Mainframe Education: Ron Ash on the Master the Mainframe Hackathon

Many computer science students haven’t heard much about the mainframe, and they certainly haven’t had a chance to work with the platform. That’s a big problem for an industry facing a skills gap, as a generation of mainframers begin to retire.

During SHARE Academic, a program for students interested in enterprise IT and/or the mainframe, students of all ages have the opportunity to learn about the mainframe and get hands-on experience during the Master the Mainframe Hackathon.

We caught up with Ron Ash, a student who participated in the Hackathon at SHARE Sacramento, to hear what he thought of the event. Here’s what he had to say.

Can you describe your background and your path to attending SHARE Sacramento this year?

I am 53 years old, and I have logged 2.8 million miles, accident-free, driving a tractor trailer. I am also a stroke survivor, which put me back in the classroom, studying computer engineering. During midterm season, one of my professors told my class about Master the Mainframe. After that midterm, I went over to the conference to check it out. I found the entire experience to be a great deal of fun.

What was your experience like at SHARE Sacramento this year?

For me, the best part of the event was being able to sit down with three engineers at lunch and get a chance to talk with them. I am studying computer engineering, so someday I hope to do what they do and be like them.

To be able to sit down and have a leisurely lunch talking to those two engineers from IBM and one from Aetna was a great opportunity. One of the engineers I spoke to is working on a project where they’re putting Linux commands into mainframe. That was really interesting to me, because I’ve worked on putting Windows commands into Linux as a hobby.

What was the Hackathon like, since you’d previously had very little exposure to the mainframe? What did you learn?

I actually had to borrow a laptop computer to compete in the Hackathon. Parts of the Hackathon seemed very familiar to me as a Linux command line user. I was used to a terminal interface, for example. After about 20 minutes, I got to the part where they were using the Unix/Linux commands in the mainframe, so I recognized that part immediately.

Did attending Student Career Day make you think differently about your possible career paths?

I am sticking to what I’ve been working on, which is furthering my education and learning as much as I can. At this point, I’m not closing off any potential avenues. The processing power and capabilities of the mainframe are phenomenal. Mainframe is not just part of our past – it’s part of our future. Almost everything you do on your phone or tablet, you’re doing on a server somewhere else.

What would you say to any students thinking about attending a SHARE event in the future?

I’d tell them that attending is certainly not going to hurt. The food is even pretty good. In all seriousness, the opportunity to spend an hour during lunch talking to multiple engineers, who someday you hope to be working for, or working as – how can you pass that up? Fortunately, the other students at my lunch table were somewhat quiet and I am not, so I got to ask all the questions on my mind.

Join us for SHARE Academic at SHARE St. Louis to network, attend employer panels and compete in the Master the Mainframe hackathon. To register for SHARE St. Louis, August 12-17, visit


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