Tuesday, September 27, 2022 Sep 27, 2022
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Science & Technology

UNT Student Cracks the Code in IBM’s ‘Master the Mainframe’ Competition

Anna McKee, the first woman in North America to win the worldwide programming competition, says she hopes more women will pursue tech careers.
By Alanis Quintero |

It was a regular school night for UNT student Anna McKee when she arrived at her apartment and began to check her e-mails. It only took a couple clicks for her to realize that this semester would be different from the rest. She opened one email that notified her that she had just been named the first-place winner of IBM’s Master the Mainframe competition, the largest student mainframe programming competition in the world. Her emotions took over. Conveniently, she got the news while she was already on the phone with her parents.

“I was saying ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what just happened?!’ They were like ‘Anna are you ok? What’s happening? Are you in a car accident? What’s happening?’” McKee says. “And so, I was like ‘No, I won this competition,’ and they started screaming.”

This three-part competition challenges students interested in mainframe computer programming, an important field concerned in part with maintaining troves of personal information. There is also something of a skills gap in mainframe programming, as new generations increasingly pursue other specializations in computing.

“Some examples of (mainframe systems) would include when you make airline reservations or ATM transactions or credit card transactions,” McKee says. “There are a lot of companies that run on mainframe, and it’s super secure. It’s important for our data to be secured because you don’t want to have someone to hack into it and steal your identity.”

Fast forward to a couple Fridays after that email, and McKee is already doing her 9th interview about the win, a feat that saw her beating competing students from more than 1,000 schools and 70 countries. McKee was also the first woman in North America to ever win the competition, which she hopes will encourage other women to pursue careers in technology.

“I think it’s a really great platform to encourage young women to get into coding, or you know, attempt it. It’s really awesome. I feel like things are changing now, tides are turning, and more women are getting into technology,” McKee says.

The superlatives don’t stop there. McKee finished the third and most difficult part of the competition in two weeks, not much time compared to the three months it usually takes competitors.

“I thought the competition was based on speed,” McKee says. By the time she finished everything and emailed the people running the competition, she realized she was far ahead of the curve. “I binged on mainframe for those first two weeks, and afterwards it was like, ‘OK, I need a little break.'”

Her prizes included a $2,750 stipend to travel to an IBM office to meet with executives and recruiters. McKee, a 22-year-old senior studying business computer information systems and decision sciences, says she isn’t in a rush to find out where her post-collegiate career will begin.

“I have another year left of school, and I’m still playing around with the idea of getting a Masters’ in data science, so I haven’t really thought about many of the companies I really want to work for,” McKee says. “I’ve got some time.”



Alanis Quintero is a D Magazine intern.

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