Education Matching Innovation: OCEAN Tech Conference
June 20, 2011 Dan Burger
Ho-hum or gung-ho? Which is it going to be? It’s just about that time for the annual OCEAN Tech Conference, an opportunity to see and hear about the new technologies that apply to the IBM i platform. You know, it’s only a legacy system if you allow it to be one. And if you and your IT staff have no modern skills, what does that make you? A legacy programmer? A legacy systems admin?
The OCEAN Tech Conference is not the only place where you can pick up the pace of what’s happening in your IT department. But it’s a great place, nonetheless. The OCEAN User Group–headquartered in Costa Mesa, which is south of Los Angeles–has been hosting this event for 18 years. It’s one of the best one-day, IBM midrange-centric tech events in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi.
Last week I spoke with two of OCEAN’s long-time members and possibly its most dependable volunteers. (That’s not to diminish the many others who have contributed and continue to contribute to the longevity of OCEAN, while other LUGs have faded away, but these two have put in countless hours.) What they had to say hit on several key points when it comes to training and education.
Carol Comeau and Bob Langieri both work in the employee recruitment business and have for many years. They’ve seen the good times and the bad. They work with individuals searching for jobs and with companies looking for talented IT performers.
During the past several years, when IT departments have been downsized and jobs have been outsourced, both of these talent scouts have emphasized the critical importance of developing IT skills. From the individual’s perspective, it puts them in a better position to hold onto jobs or get back into a job. From the company’s perspective, it translates into getting more out of their IT investments, particularly as it applies to the IBM i.
As Comeau and Langieri look over resumes, they don’t find a lot of people who have modern skills that lead to job interviews and job offers.
“For years in this business, if you knew RPG you didn’t need to know anything else. Now there are different technologies, different types of software,” Langieri says. “There’s been the advancement of Microsoft Windows tools, networks, and servers. You have Web stuff going on. When someone has learned five or six new skills and that person leaves a company, the company wants to replace that person with another person who has those skills. The problem is only the exceptional employees have learned those skills and they have jobs that they are not leaving.”
“It has created an imbalance of what talent is available and what talent companies want. It’s a small percentage of people who understand this and will go out and acquire new skills. It’s a fact that a lot of programmers will never become project managers or business analysts. They are good coders and that’s all they want to be. They may be content with that, but the world is changing and the number of only-programmer jobs is dwindling. There is a diminishing need for them and a growing need for people who are more versatile.”
It’s funny how people will get inflamed about the high unemployment rate, jobs lost to overseas workers, and stagnating wages, but are unwilling to take matters into their own hands when it comes to career building or making themselves more valuable to their employers. But just as peculiar is the attitude that companies have about training and educating their employees.
Some claim empty pockets, which may or may not apply to other departments within the organization especially those determined to be profit centers or with a well-established connection to a corporate mission statement. But even those that claim open avenues to education and training frequently create bottlenecks that effectively deter employees from seeking these opportunities. Sometimes it involves request proposals on the front end or after the training reports that are ignored or given minimal significance on the receiving end. Sometimes it’s an attitude expressed by managers that any request for training is a big pain in the butt.
Still, the responsibility for making something happen lies with the individual. Not that many are speaking up, asking their companies for training, putting in a request, writing a proposal for justification.
“There are a lot of people in the IBM i community who are not willing to write a proposal or justify why they need a specific type of education. They are not willing to even ask if they can do a proposal,” Comeau says. “Some people are gung-ho. I believe there is an individual responsibility for getting education and a company responsibility for providing it.
“There are things going on that people should want to know about. And there are opportunities to hear about methodologies that are becoming more widely used. It’s sometimes embarrassing to discover how few people know how to use the more modern technologies that are available on the IBM i.”
Individual initiative has a lot to do with it. Some people are self-starters and others need a kick-start.
“Many times a person will not approach the company with information about new releases or new features that could be used,” Langieri says. “This is one of those 80-20 rules: 20 percent of individuals are leading edge and staying up with technology and 80 percent are people who just do what they are told to do and if something’s not broke they won’t fix it.”
The OCEAN Tech Conference is taking place July 22. at National University in Costa Mesa. The class schedule includes sessions on application development, Web development tools, security, infrastructure, databases, and performance optimization. The entire session schedule, which features seven educational tracks and a total of 35 classes, can be accessed at this link.
The list of industry experts making session presentations includes RPG expert Paul Tuohy, IBM Power Systems software team member Alison Butterill, PHP development brainiac Mike Pavlak, mobile applications and open source wizard Aaron Bartell, and others. Session abstracts, listed according to the speakers, can be found here.
The cutoff for early registration discounts is Tuesday, June 21, but even at the full price for non-members, which is $325, this is a great value.