Where’s Your Next RPG Programmer Coming From?
October 6, 2014 Dan Burger
Employers expect that programmers can learn to work in most environments. And sometimes expectations are unrealistic. It depends on the environment as much as it depends on the programmer.
IBM midrange shops are in a battle as they search for RPG programmers. Organizations that are dependent on old, fixed-form RPG find themselves in an environment with limited ability to attract replacement programmers from the small pool of those know and understand a language that doesn’t fit with today’s IT. And organizations with modern, free-form RPG development environments similarly discover new programmers in limited supply.
Expecting programmers to learn an unfamiliar and out of date language is expecting too much. But teaching modern RPG to programmers who understand the fundamentals of programming logic fits right in with the almost universal hiring policy of “We don’t hire people for what they know. We hire for what they can learn.”
Although the RPG talent pool is shallow, it is not dried up. There are colleges graduating students with information technology degrees who know how to program in RPG. The best and the brightest have job opportunities right away. But there are organizations that are choosing to hire programmers with no RPG experience and train them to do that job. They are able to do that because modern RPG is familiar territory and the old stuff isn’t.
Paul Tuohy trains Java programmers to code in RPG. He’s been doing it for two years. Not to a large degree, but he sees the demand increasing. The typical IBM midrange shop that brings him in is expanding and needing new programmers because more work is coming in. Modern RPG is used for all new development, but older versions exist as well.
“They are hiring Java programmers and training them as RPG programmers because they can’t find RPG programmers right out of college,” Tuohy says. “They understand Java and SQL and it is very easy to teach them modern RPG. To them it is just another language.”
Susan Gantner and her partner Jon Paris have also done similar training engagements. “It’s not a huge demand,” Gantner says. “But this is something that has never happened in the past.”
In some cases, these are companies that have merged and the people from the non-IBM i company need to learn the platform and the language. In another example Gantner provided the company was a long-time RPG shop that had programmers sliding into retirement, which created a shortage of RPG skills. There were Java programmers working with WebSphere and front ends of RPG programs and a decision was made to teach them RPG so they could work on the back end of programs as well as the front end.
Tuohy points out that modernization is driving the demand in a lot of cases.
“New things need to be done, but staff is tied to keeping exiting apps running with no time for new development work,” he says.
The training goes quickly.
“They soak up RPG like sponges,” Tuohy says of the mostly young and enthusiastic programmers he connects with. “They comprehend it, take it onboard, and start working with it. The progress has been phenomenal. Generally, I’m back again in six months to train more advanced skills. And often they have already learned some of the advanced stuff on their own.”