Modern Mentoring in Master the Mainframe

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For the past several years, I have volunteered to mentor students participating in the Master the Mainframe (MtM) student competition, IBM’s premiere activity to introduce students — secondary and post-secondary — to the IBM Z ecosystem. I have found it very rewarding, personally, work with students learning about the best platform for enterprises and become interested in pursuing a career on the platform.

This year, the opening of MtM was integrated with IBM Z Day, an IBM worldwide event for all things Z. The day started with several IBM Z Ambassadors beginning the 2020 MtM challenge. There were 12 students in two-hour blocks, which were sponsored by various non-profits that promote inclusivity in tech, and the students were mentored by IBM Z Champions and other recognized IBM Z thought leaders.  Sessions started with a brief talk by a sponsor representative, an introduction by one of the IBM staff, introductions by the student and mentor, and then into the contest!

This year’s competition, designed by IBM luminaries like Jeff Bisti and Misty Decker, leveraged Microsoft’s VS Code and the Zowe Explorer extension for level 2, which is the preferred toolset for level 3. Contest participants could also use 3270 if they wanted to, however, there was no official support for it. Finally, there were optional steps to use the LinuxOne Community system from Marist College to learn and get experience with Linux on z.

My session was the third scheduled, and my assigned mentee was Hartanto Widjaya, a student from Singapore Management University. Hartanto was introduced to IBM Z in 2019 and instantly took to the platform, performing some of last year’s contest exercises after the contest deadline. As a mentor, my role was to provide assistance if the student ran into an issue and to fill dead air. Luckily, I did not have to do much as Hartanto is very outgoing and did an excellent job explaining the challenges as he worked through them. He also did not have any technical difficulties, so, mostly, I observed and occasionally provided commentary and wit.

Hartanto finished Level 1 and completed about 50% of Level 2 during the two-hour slot. As of this writing, I believe he has since finished Level 2, and is into Level 3. Hartanto is very enthusiastic about Z and will take any opportunity he can to continue learning about the ecosystem. I feel very lucky that Misty paired me with such a great participant.

This year’s contest has started with a bang. The number of students who have completed the first two levels numbers in the hundreds. In fact, so many have accessed the system in the first two days that additional resources had to be added to the guest!

All of the IBM Z Day student sessions were recorded and are available to watch on the event website to all registrants (and registration is free). From the site, registrants can also access recordings of all regular sessions, including the SHARE Association panel “Influencing Innovation in Mainframe Computing”.

This year’s experience with MtM is an excellent follow-up to my experiences last year with speaking and assisting at local events. COVID-19 has obviously made it impossible for such in-person events, but I hope that virtual, smaller-scale meetups can be organized again soon. In the meantime, I have reached out to instructors in the Sacramento area — including at my alma mater — to try and get interested students to sign up and participate.

I believe it is necessary for we experienced mainframers to teach those who are following in our footsteps about this wonderful computing platform. I highly recommend finding a local event and offering your services as a mentor. If you cannot find one, contact Misty Decker and she can refer you to someone who can get you involved. We all succeed when Master the Mainframe participants succeed!

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