Thursday, 8 February 2018

Master the what?

During my mid term examinations of fifth semester, I started to work on LibreBoot.  And from nowhere I got an email stating about a great competition named, master the mainframe.  Since my field of interest is networking and system administrative stuff, I registered for it, although I didn't know a thing about mainframe and I never even considered IBM before that. But still I thought I should give it a try and see what happens.  So I did that.

Master the Mainframe!

It is a competition organised by Angel Hack and sponsored by IBM so that all beginners or say students who are unknown to Mainframes can be a part of it.  It is beginner level competition aka hackathon, where we have to complete few challenges and few top contenders gets great prizes like Amazon Gift Cards, MasterCard or Visa Gift Card or HTC vive.

All in all, the competition has a great structure, easy to start and great prizes to win.  And the best part is the whole competition is divided into three parts to help the contestants get familiar with the system slowly and easily and prizes are distributed within all of these parts i.e. part-1 provides you Amazon Gift Cards and so on in other parts.

Part-1 [Sep 15/17, 2017]

Part-1 comprises of only introductory part and is meant to familiarize you to IBM z/OS, mainframes and Unix environment.  Since I know a little about Unix environments, ssh and remote connection, so they were ease to grasp.  And I completed part-1 within 2 - hours, although the website claim it to be solved within 1-hour, but at first I messed so had to start it over.


Part-2 has 15 challenges which needs to be completed to complete part-2.  The first challenge continues from the last challenge in part-1, i.e. primary commands and line commands and challenge is to use them in part-2 while it is read about them in part-1.

#1 [Sep 18, 2017]

The first challenge was not really difficult and is meant to familiarize you with some primary and necessary line commands to be used in the editor.

#2 [Sep 21, 2017]

The Second Challenge is basically to introduce the data format z/OS work on i.e EBCDIC and ASCII.   The challenge was to change the hexadecimal value of few characters into other to change their ASCII and EBCDIC correspondant.

#3 [Sep 22, 2017]

The third challenge is to introduce the participant with the concept of Job Control Language(JCL) which is used by the z/OS as its job handler i.e. to manage and control job processing.  The task here is to correct the JCL syntax as JCL commands needs to be in upper case to be executed without errors.

#15 (December 09, 2017)

Note: This is the dormant period when I lost my consistency but never crossed this out of my to-do list. Sooner or Later I decided to complete it before the deadline. And then during the final examinations, I realized I should complete what I have started.


Part-3 of the Competition was the easiest for me in the whole competition because it involves knowledge of several other programming languages like C, Java, C++ (which luckily I had) rather than any mainframe specific programming language like JCL, COBOL. Part-1 was meant to get you familiar with the mainframe environment, Part-2 (most difficult) was meant to get you familiar with the mainframe tools and utilities required for part-3.
The trick over here is in the last challenge of Part-3, where we have to make a final product from the knowledge we have gained so far during the competition.

I made a simple application for a sugar, flour industry where details of each customer and supplier are fetched from a database stored in mainframe to a command-line based terminal. Due to lack of time (which I could have, if I had efficiently managed my time), I submitted this primitive (yet I am proud of it) as my final challenge to complete the competition on December 22, 2017.

Overall Experience

My overall experience for the IBM and Angel Hack collaborated competition Mater The Mainframe 2017 was amazing. In 3 months, I have learned so much about mainframes and using them. From someone, who don't know anything about mainframes, their working and application, to someone who not only know these concepts but can also work on mainframes.

I learned about terminal emulators (which was the first step to connect to the mainframe), SSH remote connection protocol (though I was aware of SSH earlier, but if I wasn't, I would be). I learned about the functionality of Mainframes, how they store and access data, how they automate the job to be processed on the mainframe. Learned about the system administrator job for a mainframe, how to debug JCL and COBOL programs, how to handle errors on a mainframe. And most of all, I learned about one great lesson, "Always complete what you have started" and "Scheduling your job".

What's next?

Getting aware of mainframe and laying my hands on it, I found an opportunity where I can use my recently acquired skill for some good stuff, Openmainframeproject and their summer internship programme. To know more about it, visit their website at

Note to myself: Took me a little while, Could be in top 200 participants for part2 and top Three in world part3. Better luck Next time, will be in top for next year.

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