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Master the Mainframe winner, Kevin Matesi, writes prose, code and a roadmap to a bright future

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 A light came on for 8-year-old Kevin Matesi when he and his father, a biomedical engineer, configured the LED bulbs on their rudimentary electronic “bread board” to illuminate a likeness of Darth Vader. While Kevin found language, literature and stories like Star Wars, cool, it dawned on him that electrical engineering and computers were capable of telling cool stories too. With this unusual left-brain, right-brain double interest, Kevin went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Illinois. But math was always his favorite subject too, and the technology bug never left him. Now, in addition to earning his graduate degree in computer science from Northern Illinois University next month, Kevin recently emerged, from a field of 4,900 North America competitors, as the first place winner in IBM’s 2014-15 Master the Mainframe contest.

Master the Mainframe

Master the Mainframe Winner Kevin Matesi

Now in its 10th year,  the Master the Mainframe competition uses IBM’s state-of-the-art z Systems mainframe  z13 .  The z13  began shipping in March 2015.  Through Master the Mainframe the next generation of computer scientists  is introduced to programming and application development skills that are becoming increasingly important with the explosive growth in enterprise computing and mobile transactions. The bright young minds who tackle the rigorous competition represent the future vitality of the mainframe as it continues to evolve to handle the unprecedented demands of the increasingly mobile, data-intensive world. At a time when world-wide interest in the z platform is growing, we are pleased that this year’s contest drew the largest turnout since its inception in 2005. By taking an interest in mainframe skills, students are ensuring a strong future for enterprise computing and for themselves in the job market.

Over the past 50 years, IBM z Systems has become the linchpin of enterprise computing. It is relied on by 92 of the world’s top 100 banks, 23 of the top 25 U.S. retailers, every one of the 10 largest insurers and 23 of the largest 25 airlines. And it used by numerous companies and organizations including, Visa, Walmart, Citi, Travelport, First National Bank, and Business Connexion. That track record was cool enough for Kevin who saw mastering the mainframe as an extraordinary challenge and opportunity.

As students complete each part of the Master the Mainframe contest, judges evaluate their results and reward those who move on to the next stage. Each phase becomes more difficult, beginning with the basic mainframe navigation and culminating in finishing a project that tackles a real-world business scenario. Kevin admits, “It was very difficult, but that is what appealed to me.” He adds, “I’ve always liked puzzles and I see programming as one big puzzle. I’ve also always enjoyed writing and reading. I always tell people that English and programming aren’t that different from each other. They both involve semantics and syntax and allow for plenty of creativity in how you use them.”

Earlier this year, Kevin joined a group of other top Master the Mainframe winners in a visit to the birthplace of the mainframe, IBM’s Poughkeepsie, New York manufacturing facility. “It was cool to see the new IBM z13 which has been adapted for the era of big data, cloud and mobile” he said. “As a TA (teacher’s assistant) for entry level mainframe classes, seeing the mainframe up close reinforced my advice to struggling students to stay with it. There is no better skill to master than programming the mainframe which is so important to enterprise computing today.”

We are just as thrilled by the IBM z13. It is the most powerful and secure version to date, capable of performing 30,000 transactions per second or 2.8 billion transaction per day. But we are even more excited by the potential for continuous expansion and innovation of IBM z Systems because of the talent and insights that Kevin and his Master the Mainframe cohorts are bringing to the field.

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