Casualties Stack Up In The IBM i Job Wars
September 10, 2012 Dan Burger
The positive forecasts for the IT job market in general are not to be confused with the weather charts in IBM i-land. We have our own microclimate. Although the climate is similar, the landscape is different–the average employee’s years of experience and skills are sometimes as different as the weather in Laredo and Laramie. Also a factor is that mid-career talent gets more attention than post-mid-year talent (also known as geezers–sometimes affectionately, sometimes not).
Although most surveys I’ve read indicate close to two-thirds of all companies are intending to hire IT staff this year, it is harder to find statistics that show the extent of hiring that has been done. I think we all know which road is paved with good intentions. Companies that are planning to hire are reporting it is taking longer to fill open positions and it is more difficult to find qualified candidates.
I had a little chat last week with Bob Langieri, who has been in the IT staffing business for 37 years. He’s the sole proprietor and one-man band at Excel Technical. He’s also been a member of the OCEAN User Group, based in Orange County, California, since it was founded in 1989. And Langieri has seen better times in the IBM midrange job market.
The current state of the IT job market, particularly as it applies to the IBM i community, was the topic of a session he recently presented for his local user group. His view is colored by the Southern California market, which is going to be somewhat different than Las Vegas, Dallas, Milwaukee, Atlanta, or Boston, but much of what he sees from companies looking to hire and from individuals searching for work is universal.
Everyone says the hiring process is a buyer’s market. Companies that are hiring quickly fill most of the positions with highly qualified, highly skilled people. And a lot of folks who fit that same description go home without a job. In the race for available jobs there are more losers than winners. Shaking off the effects of not getting a job offer–sometimes after two or three interviews and coming this close–is what a lot of people have to do these days.
To get noticed in the job market, Langieri emphasizes versatility. Even if you don’t consider yourself an expert in a variety of areas, it is still valuable to present yourself as knowledgeable in many areas.
The job market Langieri sees today is no place for a one-dimensional RPG programmer who hasn’t even kept up with the advancements in RPG, let alone other technologies. The same is true for IBM i system administrators and network administrators. If you’re a high-mileage, one-trick pony, the door to opportunity looks like something from “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Fortunately, it’s not that scary for the people that come to Langieri for assistance. Most of them have pretty strong resumes.
“The expectations at companies hiring programmers are that the applicants be skilled in modern RPG along with strong skills in Microsoft Excel, Crystal Reports, SQL, PHP, HTML, understanding Web tools and interfaces, and mobile development,” he says.
And some of these skills are in the RPG programmers’ back pocket. His best-guess estimates for skills most RPG programmers bring with them are Excel (80 percent) and SQL (60 to 70 percent). On the short end of the stick, he says Web application development skills are nowhere near that high; less than 25 percent are packing that skill set.
IBM i network administrator jobs are more frequently requiring knowledge of Windows systems programs, including SQL Server, Exchange, and SharePoint. Admins are also expected to be conversant with VMware and Citrix Systems application and server virtualization technology as well as Linux and Unix platforms, storage area networks (SANs), and voice over IP (VoIP). No IBM i lone wolves need apply.
System administrators that are behind the times are finding themselves on the outside looking in. Job applicants are being asked for experience with high availability, LPARs, IBM i 6.1 or 7.1, LAN/WAN/VoIP/SAN; cloud computing; and networking Windows servers.
On top of that you can add experience with popular ERP packages from Infor, Oracle JD Edwards, SAP, and industry-specific ERP systems to many of the job requirements. And don’t be surprised to see EDI and document management experience on the list, too.
Without at least some of those tools on your resume, you are at a distinct disadvantage to even be selected for a first interview, Langieri says. That’s the reality.
For certain IT jobs, companies are being extremely selective. They put a long list of employee requirements that make the search for the right hire like finding a needle in a haystack, he says. (Funny how that analogy remains in use even though it’s almost as hard to find a haystack as it is the needle.) But it is not entirely hopeless.
“Some of the best hires I’ve seen involve people who didn’t have all the skills the company was looking for, but the company agreed to let them learn some of the skills on the job,” Langieri says.
In the IBM i community, cross-platform skills range from uncommon to I-might-as-well-be-looking-for-a-three-toed-sloth.
Langieri says he’s seen some unlikely combinations. One that had him scratching his head for a while was a company asking him to find a person with project leadership skills, a full complement of modern IBM i and RPG skills, and also a deep knowledge of C#. (If you’re that person, please contact Bob right away.) He’s also been handcuffed by companies that will not consider anyone who is unemployed because an executive has determined “if a person is unemployed, he can’t be that good.”
Langieri’s experience leads him to believe companies should focus on getting a quality person with demonstrated analytical skills to go along with a proven ability to learn. The focus on skills causes companies to overlook some excellent talent, he says. It’s not hard to identify people who can adapt and learn.
“A lot of people in IT can recall learning many technologies on the job, and they have become very successful,” Langieri points out.
For job seekers who can’t fill up a page or two with on the job skills experience that covers everything from all things i to repurposing a Windows box as a planter in the lobby, add as much learning experience as possible to your resume. If you’ve taken classes, attended conferences, read books, and gained some knowledge of technologies that have not been implemented, those things can help get you to the first interview. Some knowledge outside of the IBM midrange is better than no knowledge.