Recognition Of IBM i Begins With Teamwork
February 11, 2013 Yvonne Enselman
Events keep reinforcing my opinion that it is imperative to address team building and communication between IT teams. Recently, I was talking to a friend about his frustration regarding his career as a developer. He has advanced skills and has been successful for more than 30 years on IBM midrange platforms. But he also has the feeling his every misstep will be used by the non-IBM i people in his organization as justification to move away from the platform.
For the past 10 years, developers working on all platforms and languages have been hammered about modernizing skills to remain marketable. Often programmers pushed themselves to keep their skills current. They learned at least as much and possibly more than during their pre-career education. The result was a new breed of developer. Business responsibilities were added to technical roles. Lead programmers and technical team leaders now function as bridges between IT teams, help oversee other programmers, and continue producing technical deliverables. Their peers are leaders in other specialties like project management, QA, BA, and non-native IBM i development in areas such as user experience.
The new team compositions have senior IBM i developers interfacing with professionals who often do not have IBM i backgrounds or appreciation. These hybrid IT professionals have business, communication, and organizational knowledge that are more easily understood by line-of-business teams and upper management. When technical leads are paired with other mid-level managers who do not understand the importance of their technical abilities or the difficulty in acquiring them, it often results in communication failures. Communication breakdowns along with platform loyalty combine to prevent team building and erode confidence.
In the case of advanced RPG people, their experience typically includes examples of automation, reduced operational costs, and added value. They are accustomed to strong quality assurance testing. Therefore, they stridently advocate for the platform. The value and importance of enterprise systems and data management are known and taken for granted, along with the programmers who provide them.
Organizations do not move forward without teams working in concert. While complicated and perhaps uncomfortable, these are the environments we need to work within.
Hybrid business-technical professionals enhance IT teams with their experiences in quality assurance, business analysis, project management, user experience design, and business intelligence, among other abilities. Many hybrid professionals–regardless of platform preferences–have business education backgrounds specific to their business strengths.
It is the integration of the IBM i and the non-IBM i groups that repeatedly cause problems. To improve the coordination of systems and avoid the discarding of the IBM i platform, which is rarely a good business choice but is known to occur anyway, we have some work to do.
First of all, we must attract more business process and quality assurance colleagues to the IBM i education community. We must insist that more people be trained to communicate on a mid-management level that this platform supports our organizations better than and more economically than other choices. We need to enhance our education offerings to help programmers comprehend and develop IT line-of-business skills needed to thrive in today’s departments.
You might think attracting this type of talent would be simple. When I was president of the OMNI User Group in Chicago in 2009, there wasn’t a single topic at our meetings or conferences that was relevant to the hybrid IT professionals. Our board of directors voted in support of adding education focused in this area, but the cost was prohibitive. In the end, we didn’t locate speakers in our region with the hybrid specialties knowledge willing to further the altruistic goals of IBM i education.
Embracing the non-IBM i hybrid-professional is a harder sell for our user groups and the target team members themselves. Like any entrenched organization, IBM i local user groups can be perceived as cliquish and rife with inside jokes. I have a friend from high school who is an AIX professional and attended the 2012 IBM Power Systems Technical University in Las Vegas. We had an amusing conversation where I pointed out that the IBM i group has self-supporting education initiatives and he rejoined; at least AIX groups don’t anthropomorphize IBM into a frienemy. We need to communicate without being off-putting that our appreciation for this box pays bills and supports our families. Most of us fell in love with the paycheck before the platform. However, it now seems that IBM i proficiency is a financial and career liability. This will continue to be true if the community as a whole fails to advocate for and attract modern talent. Insular mentality and resentment of changing priorities are hurting us.
For instance, a technical team leader at my company recently was showing a small group how five components of our main system interact by drawing pictures on a white board. The big black square that connected everything was labeled the iSeries. Two of us mentioned the system we have is no longer called that. He made a funny face at us, and we moved on to stay on task.
The next day that TTL and I lunched with an executive project manager in our company. I took the opportunity to give him a hard time about the faux pas. He responded that he had the right to call it an AS/400 or even a System/38 if he wanted. We discontinued the ideological debate and began educating our CPM about why the platform name is contentious, how it evolved, and the true advancement of the Power series. We teased each other a little for the purpose of IBM i championing to a decision maker in our company. I also explained why being involved in COMMON is so important to me. My feelings regarding team members getting IBM i-centric education applicable to programmers, testers, and user experience professionals at a single conference our organizations will grow stronger. Resulting in better understanding of the system we have and the value it presents, as well as appropriate opportunities to interact outside of the workplace.
Yes, programmers are under incredible pressure, but confidence in new teams and different peers is mandatory as departments modernize. By opening up to the IBM i community, hybrid-professionals can see what their counterparts are experiencing and determine how best to support them. Comprehensive, high-quality work requires the involvement of many specialties and open communication that doesn’t undervalue contributions from people who are giving their best efforts.
As a community, we need to think outside our usual boxes and determine how to integrate new positions into our education events to promote team building. It is easy to lament the good old days when what happened in IT stayed in IT, but that simply isn’t possible any longer. As there is more oversight and knowledge of issues, we have to be supportive of each other rather than in competition. If not, frustration will continue to erode the confidence of the teams needed to drive success in the coming years.
Yvonne Enselman is a former developer, an ASTQB Certified Tester Advanced Level – Test Analyst, and the technical specialist for Testing and Deployment at Brotherhood Mutual Insurance. Enselman has been a part of the IBM i community since 1997, a member of the Omni User group in Chicago since 1998, and recently became a volunteer for the COMMON User Group.