master the Mainframe Contest as well as their System z Academic Initiative program. I envision a World Championship such as this generating momentum in academia and making educators take a second look at the mainframe in enterprise computing."

Dontrell Harris, a previous contestant, said his involvement resulted in an internship. "The Master the Mainframe Contest opened many doors for me... I was able to translate my knowledge of the mainframe and evolution of key computing workloads into a successful internship experience and hope to parlay those 'in demand' skills into a career upon graduation."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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