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The New and Improved Master the Mainframe

The Master the Mainframe competition will be hosted on a new contest management platform based on Influitive

The new IBM Master the Mainframe icon

IBM’s yearly Master the Mainframe competition is the largest mainframe contest in the world. Students have the chance to register and complete three levels of tasks, earning badges along the way, with a chance to compete with students from across the globe for 12 regional and three grand prizes. Last year, over 25,000 students registered from 154 countries, with over 4,000 schools represented. This year, the contest has undergone major changes to make the competition more accessible and inclusive to all of its users. 

One major change is that the competition will be hosted on a new contest management platform based on Influitive. Influitive creates a participant-driven experience where the user can move through the challenges according to their own preference. In the past, Master the Mainframe had instructions for each level on their website, and students had to go through the challenges sequentially. The scoring utility gave them their results at the end of each level instead of after each individual challenge. 

A New Platform for Master the Mainframe

Now, using an Influitive-based platform, IBM enables participants to complete the challenges in the order they choose. Instead of completing each level in a single line, they have options in how they want to approach each level. They can decide which paths they want to explore first or move onto something else and come back if they get stuck. It provides the users with more flexibility and an individual experience rather than a prescriptive experience. 

Users will also have their challenges scored in real time, instead of having everything scored at once. In previous years, IBM employees would have to issue badges manually each weekend, but the Influitive platform allows the badges to be issued automatically. Each student will have an individual dashboard of progress where they can access instant leaderboards, badges and a discussion forum. They will earn badges as they go and be recognized on the contest’s Wall of Fame. 

The instructions for each challenge will be given to students using challenge cards rather than instructions on IBM’s website. Participants will utilize a scaffolded learning approach, starting with a new concept and then moving onto working examples, guided work, figuring out a problem and then applying it to the next step of the challenge. 

Added Language Support

Another major inclusive change is that the platform will allow for language support. While not every component will be translatable, as much content as possible will be available in several participants’ native languages. This includes challenge cards and other instructions. 

The judging process for the Grand Challenge will also be expanded. Instead of having one panel judging all entrants from everywhere in the world, six separate panels will judge each region of the globe. This allows for a more diverse range of students not only to participate in the contest, but to have their efforts be examined by judges from their own region. 

The contest is continuing to enable non-students to participate and learn; while the contest system is only open to students enrolled in an accredited institution, IBM is providing a separate learning system through the same Influitive platform. This will be open to everyone, with the same content. 

The learning system is a full copy of all of the contest challenges, aimed at adult learners and hobbyists who would like to learn the mainframe but are not currently students. The only difference is that the learning system will not issue prizes. This offers a new way for those who aren’t accredited with an institution to try out the mainframe system. This non-student approach will also be open year-round as opposed to a limited run contest each year. 

Enabling Futur Mainframers

Enabling professional mainframers to complete the challenges is especially valuable this year. In his first year as author of the challenges, IBM’s Jeff Bisti brought in many technical topics that even the most experienced mainframe professionals need to learn. He integrated Zowe™ and other open-source projects into the challenges—even Ansible® on IBM z/OS®.

Due to the fact that in-person events are a challenge in 2020, a Virtual Event Guide will be published this year for Master the Mainframe contest events. Master the Mainframe events are similar to a hackathon rather than a webinar; there are hands-on activities, and they often require one-on-one mentoring to help answer questions. IBM is investigating options for how to host these events virtually.

IBM is dedicated to investigating more ways to host online virtual events. For instance, IBM hosted an IBM Z® Day 24-hour code-athon. Each hands-on workshop was led by a student Z Ambassador under the guidance of an experienced mainframe professional. Replays of these workshops are available at IBM is also enabling students, educators or professionals to host their own virtual hands-on workshop, including publishing the Virtual Event Guide—allowing organizers to connect with potential volunteers and announcing many other virtual opportunities in the New to Z Community ( 

Inclusion and Accessibility

This year’s changes are aimed at prioritizing inclusion and accessibility for the Master the Mainframe competitors. The changes allow students to move at their own pace with their own learning style, and educators will be provided with context about the changes that they can use in the classroom if they assign the contest for a grade. Earning a Master the Mainframe badge for Level 3 opens up opportunities, especially for underrepresented people in the tech field such as women and people of color, or those without a traditional education. These changes will allow more people to learn the mainframe and increase their credentials to get their foot in the door in the industry.

Registration for Master the Mainframe is now open, and the contest itself will be open from Sept. 14 to Jan. 17, 2021. You can register at

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