How Bright Is Your Future?
Published: June 18, 2012
by Dan Burger
At a time when skeleton crews are manning the data centers and the norm is to maintain the status quo, increasing budgets for IT training and education are as hard to find as dry palms during the next round of layoff announcements. Maybe it's not as bad as it was three years ago, but there are still plenty of stories going around about IBM i-based companies that want the latest and greatest technology, but they don't have or can't find the skilled people they need.
Companies that invest in IT training and education still exist and it only makes sense that they are better off with employees that are skilled in modern technologies than companies with little or no investment in IT skills. Building employee skills used to be part of building a business. If that was still happening, you wouldn't see software companies ramping up their service departments and making sure they have highly trained personnel because often their customers don't. Everything IT is being sold as a service these days, and the selling price is seldom as inexpensive as it looks on the front end.
The small IT staff at the Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuaries in the Greater Los Angeles and Orange County area develops and maintains applications on an IBM iSeries. Charles Janneck, business applications manager, says he attends the annual tech conference hosted by the OCEAN User Group because it of its development track, but jumps to sessions outside that topic when he finds something that grabs his attention.
"The nice things about the OCEAN conference are the number of educational tracks and that the cost is so reasonable," Janneck says. "We've sent people to other conferences that were much more expensive, but we are not sending staff to those conferences now. Because the cost of OCEAN is nominal, we can afford to experiment a little and if we find it's not useful, it's not a lot of wasted money. The same speakers who are at those conferences are also coming to OCEAN, so you have the top names in the iSeries industry. These are people who have been around since the inception of the AS/400, who are still influencers on IBM."
"I separate the sessions that are nice to know and those that I can take away information and use it right away," says Eric Head, senior manager at Rose Hills. "I learned the foundation for SQL embedded techniques at an OCEAN Tech Conference and also control language techniques. It got me started, and then we ran with it."
Kerry Anderson, the lead analyst at 3M's Unitek Division in Monrovia, California, has been attending the OCEAN conference for about ten years. During that time there have always been four or five RPG programmers from the Unitek Division attending the conference each year.
"Having a conference like this locally is a big plus," Anderson says. "But if the content wasn't there, it wouldn't matter that it's also very inexpensive. They get first-class content. It's one event that we all count on every year."
Other conferences that require travel and multiple days out of the office are also available to the IT department employees, but that is done on a rotational basis so that not all attend the same year.
The application development crew has a variety of old and new technology interests. Anderson is working in XML and has an interest in PHP. Others are getting warmed up to free form RPG.
"Everybody is able to find material in the sessions at OCEAN. The sessions cover hot topics, but don't neglect the basics," he says.
3M is big on innovation and development of people. Probably better than the average company, Anderson notes. "We have a minimum requirement of 40 hours of training each year for the IT department. It can be fulfilled in many ways including book studies, webinars, and conferences. Some is mandatory training like the 12 hours of project management training we had last week. The training requirements are documented in the employees' annual reviews."
Friday, July 20, the annual OCEAN Tech Conference comes around again. This is a one-day event with 34 sessions in seven tracks that include: Power Programming, New Technology, Web Programming, Infrastructure, Mobile Apps (two separate tracks), and Vendor Product Specific Technologies. The roster of expert instructors includes: Jon Paris, Susan Gantner, Pete Massiello, Alan Seiden, Craig Pelkie, Joe Pluta, Alex Roytman, Eamon Musallam, and Paul Holm. That's not the entire list.
Although the majority of attendees stream in from the Orange County and the greater Los Angeles area, this conference also brings attendees from San Diego, San Francisco, California's Central Valley, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada.
You can find a session schedule, session abstracts, and speaker profiles online to help you plan your day.
Vendor support for this event means two things. One is that attendees have opportunities to learn about software solutions that can show off the modern capabilities of the IBM i platform. The other is that the low cost of this day of education is being underwritten by these companies. The vendor list includes: CNX, Meridian IT, Halcyon Software, Profound Logic, IBM, Remain Software, inFORM Decisions, S4i Systems, LANSA, thinkASG, looksoftware, Unicom Systems, Mainline Information Systems, Vision Solutions, Maxava, and SEQUEL Software.
Register by June 25 and you'll save some dough. It's $175 for members and $275 for non-members. After that date, registration fees are $225 for members and $325 for non-members.
The conference location is National University, a classroom setting conducive to learning. It's a convenient location and it offers plenty of free parking.
Bob Langieri has been with the OCEAN User Group for 20-plus years and has served repeatedly during those years as president, vice president, and sometimes chief cook and bottle-washer. He also runs an IBM i recruiting business, so he knows a thing or two about the job market from the perspective of the employer and the employee.
"IT directors and CIOs have a reputation to earn and to keep," he says. "They want their departments to achieve accolades from management and users, and to do that they need to be sure they have a capable staff. The right staff can defy budgets, schedules, and deadlines, but they need the educational resources and a modern set of tools in order to have the flexibility to achieve. This is where OCEAN User Group and the annual technical conference play a major role. It is difficult--maybe impossible--for a person to be unable to justify the cost or the fact that an employee is out of the office for only one day to learn some new skills that can improve their performance and productivity the next day back in the office."
As I see it, there's a reason why companies complain that they don't have the in-house IT skills to implement modern technologies. It's because they don't invest in employees and in many cases it drives their best employees away. Good employees are more likely to work for companies that provide excellent training and professional development programs.
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