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Master the Mainframe Contest Looks Ahead to Growth After Record-Setting Year

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:24 PM


After the record-setting 2017 Master the Mainframe contest, planning for the 2018 competition is already in progress. Though it’s too soon to reveal any details, it’s going to keep growing, says Troy Crutcher, Master the Mainframe program manager, IBM Academic Initiative for IBM Z. “We’re going to keep gaining awareness for the mainframe. That’s our goal here: to create awareness and get skills for these students.”

A boost in recognition among students was apparent in the 17,000 registrations spanning 126 countries and over 2,000 schools worldwide in 2017, compared with 2016’s 11,000 registrations. “Many students still don’t even know what the mainframe is, so to hit 17,000 people and let them know the mainframe is still alive and vital is amazing,” Crutcher says.

What Is the Master the Mainframe Contest? 

Master the Mainframe is a virtual, no-experience-necessary contest available at no cost to students age 13 or older. It consists of three parts of increasing difficulty, which students must complete from September to December. Parts one and two are based on speed and accuracy, and the final portion is based on creativity and problem-solving abilities when faced with a real-world challenge. Judging takes place in January, with winners announced in March. “We look at every single one,” Crutcher says. “It’s a subjective challenge at the end, so we want to look for students who really stand out.”

In part one, students are introduced to the mainframe and learn how to get acclimated to new computing environments. Part two builds on that knowledge, delivering approximately 15 different challenges that change year to year based on IBM client input, ranging from RACF to assembly languages to database administration knowledge. “We stay consistent with market trends and the mainframe technology that our clients want students to be exposed to,” Crutcher says.

The competition operates on a fully global scale thanks to a partnership with Angel Hack, who runs the contest. IBM sponsors it and completes the behind-the-scenes work, Crutcher explains. First- and second-place winners are selected from six regions (North America, Latin America, South Asia, APAC, MEA and Europe), and after another round of judging, three are named the overall winners.

The top two individuals from each region received a $2,750 travel stipend to visit the head IBM office in their region to meet with key executives and recruiters on their project. Each winning individual receives a “Master the Mainframe Global Winner” hoodie, and the top three overall winners also receive an HTC Vive.

A Word From the 2017 Master the Mainframe Winners 

In another first for the competition, a female student landed a top spot. University of North Texas student Anna McKee not only placed first for North America, but she was also one of the top three global winners. “It’s pretty amazing to be the first female; it’s something I feel really proud of,” McKee says. “This competition has helped me learn skills I will take with me for the rest of my life, and it showed me that if I put my mind to something, I really can achieve almost anything that I want.”

The two overall winners who joined McKee were Sebastian Wind, a master’s student at the University of Leipzig who also works with the European Mainframe Academy and the Academic Mainframe Consortium, and Murilo Andrade from Brazil, who is currently working in a public office and intends to pursue an IT career upon completion of college. All three have participated in the contest before.

“I always wanted to be a global winner of the contest, so this was basically my last chance because I will graduate this year,” Wind says, adding that he participated in the past to see if what he learned at school was valuable for the contest’s real-world challenges. “It improves every year. They react on trends and the challenges change, so it’s not boring for addicts like me.”

Andrade was a regional winner in 2015, which led to an opportunity to work at IBM as a system specialist. “The job market is always looking for candidates with a good theoretical background, but what you have actually practiced is highly valued,” he says. “The competition opens doors for us students because we can show the world that we are capable enough to solve problems as challenging as those we will face in day-to-day business.”

McKee has also discovered this. “I’m the one who is always reaching out to companies, trying to get them to offer me a job or an internship, and it’s weird to have that flip and have all of these opportunities all of a sudden,” she says. “The mainframe itself offers so many opportunities and it’s really a robust platform that harvests a lot of jobs on it. You might not like one aspect of the mainframe, but there are 1,000 other aspects you could like, so I would encourage all students to participate in trying to understand what it is.”

Pre-registration for the 2018 contest is now open at

Holly Eamon is an editor and writer based in Minneapolis, MN