OCEAN User Group Milestone: 25 Years of Educational Endurance
January 27, 2014 Dan Burger
There ought to be a degree program, a certification, or a lifetime achievement award for user group members. This form of continuing education is undervalued. Maybe it’s because there’s no graduation and no diploma to hang on the wall. But if you think of all the knowledge gained and the professional contacts made, the value proposition looks pretty good. The IT business is an exciting, fast-paced profession. Ask anyone who has been associated with the OCEAN user group for all or even a part of its 25-year run. It’s been a continuing education experience, a valuable lesson in collaboration, and a peer group party.
Consistently presenting high caliber speakers has certainly benefited OCEAN. And because there is strength in numbers, this group is a magnet for IBM i executives, subject matter experts, and training professionals. Last week the agenda included Tim Rowe, the business architect for application development at IBM and Robert Tipton, a walking, talking, change management expert specializing in personal and professional growth. Access to these types of professionals is the perfect example of the value of continuing education.
Rowe is as close to the IBM i operating system development as anyone you’ll find. And he’s an application modernization advocate and mobile recruitment station. You can find some of his insights on this topic in another article in this issue of The Four Hundred titled RPG OA: Open Opportunity, Open to Interpretation. His session at the OCEAN meeting (approximate attendance: 125) was an overview of IBM i enhancements that have been poured into the operating system since the introduction of i 7.1, including the subsequent Technology Refreshes that currently total seven.
The highlights of the Rowe presentation included an emphasis on the expansion of free-form RPG capabilities and the Rational Developer for i features delivered in TR 7.
“I think everybody is better off with free form RPG,” he told the audience, “because it results in readable, more maintainable RPG code that doesn’t require a legacy RPG programmer. It requires a developer. It is application maintenance for the future.”
We’ve written about this on multiple occasions in IT Jungle publications, most recently in an article titled Old Code And High Maintenance that is based on an interview with an RPG developer who has been converting fixed-format RPG to free-format RPG and who is familiar with the RDi design tool. That’s a rare combination. When Rowe asked the audience at his OCEAN session how many were using RDi, I counted six hands. It begs the question: Could anyone be worse than IBM at marketing its RPG application design tool? For a company that is focused on software and services, I think this is appalling.
The fixed- to free-format code conversion could stimulate application modernization. More modernization is good. A best-guess estimation is that approximately half the IBM i installed base has moved to IBM i 7.1, which was introduced in 2010. Let’s assume code conversion gets some traction and eventually the green-screen monkey will be pried loose and the IBM i will get a lot more credit for being a modern platform. People (and publications) have been saying this for years. They’ve been criticizing IBM for not doing enough to improve the user experience. Sending executives out to talk to the customers and getting reports of that in the IBM i press is not enough marketing effort. Turning friction into momentum is the mark of a good software company. IBM needs to get much better at this.
Tipton’s presentation, which was sort of a step-by-step guide to overcoming resistance to change, was a perfect trailer to Rowe’s modernization message. I would recommend these two go on the road together. Tipton is a skilled communicator and his advice for overcoming the barriers to progress should be heard and taken to heart by the IBM i community. Hello, IBM i advocates, Tipton has a blog you can subscribe to just like IT Jungle. “Don’t fret about change. Get good at it” is a Tipton axiom.
I signed up for his emails. If I can learn some effective ways of making things run smoother, I’ll come away from the experience a happy man.
Not many local user groups have the endurance record of OCEAN, which in case you’ve been wondering what the acronym stands for its Orange County Educational Advancement Network. The volunteers who work behind the scenes to keep this surviving user group are rightfully proud of their achievement and the individual and corporate members have benefited in accordance with the effort and dedication they’ve put into it.
In the coming months, the OCEAN meeting agenda will feature Aaron Bartell, discussing the open source Ruby and Rails development language and environment; Trevor Perry, talking about IT strategy and modernization; and Kent Milligan, covering innovations in DB2 for i.
The opportunity for continuing education at the local user group level is something all IBM i advocates and those looking for career advancement should consider.