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How Did Anna Master the Mainframe? Grit

Anna McKee — Master the Mainframe 2017 First Place Winner

I was at a women in tech student meetup recently and heard something that made me think.

“We don’t want to hear about how women in tech excelled in a male dominated field. We just want to hear about what women in tech are doing,”

one of the participants declared.

With those words in mind, I share the story of Anna McKee, a 22-year-old student at the University of North Texas who did something noteworthy. She became the first woman to win first place in the Master the Mainframe competition, the technology equivalent of American Ninja Warriors.

More than 17,000 students from GenZ to millennials, competed in IBM’s 10th annual Master the Mainframe global contest.

Master the Mainframe is a three-part contest of increasingly difficult coding challenges with an end goal to solve real world problems using multiple programming languages. No prior experience is required. This year, Anna and students from over 120 countries around the globe took on 33 challenges culminating in the creation of their own applications analyzing data from more than 600 different companies that needed to be sorted and tracked, turned into dynamic applications, and they had to run without error.

A Gateway to Opportunity, Learning

It’s not a hackathon. Sponsored by IBM and administered by AngelHack, the competition is woven into the curriculum in high schools, colleges and universities around the world. Students like Anna get the benefit to show what they can bring to the job. For example, Anna demonstrated that she never shies from a challenge.

“I made it a goal for myself to complete all three sections,”

explained Anna, who completed only the first two sections of the Master the Mainframe competition in 2016.

And did she. In 2017, Anna completed nearly three months ahead of the deadline. She did so, in part, by writing code in the second section of the challenge that ushered in incredible efficiency in section three of the competition. Last week, Anna took the stage at IBM’s THINK Conference in Las Vegas and before more than 20,000 business and tech leaders was recognized for her accomplishments.

Anna’s story is inspiring but luckily, it is not unique.

For the past decade, Master the Mainframe has given students of all ages, of all backgrounds and computing experience, the chance to learn while they compete. The chance to demonstrate their talent and ability, and the opportunity to grow or kick-start their careers. More than 80 percent of the contestants in the 2014 competition, for example, went on to work in enterprise computing jobs.

More Than 6,000 Reasons to Work with Mainframe Technology

Today, Glassdoor lists more than 6,000 jobs that require mainframe skills. Mainframe computing debuted in the 1960s and has continued to transform and introduce leading edge technology since then to remain a relevant powerhouse whether it is running business critical Linux and open source workloads, machine learning, analytics or traditional high transaction applications requiring extreme scale, security and reliability.

Employers need these critical skills to continue to innovate and evolve and Master the Mainframe builds these skills and introduces a new generation to the platform.

To help match this new talent with available jobs, IBM unveiled Talent Match, a new service that directly connects clients with qualified, validated mainframe talent. Employers simply register to the Talent Match service to find ideal candidates by skills, verified IBM digital credentials or location, then review and connect with the right candidate after viewing their profile and social media links.

We have been aggressively matching talent to opportunity, particularly in this area of tech, because so much of the economy and our lives rely on it.

IBM Z mainframes enable 87% of the world’s credit card transactions, 29 billion ATM transactions and more than 4 billion passenger flights each year. The most recent generation has been reinvented to offer pervasive encryption (making them super secure). And a single IBM Z mainframe can handle 12 billion encrypted transactions daily, about three times the number of searches on Google each day.

Because of the historical employment trends following the competition as well as the pivotal role that mainframes continue to play, we know that Anna, her 11 fellow winners around the globe, and so many of the Master the Mainframe competitors will be in demand.

With that kind of track record, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of talented students like Anna. And I have no doubt that one day soon, Anna will speak at tech meetups and regale the audience with stories about what she is doing in tech.

You can follow how Meredith is doing on her mission to match talent with opportunities in tech on Twitter and LinkedIn. Explore additional mainframe and IBM Z skills resources here.