Fortune 50 companies State Farm and IBM hosted the New to Z Workshop, in cooperation with the School of Information Technology, November 1 at the Hancock Stadium Club.

With about 60 people in attendance, the event showcased the role of the modern IBM Z Mainframe to Illinois State students and faculty and supported the School of Information Technology’s Integration of Enterprise Computing Systems (mainframes) curriculum.

The New to Z Workshop was geared toward people with 10 or less years of experience with IBM’s mainframe. Mainframes are computers that can process billions of transactions and calculations immediately. IBM’s new Z-system is designed for security, resiliency, and higher data privacy.

Attendees had the option to choose between the New to Z Workshop or the hands-on Master the Mainframe event. They also were given the opportunity to network with potential employers who use the mainframe in their current fields.

Megan Hampton, a software engineer for IBM’s Wave for z/VM team, explained why the workshop was important for students.

“This event proves that young people are interested in the mainframe, but you just have to expose them properly,” said Hampton. “It’s all about perception and how you advocate what you’re doing because students might not initially see the importance of the mainframe.”

Early in the all-day event, attendees participated in an activity where they were prompted with a question and had to write whatever came to mind first on a sticky note before placing their answers on a poster board. One question prompted was, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘mainframe’?” Answers such as “stability,” “big data,” and “legacy” were written.

Student talking to other attendees at an event

Illinois State student Tyler Rosnett at the mainframe workshop

Tyler Rosnett, a computer science major and an intern at State Farm, said there is an industrywide problem of trying to recruit new talent to become interested in the mainframe.

“What a lot of students aren’t aware of is the mainframe space,” said Rosnett. “Everyone at this event now knows that there’s endless opportunities and every company has a mainframe. Things like this event open students’ eyes.”

Business information systems major Mike Swanson was able to familiarize himself with the Z-system as he took part in the Master the Mainframe competition during the event. The competition was composed of three parts; the first part took place during the event with the last two being done in the students’ own time.

Student working on a computer

Illinois State student Mike Swanson at the New to Z Workshop

“Having the infrastructure to have the tools to play with is something you can’t just have anywhere,” said Swanson. “Especially for individuals wanting to learn more, you have to have an environment provided by IBM.”

Mark Owens, a lecturer for the School of Information Technology at Illinois State, worked with Illinois State and IBM to start the enterprise computing curriculum, which teaches mainframe-based classes.

“The interesting thing about the mainframe is that IBM is the only one that makes it,” said Owens. “The mainframes are very expensive to purchase, but they return a lot on the investment.”