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Students, join the Master the Mainframe 24-hour code-a-thon and learn in-demand skills while helping those in need.


Master the Mainframe logo

IBM Z Day on September 14 – 15 will launch an amazing journey into enterprise computing for thousands of students with a 24-hour code-a-thon.

That’s a bold statement, I know. But I have 16 years of history to back me up. That’s how long the Master the Mainframe contest has existed, exposing students to the little-seen yet absolutely essential technology that runs much of this world.

Every year, thousands of students learn that mainframes are everywhere, reliably running applications that are critical to our modern lives. And every year, the best of those students finish all three levels of this contest, earning the coveted Level 3 Badge. Employers know that Level 3 finishers are highly sought after in the marketplace and have done more than learn about the technologies running their businesses; these students have what it takes to persevere and solve complex problems independently. Levels 1 and 2 of the contest include clear step-by-step instructions, whereas Level 3’s challenges require students to figure out how to solve the problem using public documentation. Yes, this is a contest challenge based on the real world … requiring problem solving and critical thinking skills!

The rewards for participants are substantial, as well. For every student who finishes Level 1, IBM will donate to the UN World Food Programme #ShareTheMeal. A random drawing will give Level 2 finishers a chance to walk away with $500 cash. The worldwide winners of Level 3, who will be chosen by a panel of esteemed judges, will win a travel stipend to a major IBM event in 2021 (or cash equivalent if travel isn’t possible). The most valuable reward is the connections you can make to high-paying, meaningful technology jobs. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, jobs in mainframe technologies pay more, are more meaningful, and offer better work-life balance than other IT jobs.

For 2020, a year of huge changes in the world, we decided to spruce things up a bit. So say hello to a new contest management platform with exciting new technical challenges that teach how legacy technologies like COBOL, REXX, and JCL are fast friends with new technologies like VS Code, Ansible, and open source.

Students will learn how to use the world’s most powerful server with the familiar tools. Employers have already told us they are ready to interview 2020 badge earners. Why? Level 3 finishers will have demonstrated via this contest that they already know how to modernize mainframe environments. Even mainframe professionals can benefit from completing these challenges because so much of the content is cutting edge.

A contest this big was just begging for a huge event to launch it, and IBM Z Day provides just the bang needed. And “huge” is not even big enough to describe all the exciting things we have crammed into 24 hours:

  • Opening sessions will give participants an overview of this year’s contest, a chance to meet the 2019 worldwide winners, and an opportunity for young enterprise computing professionals to experience a day in the life of a mainframer.
  • Then, follow along with one of 10 live coding sessions as an IBM Z Youth Ambassador goes through Level 1 under the guidance of an experienced mainframe professional and a sponsoring Tech for Good organization.
  • Expect to hear from code.org, CSforAll, and many other exciting nonprofits that are working hard to empower young people to prepare for the future of work.
  • Closing sessions will introduce you to employers who are actively searching for candidates with these skills. Participants will also learn about alternative career paths with the apprenticeship program and IBM Z Bees. We’ll close with a word from the UN World Food Programme and a reflection on how students can both use and lead Tech for Good and make the world a better place.
  • For every student who finishes Level 1, we will double the donation to #sharethemeal and the first 100 finishers will receive free tickets to the Open Mainframe Summit.
  • We’ll even be awarding a $5,000 grant to the sponsor organization with the most attendees for their session.

So please join us — attend a session and help a Tech for Good nonprofit win a $5,000 grant from IBM! Complete Level 1, feed four children for a day, and make a difference. Spread the word: Tell the students you know to join us and help us make this global launch of Master the Mainframe during IBM Z Day a Big Bang to remember!

And of course, be sure to register for IBM Z Day today.