Stepping through the Door to the Mainframe World

Written By: Sudhanshu Dubey, Open Mainframe Project Summer Mentee

If you are an average college student like me, you probably read about a mainframe in those 3-4th standard computer books that just briefly describe different types of computers. It’s never mentioned again. Not in 12th standard Computer Science classes. Not in 4 years of Computer Science Engineering. Luckily, I read about it again and it was a life changing moment for me. Currently, I am a mentee with the Open Mainframe Project Mentorship 2021 and this blog is about my journey and how I got here.

The Build Up

Last year,  the pandemic ravaged the world and we (very strangely) were starting our final year of college from home. The final year brings the placement season, one of the most dreadful times for a college student. There was an unspoken tension in the mind and an uncertainty of the future. It’s also that time where you actively browse LinkedIn. I was confident in my resume, I had just completed Google Summer of Code and had a couple of good projects. But I was lacking a ‘speciality.’ In my 3 years of college, I worked with different technologies. “Jack of all trades, master of none.” And while I do think variety of experience and knowledge is one of my strengths, it hinders in making a decisive career choice.

Placement season is also a transition period where you are going into the bigger waters. This is especially intensified by LinkedIn where every day someone is achieving something. But LinkedIn is just that, a place where everyone shows off their successes and hides their failure. I am also part of those people. At first, it’s very intimidating. You see how hard people are working and inevitably compare it with yourself. Add to it the stress of placements and the anxiety of an ongoing pandemic and your mental health is in danger.

My favorite teacher from college once said, “if you want to get inspired, look at the people better than you. If you want motivation, look at the people worse than you.” This became Life Lesson #1. I started looking at those hard working people in a different way. With that change in perspective, came the realization that there are actually a whole lot of things that I can do to improve myself and my resume. Their successes, can be my successes, too. Soon as that, I stumbled upon a LinkedIn post about IBM’s Master the Mainframe Program and that’s when the background music changed!

Master the Mainframe

MtM is a coding competition related to enterprise computing/mainframes. Unlike the regular coding competitions (which I don’t like), it had no specific time in hours to code a solution to a problem. Rather, the participants had months to go through levels.  What I liked about MtM and what got me to register includes:

  1. Reward for clearing level 1 was feeding 2 children for a day (the best reward)!
  2. The competition had a hands-on approach.
  3. We had time to complete challenges at our own pace.
  4. Level 3 finishers got a T-shirt.

The competition began on Sept 14, 2020 and, by Sept 21, I had completed Level 2. In fact, I was fast enough to be amongst the 300 students who got a free pass to Open Mainframe Summit. Now this speed of completion was probably because the first 2 levels were meant to introduce the students to mainframe and its related technologies, but I am sure that my experience with different projects definitely helped me. After all, knowledge is never wasted – Life Lesson #2.

Side Note 1: It was in the Summit, that I found out about the Mentorship. In a casual chat with someone on Sept 22, 2020 I said that I will apply in it and probably get selected. You know the result.

Side Note 2: I joined last year’s Open Mainframe Summit as an attendee who got a free pass, and this year I will most likely present my mentorship project there. What a journey!

Level 3 was the hardest, since it required implementing all that you have learned through Level 1 and 2. By the end of Sept or early Oct, I had finished all the Level 3 challenges except the Grand Challenge, which I liked the most. What did I gain through the competition?

  1. Knowledge
  2. The community! Mainframe community in general is so friendly and welcoming. I met a lot of people in the competition who helped me in reaching where I am today. And that list includes Misty Decker, my current mentor who was then managing MtM.
  3. The T-shirt.

But now the question was, what’s next?

The Next Steps

IBM has prepared webinars and sessions for MtM students, which are happening still happening to this day.

I would like to push pause and stress something here. This whole thing was a leap of faith for me. It was a critical time –  I was trying to reorient my not-yet-started career. It required a lot of time, courage and curiosity.

Being an introvert, I shy away from networking with the right people, which is a hindrance to my growth – Life Lesson #3. So, in those webinars, I was  feeling out of place but listened and asked questions. One question –  is really what helped direct me to the next steps. Robert Garrett told me about the IBM z/OS Mainframe Practitioner Professional Certificate on Coursera. The same badge can also be earned through IBM Learning, free of cost.

So I took my time and completed the courses, which are required to earn that badge. It was a big step, but there is a humongous staircase for me climb, in the form of various paid and free courses and badges on IBM Learning.

Therefore, it was Master the Mainframe, the Mainframe Practitioner courses, my projects from college and all those webinars and sessions which got me this mentorship opportunity. But still, I just opened the door and am excited about the adventure that is waiting for me.

Side Note 3: I read a book called “The Secrets of Droon” by Tony Abbott.  The characters opened a closet door in the main character’s home and entered the fantasy world of Droon and had an exciting adventure. I get the same vibes as I think about my entering the world of mainframes!