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Mainframe: Mastered

Meet the 2010 mainframe contest winners

Meet the 2010 mainframe contest winners
Master the Mainframe competitors visited IBM Poughkeepsie (from left): Sibo Niu, Syracuse University; Philip Yeo, Dalhousie University; Calvin MacKenzie, Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts; and Patricio Reynaga, West Texas A&M

The top three winners of IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest come from very different backgrounds: a small town in the panhandle of Texas, an independent telecom company and a residential honors high school. But they have one thing in common: an affinity for learning a computing platform—the mainframe—that was new to each of them.

Patricio Reynaga, who took first place, is a senior with a lilting Spanish accent at West Texas A&M, where the contest is offered as a three-credit independent study course. Reynaga, who grew up an hour north of the university, is majoring in computer science and hopes to develop software. “I’ve been interested in computers since I was little,” Reynaga says. Of the contest, which progresses from learning the interface to solving real-world challenges, Reynaga says he learned the most by mastering foreign programming languages. “I couldn’t believe that I won,” Reynaga says.

Jay Thomas is a 31-year-old network manager at Madison, Wis.-based TDS Telecom, earning his undergraduate computer-science degree through Pace University’s distance-education program. He may go on to graduate studies in computer science and network security. His job experience helped him with some of the contest’s problems. “I appreciated how powerful and elegant batch processes are for moving things around or doing cleanup on log files,” Thomas says.

Calvin MacKenzie is a senior at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, a residential school for juniors and seniors that offers honors and AP courses. “I wanted to be challenged and go through the college experience before actually heading off to college,” says MacKenzie whose family lives in Hot Springs Village, the country’s largest gated community. Even though his school hosts “Mainframe Thursdays,” MacKenzie says he “was pretty uncertain about what a mainframe was.” He was pleasantly surprised to find that skills he’s learning in classes, such as programming with Java*, were useful in the contest. MacKenzie hopes to become a computer scientist or computer engineer.

Mike Todd, contest coordinator for IBM, says nearly 33,000 students from 17 countries have competed in the mainframe contests since 2005. The 2010 contest drew 3,537 students from more than 400 schools across the U.S. and Canada. In this year’s final challenge, students had to successfully code a system to ensure credit-card transactions were properly processed.

Todd says IBM and students recognize the value of the contest to teach real-world skills that are in demand with many of the world’s largest companies. IBM customers, for instance, have influenced contest content, requesting more exposure to concepts like advanced Job Control Language (JCL) or Virtual Storage Access Method (VSAM) data sets.

Thomas says he’ll use some of the skills he learned in the contest as he moves into a job at TDS that involves more analysis and trending. “That will make a lot of the DB2* experience in the contest really pay off,” he says.

Sara Aase is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

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