Good IBM i Ideas From Wisconsin
May 2, 2016 Dan Burger
One of IT Jungle‘s touchstone people in the IBM midrange community is Jim Buck. He’s just signed on for his 13th year as president of the Wisconsin Midrange Computing Professionals Association (WMCPA) and his day job is RPG instructor at Gateway Technical College. He is also the co-author of Programming in RPG IV, which is in its fifth edition. Buck knows the IBM i territory, and his experiences are indicators of where we are.
Buck’s WMCPA connections combined with his teaching role at Gateway Technical College have developed into a pipeline of young talent that flows into companies in the Milwaukee to Chicago corridor and beyond. If the collaborative environment between business and education that he’s created could be packaged and delivered to local user groups in all the major metro areas, the IBM i skills shortage would not be a top concern and IBM i would not be a mystery to the younger generation. I wonder why this hasn’t taken place.
“Young people do not identify with IBM. That’s a problem,” Buck says. “A smart CIO, like a smart general, realizes that without soldiers it’s not a good idea to fight a war.”
The IBM i is not exactly fighting a war, but it is in a battle and it does need soldiers, so the analogy fits.
Gateway Tech graduated eight students this spring from its two-year Programming and Software Development curriculum that includes two RPG programming courses, a course on Java programming for IBM i, a course on IBM control language, and a course on IBM enterprise system concepts. If it’s not the most i-centric education available, I’d be interested in knowing where it gets more i-intensive than this.
Gateway graduating 8 or 10 students (average age is 26) isn’t a pipe that’s large enough to fill the current demand in the local area. Demand exceeds supply. Not by a lot, but Buck does turn away IBM i shops looking to hire. Seven students in his class that graduated this spring were working as interns-to-hire and five students accepted full-time job offers after graduation. One student is still interviewing.
“Students ask me, ‘Am I going to be writing RPG the rest of my life?’ and I have to be honest with them. I can’t tell them what they’ll be writing two years from now. But I do tell them their RPG skills are introducing them to companies that otherwise wouldn’t normally consider you for employment. RPG gives them an advantage over others applying with these companies,” Buck says.
Getting companies involved with local community colleges and technical colleges has always been an important element and it continues to be the missing link in building a successful academic initiative. Colleges want to fill seats in the classrooms. They want to connect students with jobs. There’s nothing better at filling seats in class than high prospects for employment after graduation. Why has it been a struggle for IBM i shops to band together and work with local colleges to create curriculums that prepare students for real world job opportunities? Why doesn’t IBM make this a priority? Why don’t the local user groups cultivate these business/college relationships?
Buck sees danger ahead. He’s prepared a session that he’ll present at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition next month in New Orleans. His session topic is the real cost to IBM i shops that fail to modernize. It’s based on what he’s learned as a teacher working with young adults entering the IBM i job market. The short answer is the modernized shops have the hiring advantage over the shops that rely on business computing methods that haven’t been updated since Pong was the most popular video game. Buck is also scheduled to make this presentation at the Long Island System User Group meeting later this month.
In March, the annual WMCPA Technical Conference registered the most attendees in recent memory. This is a two-and-a-half-day event that incorporates a one-day Women in IT conference with more than 100 attendees and a unique Extreme Makeover–UI Edition technology session that put application modernization vendors in competition with one another to solve a business problem based on creating an order entry application. Participating vendors included Profound Logic, BCD Software, Fresche Legacy, LANSA, CNX, Zend Technologies, and .NET.
Wyatt Repavich, WMCPA board member and program director, came up with the idea, which seems like a good one that we will see duplicated at other tech conferences.