Manning the mainframe
J.T. McVeigh Photo - Nathan Voth, who is completing his co-op in corporate marketing and communications, leans against Georgian College's servers. He came in second place in a national computer competition hosted by IBM.
A quick look at Nathan Voth and might get you thinking he's a defensive football coach or maybe even a cop.
But a peek at his computing resume would conjure up a scrawny computer geek rising to the top of his game.
The 29-year-old second-year computer programmer student at Georgian College recently tangled with the best young minds in North America - coming from universities such as West Texas A&M, Ohio State, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Penn State and Duke - and did Canada, and Georgian, proud.
He was one of 3,936 students from 400 schools across Canada and the U.S. who participated in IBM's Master the Mainframe, a three-part contest, over the fall semester. Only one American university had more students than Georgian enter the contest.
Voth, along with Georgian students Paul Bialo, Patrick Bouchard, Ryan Coulter, Alan Jeffrey, Brandon McLellan, Scott Montgomery and Matt Sloper, scored a perfect 100% on part two of the contest.
And by the time part three came to a close, Voth was among the five finalists and placed second to (whip out that Canadian flag now) Yeming Hu, of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.
His second-place finish "blew my mind," Voth said.
Part three of the prestigious contest was no walk in the park and involved tasks taken from real-life situations encountered by experienced systems programmers.
Topics covered included JCL, SDSF, UNIX System Services, Rational Developer for System z, JAVA, DB2, REXX, C, COBOL and various system programming concepts and techniques.
Students had to complete a series of extremely difficult and time-consuming tasks, mastering the inner workings of mainframe software products, security protocols, multiple programming languages and various utilities.
According to Master the Mainframe officials, students had three months to explore the system and complete the contest tasks.
Voth did it in a record 12 days.
As a kid, he started playing with a Tandy personal computer back in the '80s and was pretty much just an Internet kind of computer guy when he started at Georgian.
But he took a shining to all things computer - "it all sinks in during the third semester" - and is now on the dean's list and has become a member of the dean's council to offer his advice on different aspects of computer studies.
Voth is a mainframe man.
"They have gotten smaller but have become more powerful, they have more memory and they run cooler," he said.
"But the biggest difference between a personal computer and a mainframe is the access to data. The speed of its processors performs over a thousand tasks instantaneously," Voth added. "When you need a numerous number of tasks done instantly, you're not going to get that without a mainframe."
Because of his success with the Master the Mainframe contest, Voth is going to the IBM mainframe lab in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in late March to meet company executives and engineers and tour the mainframe plant.
"I'm looking forward to seeing big things when I go down there. I'll see the IBM headquarters and hopefully there will be some networking opportunities," he said, adding that a huge IBM mainframe coming to Barrie as part of a new data centre is at the back of his mind.
Well, maybe the front.
"That's a mainframer's dream," he said of working with such a powerful machine.
"We are the gatekeepers of all this data. We're trusted with the inner workings of the company and make sure the data is secured and getting it to where it needs to go."