Toronto Night School Plugged into IBM i LUG
February 14, 2011 Dan Burger
As local user groups (LUGs) in the IBM i community flicker and fade away, it brings increasing attention to the survivors. What are they doing to keep the candle lit? Offering quality education and training has always been important, but maybe never of any greater importance than it is today.
The Toronto User Group (TUG) has found that a close affiliation with a local college has worked out well and the TUG membership is taking advantage of this to a greater degree than anyone might have expected.
TUG Night School classes began in 2010. The success of those courses, judged by the numbers of people signing up and completing the training, has led to a continuation of the program in 2011. Most of the offerings are scheduled for one night per week and are completed after four to six weeks. All-day Saturday classes are being added to increase convenience. Much of the course work is related to Web development.
Buchner is a former IBMer with nearly 20 years of experience running face-to-face training programs for Big Blue.
The TUG Night School is set up with the York University campus of Seneca College located in Toronto. A typical classroom is equipped with 22 workstations running the latest versions of both Microsoft Windows and Novell SUSE Linux. Each workstation has Internet access and access to the school’s Power Systems server running IBM i.
The school has had a long-term relationship with IBM, which obviously helps. Curriculum for the TUG program is influenced by TUG, IBM, and the college. An example of this cooperative relationship is having Seneca professor Russell Pangborn as a vice president of the Toronto User Group. He’s also on the TUG board of directors. His efforts at Seneca College have been recognized by IBM, which has presented him with an award for academic excellence.
And although TUG does the promotional work to put people in the seats, some college students are also in the sessions. Student participation is encouraged, especially where there is an active practicum (field work), apprenticeship, or co-op with one of the TUG corporate members.
“We had 23 companies from TUG participate in the night school, and approximately 10 Seneca students that were involved here and there,” Buchner says. “We expect the program to gain momentum as word-of-mouth starts to circulate. While the community is aware of the offerings, it typically takes some peer pressure and word-of-mouth in order for the members to get off their butts.”
Most people do need a poke with a sharp stick to break out of familiar routines. I, for one, have a few scars to prove it. So, in my mind, Buchner’s point is legit.
Making the effort to learn new skills takes time and resources, but the payoff is substantial when put to work. A more effective and efficient professional is one payoff. Higher job satisfaction and employee retention are also factors.
The term legacy is frequently used to describe systems, but seldom used to describe skills. Yet, modern systems in the hands of aged skillsets results in a poor return on investment compared to the untapped potential. And as fast as systems evolve, skills must keep pace.
It seems to me that the most important benefit that a local user group can offer is a program of quantifiable skills building connected with a proven educational source of training and the involvement and cooperation of local businesses that understand the value of a modern, skilled workforce.
“We see employers send their employees and we see those who finance the education personally,” Buchner says. “There are iSeries developers looking to learn new technologies that align with the company business need and managers, who feel the need to take the class so they can better relate to and understand projects happening in their business. They recognize the training is very high quality, yet costs a fraction of commercial training.”
Tom Mavroidis is a TUG member who strongly supports the Night School program.
“The classes just intensify and reinforce the belief that we lived in a vacuum on the i for many years,” he says. “Ultimately, if as a community of programmers we do not take the time to understand today’s newest technology, we are both doing ourselves and the companies we work for a tremendous disservice. We always thought everything was just about the i, but the world has moved on. The tools are out there and freely available and we really need to commit ourselves to understanding web technologies. What a watershed these classes have been!”
For his part, Buchner says he’d be happy to help expand the concept with other LUGs outside the Toronto area. If you are interested in Buchner’s assistance, he can be reached via the TUG website. Click on “TUG Directors.”