RMU students attempt to “Master the Mainframe”

Thousands of students around the country anxiously waited at their computers for the clock to turn midnight on Oct. 7 in order to register for IBM’s ninth annual Master the Mainframe (MTM) competition.

As a part of the company’s academic initiative, IBM’s MTM Contest equips high school and college students worldwide with the basic skills needed to give them an edge in the job market. The three-part contest serves as an introduction to programming and application development and requires no initial mainframe experience.

After completing each round, judges evaluate each student’s work and reward those qualified to move to the next step. Naturally, each phase gets considerably harder as students progress through the tasks.

As of Oct. 16, it has been announced that this year’s competition is officially the largest mainframe contest run to date with over 4,774 participants (and counting) in the United States and Canada, already topping last year’s total of 4,682. Currently, RMU has more than 200 active accounts in the MTM system.

One of the main goals of the contest is to introduce a younger generation, otherwise seen as the future of the business, to mainframe computers. The modern college student has begun to neglect the backend of the industry’s internet traffic. Approximately two decades ago, RMU stopped teaching IBM Mainframe programs because the students were more concerned with specific technology advances, and less on the bigger picture of where they all operate. Now, an older generation of mainframe operators for large companies are retiring, leaving large gaps in the business.

According to the 2012 IBM Tech Trend Report, as business demands grow for technologies such as mobile and the cloud network, enterprises are facing a significant shortage in IT skills. The report showed that only one out of ten organizations surveyed had the skills needed to implement these advancements.

“People aren’t going out for those careers, but they haven’t disappeared. In fact, they have become more important. Colleges and universities are not graduating people with that experience. So there is big shortage coming around,” said Dr. J. Packy-Laverty, a professor of Computer and Information Systems, and the main advisor for the MTM contest on campus. “Big corporations, especially on the East Coast, are scared because they don’t have anybody coming up, not even from Robert Morris. Mathematically, it is impossible in the next 10 years for colleges and universities to turn out those numbers.”

The big picture of the MTM contest is to encourage students to study and further prepare them to be most valuable in the job market. He or she could fill the shoes of the emergency demand for mainframe computer experts, while receiving a large starting salary right out the gate.

The MTM website also gives employers a chance to see the success of the contestants as they finish each level. Once a student has fully completed part two, his or her name and school is displayed on the Master the Mainframe Wall of Fame webpage. Employers track this page leading the contestant to receive a professional contact about 60 percent of the time.

IBM also sends contestants to a job board that links them to IBM System z clients who have currently over 1,000 mainframe-related job openings.

Robert Morris Computer and Information System (CIS) students have also attracted more attention from highly respected professionals. Last fall semester, the Vice President & Business Line Executive System of IBM, Mr. Greg Lotko, visited campus in hopes of sparking more student interest and motivation to improve these complex computer systems.

The contest will run until Saturday, December 28th at midnight. Participants may register and join the contest in progress until December 20th. Students may register online at https://contest-reg.dfw.ibm.com/contest/usaca.nsf