Jeremy Krach wins 3rd in IBM's Master the Mainframe 2014

By Alex BenDebba

Computer science sophomore, Jeremy Krach, took third place in IBM’s Master the Mainframe 2014 this winter, beating out 4,900 high school and college students across the United States and Canada.  The competition, which ran from October to December 31st 2014, lets students who have never done any mainframe programming before to learn how to use, maintain, and design applications. Through Master the Mainframe, which is now in its tenth year, IBM aims to equip students with basic mainframe programming skills to make them more competitive in the enterprise computing industry.

The competition was broken into three distinct parts.  Part one allowed contestants to get acquainted with navigating the mainframe user interface, understand basic mainframe concepts, and get more comfortable with different aspects of the mainframe.  Part two was more rigorous and involved more extensive programming and application developing, which gave participants more hands-on experience with multiple operating systems.  Anyone who completed the first part were able to win a Mainframe Master t-shirt, while only the first 75 to complete part two fully could win prizes.  Part three was a series of twenty-eight challenges, made up of real-world problems, which required contestants to work over a longer period of time.  Tasks from this stage were taken from real life situations encountered by experienced system programmers, along with challenges designed to identify the contestants with the most drive and determination.  The first twenty-seven tasks were more straightforward, like a regular programming competition, involving a mainframe application that needed to be manipulated in order to expand its features.   The final challenge was much more open-ended, asking competitors to create a system for a business that would allow an analyst to oversee data from their different stores across the country and online. 

Krach first found out about the competition last year through the department, but only completed up to part one due to a busy schedule.  After a summer of cryptography and steganography research with the Maryland Cybersecurity Center, Krach faced the competition with greater determination and decided to go all the way.  When asked what drew him to the competition in the first place, he cited the pervasiveness of mainframes, along with the limited exposure to programming for the platform.  “So many businesses use mainframes, but no one talks about them,” he explained.  “It’s not like Google Glass.”  According to IBM’s Master the Mainframe site, 96 out of the 100 largest banks, 9 out of the 10 largest insurance companies, and 23 of the top 25 US retailers rely on mainframes, so entering this competition and getting valuable first hand experience can be priceless. 

Having already completed part one in the 2013 competition, Krach made it through parts one and two with ease, and only took a few days to knock out the first twenty-seven tasks.  But when it came to the final challenge,  “[i]t was a lot about time management.”  He took it slow, spending a few hours each week over the two months of the competition, before finishing it up in a final sprint in the last week during winter break.  Although it’s not a career field he plans on pursuing -- he is very much invested in cybersecurity and plans on working with AT&T Government Solutions this summer -- he does plan on taking part in the competition again next year.


--Alex Bendebba '16

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