Critical Times, Critical Skills
December 8, 2014 Dan Burger
IBM i shops are better equipped to performance tune their infrastructure than they are to performance tune their IT workforce. On first glance, that may not raise many eyebrows. But the fact is that relatively few IBM i shops performance tune their infrastructure. What’s that tell you about their investments in training and education? There’s something stopping companies from making investments in skilled workers.
Last week I had a conversation with Jon Paris and Susan Gantner. They spend more than 300 days a year training IBM i programmers. That connects them with the minority of IBM i shops that are interested in skills development. It also connects them with people who involved with IT projects that are expanding the potential for solving business problems and supporting business decisions.
They told me the most pressing issues facing IBM i development teams is a short list of projects that include the modernization of code, user interfaces and development skills, followed by integration projects and more effective use of DB2 for i. That insight comes from a recent survey of 1,000 RPG & DB2 Summit alumni. The RPG & DB2 Summit is a twice annual conference organized by Paris, Gantner, and their colleague Paul Tuohy. They’ve been doing the Summit conferences for eight years. The next one is March 17-19, 2015, at the Embassy Suites Outdoor World in Dallas, Texas.
“Issues would not be issues if skills were up to date,” Paris says.
The IT staff at IBM i shops should get the management of their organizations educated. The management needs to have a clear idea of where the IT department is in terms of skills and technology.
Modernization is one of those issues that require management education. In the absence of education mistakes get made like decisions to move off the platform only to realize later that a clearer vision might have led to a better choice.
“We worked with a company that implemented a company-wide dashboard on all the managers’ desks.” Paris recalled. “The dashboards showed which apps were up and what the performance level was on all systems, which was almost everything under the sun except mainframes. All of a sudden they are modernizing apps and hiring programmers because one system was consistently green (safe) on the dashboard. Management was reminded day after day that the i was more reliable and dependable. It justified the system. That tells me there should be performance monitoring dashboards on all managers’ computers. Let them draw their own conclusions.”
Integration is another topic that deserves management attention. Instead of eliminating the i, management should understand the value of integrating the i. Technologies such as free form RPG and SQL make IBM i a desirable playmate in an integrated playground. When there becomes a common point of discussion application developers on the Java and .NET side because RPG code is no longer fixed format, you get cooperation and the same is true with SQL, which brings a common ground with people on the Oracle and SQL Server side of the house.
“Even those who are not keen to adopt free form RPG and SQL can see how helpful it can be in recruiting programmers to the platform,” Paris says. “People are recognizing the biggest threat is not people moving off the platform because it is ‘old fashioned,’ but because they can’t get staff. That has been steadily increasing the past couple of years.
At the last RPG & DB2 Summit, Gantner noted, there was a record number of younger developers. “And by younger I mean under 30, not 50! Most were trained in other languages and are learning RPG on the job.”
“We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm around Free Form RPG, SQL and (finally!) RSE, and that’s really exciting. These are technologies that help RPGers and the rest of the IT world understand one another. But more importantly, these technologies expose the beauty of RPG to younger developers, and that will help us fix the looming shortage of IBM i developers,” explains Paris.
“The best technologies to accomplish a given task keep changing,” Paris says. “Each year brings new and better ways to code. It’s more important than ever for career RPGers to refresh their skills regularly. It’s not just about efficiency; it’s about using new techniques that allow your applications to adapt to new requirements. I’m proud of the applications I have built over the years. I want to keep them fresh and relevant. I don’t want to have a new generation of developers throw my ‘babies’ out with the bath water because they are ugly!”
To find out more about the upcoming RPG & DB2 Summit check out www.systemideveloper.com.