Butterill Brings Crowd To OCEAN Meeting
October 21, 2013 Dan Burger
A week after IBM i Technology Refresh 7 was announced, Alison Butterill, product offering manager for IBM i, showed up at the OCEAN user group meeting with plenty to talk about. Butterill, who travels like the wind except the wind has trouble keeping up, was asking a group of IBM midrange executives, in a roundtable discussion with software vendors, how many knew about TR7. Very few acknowledgements were signaled.
That led to a question about how many in this group were running IBM i 7.1 on Power Systems. Again, very little response in the affirmative. How about 6.1? The needle on the applause meter barely twitched. How about V5R4? Finally, a bigger reaction. But the biggest noise didn’t rise up until the last category of V5R3 and earlier became an option. That’s not exactly encouraging, but it explains why few were paying attention to the TR7 news.
Butterill seemed to take the impromptu survey results in stride. Just a day before her appearance at the OCEAN meeting, she had been at the Zend Technologies conference, where she met and talked with three System/36 shops that were looking for assistance in making an OS upgrade.
Butterill works closely with Steve Will, the chief architect for IBM i, to make decisions on what goes into the future releases of IBM i. Will leads the i operating system development process and Butterill provides input from the business side, including other business units at IBM and input from customers, like the ones who showed up at the user group meeting in Orange County. The two IBM executives have a lot to say about what goes into the technology refreshes and the OS upgrades. To find so many people working for companies that are far behind in OS upgrades and unable to use enhancements built into the tech refreshes, must be a little disappointing.
As Butterill fished for a topic that fit the reality of the majority, she tossed out mobile devices, an IT subject that can’t be overlooked. Bingo! Butterill said mobile device support was “the number one thing she gets asked about when she consults with companies. We’ve seen a steady increase of interest in mobile during the past year and we are getting a lot of feedback that tablets are favored over smartphones because of the larger screens.” She also mentioned several companies that had yet to develop any graphical applications, but were jumping into mobile development as their first graphical application development project. The majority of companies move to browser-based desktop apps before transitioning to mobile, but others find themselves in a bigger hurry to mobilize.
Compared to a year ago, Butterill notes a substantial increase in interest in mobile app development. “There’s been a steady increase in mobile application development interest at IBM i shops,” she says. And the majority of that interest is in tablets rather than smartphones.
A question on the topic of an IBM i and RPG skills shortage, brought up by a vendor who said it’s a frequent subject when talking with IBM i shops, allowed Butterill an opening to discuss TR7 and address the issue at the same time.
Butterill agreed that it has been difficult to find RPG programmers, but that led her into what IBM has done to fix that problem. She had three points to make about actions that would reduce or eliminate the issue of IBM i shops finding people with RPG skills. The first is modernizing the RPG language by making it easier to create free form code that is more like Java and C++. This process has been under way for years and another big step was just introduced with TR7. By making RPG syntax similar to other “standardized” languages (say good-bye to column-oriented coding), RPG no longer requires a specialist programmer. The second point that addresses this is IBM increasing the educational opportunities so that Java and C++ programmers are better equipped to migrate old RPG to modern free form RPG. And third, IBM is making tools available that automate the conversion process of old RPG to modern RPG.
All these factors combine to enable non-RPG skilled programmers to fill the position that only an RPG developer who had modern RPG skills could fill.
On the flip side of this is if you happen to be an RPG programmer with skills that bridge both old and modern RPG, you have a skill that is in demand. The bad news is there are so many RPG programmers without modern RPG skills, or other modern skills in general. On top of that is the reality that few students are graduating college with job-ready RPG skills.
The skills subject is a hot button topic for Bob Langieri, an OCEAN member and owner of an IBM midrange career recruitment business for more than 30 years. Langieri’s opinions have been included in numerous IT Jungle articles, including one titled “Having What It Takes To Get Hired” a month ago.
“IBM’s idea of making RPG more like Java and C++ is a great idea,” Langieri says. “But RPG is native only to IBM i, and unless you can get IBM i and RPG back in community colleges, I don’t see this working. It’s not working in California and other metro areas that I know of. How do you get people interested in both Java and RPG without it being in colleges? Looking like Java is a great idea, but delivering the training is the problem.”
There was more give-and-take discussion on the topic of hard to find RPG and IBM i skills than any other topic during the roundtable discussion.
Since I mentioned Langieri’s hot button, it’s only fair that I mention a hot button for Butterill as well. One negative reference to the renaming of the AS/400 to the iSeries to the System i, and to the IBM i running on Power Systems, stirred a bit of a tempest ending with a let’s-all-get-on-the-same-team request to call the system by its current name.
“It doesn’t matter how we all feel about the name,” she chastised. “The bottom line is the name is the name. We need to, as a community, accept it and move on. It’s not the same system as it was in 1988. If we keep calling it an AS/400, we’ll keep treating it like old box in the corner.”
After that bit of feather-ruffling, the conversation went on to include comments from Doug Balog, the new Power Systems general manager–“a guy who is pro-active, aggressive, and likes to think out of the box”–with suggestions for companies that are moving to the cloud “examine your contracts 10 or 15 times,” and how to finding good information on the IBM website, particularly the RPG Café and developerWorks sites.
Latter in the evening, Butterill’s keynote address to the user group was an overview of the TR7 announcement. Having Butterill at the meeting boosted attendance to more than 80 participants, a much better than average turnout.