Power Systems Adds New Choices for IBM’s Academic Initiative
April 21, 2008 Dan Burger
If you want to recruit fresh young talent to careers in information technology, you have to show them where the jobs are. No jobs. No students. It might sound like fun to be a blacksmith, but there just hasn’t been much of a calling for those skills in the past 100 years or so. The idea of a high-demand career is very much colored by the local business community. And IBM is well aware of this, being both a global and local IT supplier.
The reality is that a lot of students want to stay in the communities where they grew up, where their family lives, and where they have life-long friends. (To be sure, some want to get as far away from their families as they can. . . . ) They want a competitive wage, but they would like to avoid the deep debt of paying back student loans that are typically run up during the chase for a bachelor’s degree in computer science. What they want is a choice.
Now that Power Systems has merged the System i and System p server lines in terms of hardware, on the educational side of the IT issue, IBM’s Academic Initiative is taking a similar, unified approach. As we all know, there has been a System i Academic Initiative in place for years, and through it, IBM has been working with colleges, universities, customers, and business partners to re-emphasize the OS/400, i5/OS, and now i 6.1 platform and to network college campuses with the local business communities to demonstrate the existence of a job market for graduates. IBM has not had an academic program that highlights the AIX operating system.
“The Power Systems branding doesn’t change anything we are doing with System i,” Linda Grigoleit, Power Systems Academic Initiative program manager, told me at the COMMON Conference in Nashville, Tennessee a few weeks ago. “It’s just added to things that we have in place. The basic elements will be the same for AIX and will be integrated into what we are doing.”
Grigoleit views this as an advantage because it offers colleges a choice and it potentially brings more local businesses into the college/business community network that the Academic Initiative is building. “There will be schools that stick totally with i 6.1 and schools that will stick totally with AIX 6.1. Some schools will be a blend,” she says.
IBM has also increased its investment in the Academic Initiative to accommodate the addition of AIX in the project, according to Grigoleit.
The strength of the Academic Initiative is in what Grigoleit calls the “academic network.” The key to the network is the involvement of the local business community. That is, those organizations that are running their businesses on Power Systems. Then it becomes a matter of matching the job requirements of the business community with the educational requirements that a local college can provide in order to turn out graduates with the skills that apply to jobs that need filling. The knowledge that jobs will be available to graduates has a definite impact on curriculum.
“Each school is different in the ways that they approach curriculum,” Grigoleit says. “A lot of community colleges and tech schools teach the tech skills like RPG, operations, CL, DB2, database analysis and design. From the AIX perspective, we will start out our discussions with academic institutions with the fact that basic AIX skills are needed. That’s what our customers are saying they want.”
At the four-year colleges, Grigoleit said there is generally less emphasis on specific programming skills in the information science degree programs, where there are often ties to degrees in business. Here you find classes like business resiliency, business continuity, high availability, security, and service oriented architecture. She says the Academic Initiative has made progress getting the former System i platform recognized in this part of the curriculum as well. Again, she attributes this to the local business community advising the colleges regarding the skills that will put students in line for jobs.
“Almost all colleges run on Windows and Linux,” Grigoleit acknowledged. “The students tend to think the world runs on these platforms. That’s why we are doing what we are doing. To help them understand that the world does not run on Windows.”
There’s no Academic Initiative emphasis on getting more technically trained students in the pipeline or more business-trained students out the doors.
“If our customers are looking for technical talent, we work with the two-year schools to provide that. If the customers are asking for MIS talent, we work with the four-year schools. It’s a factor of the local academic network,” Grigoleit said.
For years, System i customers have been coming to the program and seeking IBM’s help in locating graduates. This is very customer-driven and partner-driven according to Grigoleit. She says IBM will help them establish a relationship with a local college or work with them to extend an existing relationship. That’s how the Academic Initiative functions. The situation often exists where schools are simply not connected with the local business community. There’s no quick fix, however. She characterizes it as “a long-term solution that’s subject to supply and demand.” One thing remains true,” she says. “There are not as many students going into IT to fill the demand.”
On the plus side there are schools with creative programs. They are working with companies to train existing employees, work with interns, and they are putting graduates into the job pipeline. But still, there are graduating students not finding their way to jobs. Part of it is that students from one area don’t necessarily want to go hundreds or thousands of miles from home to take a job. But that’s only part of the issue.
Although the Academic Initiative has its foundation on building local networks between colleges and the business community, there needs to be a better way to match up graduates in one part of the country with jobs available in other parts of the country.
“We are working on that,” Grigoleit said. Attempts have been made, but have yet to prove fruitful.
Two schools that are new to the Academic Initiative program had representation at the COMMON Conference through the COMMON Education Foundation.
Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, is just beginning a System i educational program as part of its computer science program. It is accessing the System i through the HUB at the University of Nebraska. The educational focus is in the database area and also on Web services and related topics. Professor Jiangping Wang attended COMMON to learn more about System i and intends to add additional topics to the program at Webster.
Professor Paul Coleman from Neumont University in Salt Lake City, Utah, also is setting up a program that accesses the System i HUB for teaching students computer science. His plan is a four-course System i track for the fall semester. While at COMMON, he was soliciting input from System i customers and IBM partners regarding course selection. It’s for certain an RPG course will be part of the plan. A roundtable meeting in Salt Lake City involving the business community also will be happening soon, Grigoleit said.