With the 2014 iteration of the Master the Mainframe contest
underway and running through Dec. 31, the clock is ticking to enter in the mainframe contest phenomenon that’s growing larger every year.
To underscore the prestige—Master the Mainframe swag—that accommodates competing and the glory—tablet computer and trip to New York—that goes along with winning the contest entirely, Destination z touched based with the 2013 winner, Mugdha Kadam.
As with many Master the Mainframe contestants, Kadam was no stranger to the mainframe, having worked in her native India for five years as a mainframe developer and business analyst for Accenture. Following that, Kadam enrolled in the University of South Florida, where she graduated this year with a master’s degree in management information systems. Clearly, her interest and expertise working in mainframe environments preceded her foray into the contest.
“One thing that got me interested in mainframe technologies was the need for critical logical thinking in mainframe programming,” says Kadam. “Technologies and languages like JCL, COBOL, DB2 and others are very challenging, and the more I learned about them, the more I was attracted to its programming. How the data is passed between the various data sets as well as the various file handling techniques helped me learn more about data analysis.”
That curiosity and thirst for technological challenges went a long way to driving her interest in the IBM Academic Initiative and, by extension, the Master the Mainframe contest, which she says provided her with an excellent opportunity to test herself individually, but also see how her skills and expertise matched with others challenging themselves in the mainframe space.
And Kadam has pretty high praise for her experience working her way through the three-tiered contest. From a professional and career perspective, she says her exposure to the Academic Initiative in general and the contest in particular sets her apart when it comes to impressing potential employees. Whereas five years of experience working for Accenture gave her on-the-job mainframe experience employers would recognize, she says mainframe companies increasingly recognize Master the Mainframe contestants as some of the best mainframe students entering the industry today.
“Taking part in the Master the Mainframe contest was one of the wisest things I’ve done,” says Kadam. “Knowingly or unknowingly, this contest tested my knowledge of mainframes technologies while at the same time helped me gain knowledge of so many new aspects of it that I was never exposed to. Working with different types of operating systems helped me obtain the architectural knowledge of how data can be passed in and out of multiple systems. Each challenge was a test which brought anxiety, determination and a lot of happiness when I thought I had completed the task.”
She must deal well with a combination of anxiety, determination and happiness, because Kadam went on to win the national flavor of the 2013 Master the Mainframe contest out of a U.S. and Canadian field of 5,600 competitors—making her the first female to win the contest—and earning herself a place within the 40 competitor field of the first Master the Mainframe World Championship, where she placed fourth.
Kadam says the additional achievements she obtained through the two Master the Mainframe events served to really boost her confidence—as if such a boost was even necessary—and all of it considerably increased her visibility when it comes to the competitive mainframe employment space, which she insists is as necessary and vibrant as ever.
“I think it would be very difficult to replace mainframes in the near future,” Kadam notes. “In my experience, I’ve seen all the financial companies, aviation companies and many healthcare and insurance companies who have been in the market for years, and they all have their base code in mainframes, where billions of transactions flow through every day. I do not think replacing this kind of infrastructure with any new technology is possible in the near future, at least not until I grow old in my working years.”
As for getting older in the working years, Kadam also points out that many mainframe experts and subject matter experts in the field are eyeing retirement and are eager to train and teach their replacements, thus ensuring continued mainframe employment and companies investing further in mainframe technologies and mainframe professionals.
For her part, Kadam currently works as a business analyst at Tampa-based HealthPlan Services, although she says her mainframe knowledge base—which continues to grow—means she should be able to transition into other mainframe roles as the need arises.
“If anyone wants to grow professionally in big IT firms, their base knowledge about mainframes is going to help them flourish in whichever role they intend to grow in future.”