IBM India ran its 2nd Master the Mainframe Contest in 2013 which started from Nov 14, 2013 and ended on Jan 6, 2014. IBM has been conducting this contest globally for a few years now. In US, this was the ninth time that the contest was held. One of the primary reasons that IBM hosts the contest is to bring awareness to high school and college students about mainframe technology.
Most of the senior mainframers that are currently working on Mainframe Technology will retire in the next 10-15 years. So, naturally the companies working on mainframes will need to find replacements for the senior professionals. With well over 90% market share in the mainframe market, IBM is currently undisputed in the field of mainframes and they provide services to a huge chunk of companies that are dependent on mainframes.
So far, for 2013-14 period, IBM has organized Master the Mainframe Contest in 11 countries.
Most students don’t have any knowledge about what a mainframe is or how the technology works. The truth is mainframe works on the backend of major services especially banks and financial organizations where a very high number of transactions are involved. Mainframes are mostly about bulk data processing and enterprise resource planning. One of the reasons they are so popular ( even though most are not aware of it ) is because they provide reliability and stability.
How Master the Mainframe Contest works
The contest is designed in a similar way all over the world. It consists of 3 parts – Part – 1, Part – 2 and Part – 3. Naturally, as you proceed forward each level gets harder and more complicated. The tasks that you need to complete becomes more challenging. But if you can enjoy the experience, the contest becomes really enjoyable and you get to learn many new things.
The contest actually challenges you on different programming languages and you are also required to build, compile and deploy different applications on a remote server ( mostly in part -3).
Except for US and Canada because of the volume of participants, for India as well as other countries the problem statements are designed by IBM Hursley Lab, UK and the results are also evaluated there.
The contest is designed in such a way that no experience is necessary for participating. All the participants are provided with a manual where the tasks that they have to accomplish is provided. Once the students have answered the questions, they will need to submit the answers.
- Part – 1 is the easiest and mostly intended on making the students familiar with the mainframe environment. You get to learn how to do some of the basic stuffs like logging on to the mainframe, navigate the ISPF ( Interactive System Productivity Facility ) menu, creating, editing and deleting datasets. You also get to learn how to copy an already existing datasets and editing it.
- Part – 2 concentrates on what you’ve learnt in Part – 1. You will also be required to do some programming in JCL ( Job Control Language ) and C. This year, part – 2 also consisted of SDSF (System Display and Search Facility ) and Websphere MQ which is a premium messaging product used for sending messages from server to client.
- Part -3 is the real deal. You will be required to build and link applications which involves coding skills and intuition. Part – 3 consists of lots of JCL codings, so be ready for it. This year, we also had Websphere MQ, USS ( Unix System Services ) , CICS (Customer Information Control System) and CICS Web Support.
Tips for Master the Mainframe Contest
If you can enjoy the contest, it becomes really interesting especially when you get to the end of part – 3. Overall, I have spent a few weeks working on the contest and I do like to share some tips that might help other participants both technically and intuitively.
- Part -1 is the easiest but in my opinion it is the most important one because what you learn here you apply in the later challenges. So, it is important that you understand what you’re doing in part – 1 and not just blindly following the steps. Also, you need to remember how each of the basic things work because remembering them saves time in the later stages and you can concentrate on the more important part.
- Part – 2 gets a little tougher and you need to apply what you’ve learned in Part -1. In most cases, work involved in Part – 1 is just the first stage of Part – 2 and the rest are all new. This part is mostly about fixing different types of errors and compiling some JCL files. It also includes submitting JCL jobs and viewing their outputs in the SDSF. A good way to achieve all these is to read the different manuals especially the JCL ones whose links are provided by IBM in the manual. Also make sure you read any instructions thoroughly. Most of the time, the problem arises because of the very little things.
- Part – 3 is where the real world applications begin. You get to have hands-on-experience on a world class system and develop applications and eventually deploying it. Part – 3 is by far most complicated and no clue is given in the manual. Participants will have to figure out everything themselves. It involves lots of coding skills especially detailed JCL and C programming. DB2 database will also have it’s use in Part – 3 where you will need to store data that will be used to build the final application. In our case, we also had to work on the USS where we had to create C applications by using different commands and then eventually linking it to JCL job submissions which were supposed to transmit messages via Websphere MQ. It also consisted of CICS web support where we had to configure and link different web pages meant for viewing the application on a web browser from their remote CICS server.
Part – 3 is not about speed. It’s about accuracy. To score well, you need to be as accurate as you can. It is also important in taking your time while doing Part – 3. Doing it in a hurry will only cause more mistakes. Since, the applications are interlinked mistake in one section will generally propagate over to another section.
It is better to start off slow and gradually work your way through. It is also essential to work through the manuals and understand how each function works. Another important tip that I would like to give is study the images that are provided carefully. Part – 3 consists of no clues and the images that are provided in the manual display how the applications are interlinked. It actually helps in figuring out some of the complicated problems and in some cases provides ideas for solving simpler problems.
Keeping your cool is the key to clearing Part – 3 .
Last but not the least, my sincere thanks to IBM India University Relations and IBM Enterprise Computing for providing the students with such an opportunity to learn little bit of an world class technology.