The year 2020 marked the 16th annual Master the Mainframe (now IBM Z Xplore) competition. IBM reported that there were more than 25,000 registered learners from 129 countries around the globe. Students built enterprise computing, z/OS administration, and coding skills through the competition, earning industry-recognized digital badges and an opportunity to win prizes and scholarships, according to IBM. Hartanto Ario Widjaya from Singapore Management University was one of the 2020 winners who completed all three levels, plus a final “Grand Challenge.” He shared his experience, passions, and advice for other students with SHARE'd Intelligence.
Hartanto said one of his high school teachers thought he might enjoy coding, and later he stumbled upon an introductory z/OS course on the Coursera platform taught by Jeff Bisti, z/OS cloud system architect at IBM. The course included hands-on labs using a z/OS system, and one of Hartanto's first tasks was connecting via a TN3270 emulator. "I was awe-stricken by the green screen. It’s fast and easy to navigate, with this amazing retro feeling," he said. "Even now, after learning of other methods to access a z/OS system, I would still prefer a TN3270 emulator in most cases." Hartanto explained that when he found out mainframes are still used today and are updated regularly, "It led me to believe those platforms will still be there in the future, and that it is something I can have a career in."
Hartanto completed the Coursera courses and went in search of more information about mainframes. He found the Master the Mainframe competition for the first time in 2019, but "it was too late for me to join the competition." However, he decided to register for the learning system and, when Master the Mainframe 2020 registration opened, jumped at the chance to compete.
It's Not Just a Competition, It's a Learning Opportunity
The Master the Mainframe contest can be difficult, but Hartanto encouraged, "don't be afraid to try things out." As a competition, it requires participants to think outside of the box, he explained. Students should take the opportunity to look at various system documentation and figure out how to connect everything you learn from those documents. "To those that have yet to start their journey to mainframes, there is zero harm in giving it a try," Hartanto urges. "You don’t need to be a tech genius or have prior programming knowledge to learn about it. As long as you are curious and willing to learn new things in technology, you’re good to go!"
During the contest, participating students have the flexibility to develop anything they want with the skills they've learned. One of tools 2020 participants were exposed to was Zowe, which Hartanto described as a "framework that offers modern interfaces to interact and work with z/OS." He added, "I feel that Zowe has a huge promise and can attract new talent to z/OS."
Hartanto, himself, was curious about how Zowe interacted with the z/OS system and discovered that "you can connect to the z/OS system via the z/OS Management Facility or z/OSMF." z/OSMF is one way that Zowe can interact with z/OS, and it has a REST API. "I decided to use the REST APIs provided by z/OSMF and build a Python script to interact with the jobs submitted to the mainframe," he explained.
Mainframe Agility Can Attract New Talent
Hartanto shared, "The mainframe is really good at what it does. It is agile, resilient, and secure. Yes, the platform may have a long history, but that doesn’t mean that it can't adapt to current technology's capabilities that are emerging today." For example, he pointed out that the mainframe can be used with artificial intelligence and users can integrate a full CI/CD pipeline for development. "New technologies can be used with the mainframe, and it's that flexibility that will attract young talent to the ecosystem," Hartanto added.
Zowe is just one example of how an open source program can be used with the mainframe. Z Open Automation Utilities, which have a Python API to interact with the z/OS system, is another tool. Hartanto explained that these tools, "along with the existence of modern IDEs, will help to narrow the learning gap for the future generation of mainframers."
Looking to the Future
Hartanto, now an IBM Z Ambassador, remains enthusiastic about the mainframe field, and loves working with system administration and security. "It's truly an amazing platform to work on, with a wonderful history," he exclaimed. "One thing that amazes me about mainframes is the community. It's one of the most welcoming communities I've been a part of, which is just one of the reasons I decided to stick around." With about two years of college left, Hartanto spends much of his time encouraging others to check out mainframes and offering advice on their own journeys. He added, "In my free time, I also will help others with the IBM Z Xplore and the COBOL programming course that is hosted by the Open Mainframe Project."
The 2021 IBM Z Xplore competition, formerly Master the Mainframe, is currently active and ends on Nov. 22.