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Brighton, CTEC senior tops college students in IBM’s global Master the Mainframe contest

Aug 25, 2020 03:01PM ● By Julie Slama

CTEC and Brighton senior Kaitlyn Lowe was named a regional winner in IBM’s 15th annual international Master the Mainframe. (Photo courtesy of Christie Lowe)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Brighton senior Kaitlyn Lowe was taking part in IBM’s 15th annual international Master the Mainframe contest partly because her computer science teacher at the Canyons Education Technical Center Cody Henrichsen asked his students to take part, but also because she wanted the T-shirt that came with completing all three levels of the competition.

“I was having fun and then I saw that I could have a T-shirt, so I decided I would finish part three so I could get the free T-shirt,” she said. 

Henrichsen said that he had two students complete all three parts, while nine students earned their digital badge at level two. All his students completed level one.

“The Master the Mainframe contest is a challenge put on by IBM that I have been having my students complete and compete in for the past several years because it shows students how they are able to use their skills to solve problems and that they can use languages and tools beyond what are part of the classroom,” he said. “It’s a college-level contest where students navigate and problem-solve on the main frame. Each challenge becomes more complex, so they build upon what they learn.”

Lowe said that part one was learning how to navigate the main frame and its files and programs. Level two was more technical where students had to practice programming languages, operating systems and technologies.

“A lot of it was more navigating and finding different information and it had instructions on how to make small changes in all the programs,” she said. 

For the third part, which was a real-world challenge, she independently built a report on using the mainframe that included completed templates, a system diagnostic report and stats for the system. Then, she took a meme and put it into text art generator and then line by line, she wrote another section.

Lowe was one of 25,516 students from almost 4,000 schools in 154 countries participating in the contest. She worked on the challenge beginning in September and concluded in December. 

So when Lowe, who would like to have a career in game development, in the artificial intelligence field or working with mainframes, received an email saying was one of nine regional winners in the worldwide competition—one of two representing the United States and one of the two high school student winners in the graduate and undergraduate contest—she was in disbelief.

“It said I was a winner, and I didn’t believe it at first. So, I had to look at it a little bit more and then I realized, I won,” she said. “It was insane. It was completely unexpected. I didn’t think I’d get anywhere near that. I figured I’d just finish the competition and there’s stuff like, they have the free T-shirt for anyone who finished all the way through part three, which was my main motivation, for doing part three in the first place.”

Lowe had just walked in the door and put down her stuff from school, when she checked her email. When the email saying she won sunk in, Lowe said she started running around the house before she called her parents at work.

“I was just really excited. I just started jumping around, running around the house, you know, the standard victory fist pump. I called my dad and he seemed kind of excited and then I called my mom and she just seemed confused —OK, cool.”

Her mother, Christie Lowe, said that often her daughter would be working on the challenge in her room, but she was unaware of the significance of the project.

“I didn’t realize the complexity when she said, ‘Hey, Mom, I’m entering this contest we’re doing at school,’” Christie Lowe said. “I’m like, ‘awesome, cool.’ Then she won, I was like, ‘oh good job.’ I had no idea it was like a national competition. She never said, ‘Mom, I’m entering this national competition through IBM.’ It wasn’t that detailed. It was ‘Hey, Mom, I’m doing this’ and like, ‘OK, cool. Have fun.’” 

Lowe has a knack for computers as her dad pointed out that she built her own computer.

As part of the being named a regional winner, Lowe was to travel to San Francisco to attend a conference, which ended up being virtual. So instead, the contest is issuing her the travel stipend along with the T-shirt she set her sights on.

This is the first time that Henrichsen has had a student score higher than the top 20 in the world. 

“I am very proud that Kaitlyn is the first national winner from CTEC in the MTM contest and am very impressed with the skills she demonstrated using multiple languages and tools,” he said.

Lowe is happy she took the computer science class at CTEC.

“Up until this class, I haven’t done much programming before,” she said. “I had a lot of fun with the competition. It was very different from a lot of the stuff I’ve done before. It was kind of nice. I put on some of my songs and played music and just going through and working through the puzzles. And if I got stuck on a part, I’d pause my music and I’d sit there and stare at it until I got it.”