Youth, Talent, Creativity Ported To IBM i
August 8, 2016 Dan Burger
Liam Allan doesn’t tell stories about the AS/400s he has known. He’s never worked on an iSeries or even a System i. At just 19 years of age, his brief adventures in the IBM midrange, he knows only the IBM i. The 2016 COMMON conference gave him a stage. Two weeks ago, he started a new job with Profound Logic, an IBM i vendor with a knack for hiring high profile talent.
Allan was pretty much an anonymous member of the IBM i community when we were all buying our 2016 calendars. But after he joined the Team Seiden chat page for PHP on i developers, he came to the attention of Trevor Perry, who was impressed with Allen’s work on a virtual machine that retrieves data from a physical file and his creation of a unique programming language that he calls TOP.
Perry encouraged him to apply for the COMMON Student Innovation Award, because at that time Allan was a student at Fareham College in Hampshire, England. Allan’s work proved worthy of the award and it brought with it a registration to the 2016 COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition, plus travel and lodging expenses.
At COMMON, Allan received the Innovation award and he also presented two sessions, which included the details of the project that won the award. It didn’t take long before the young RPG programmer was being mentioned in conversations throughout the conference. Alex Roytman, CEO at Profound Logic, was particularly intrigued.
After a series of conversations, Roytman understood much of Allan’s experience and passion is tethered to open source. Puzzle pieces started to put in place as Roytman explained that Profound has a Node.js. open source development team that he considers bleeding edge. Its development processes and practices rely more on experimentation and is working with a handful of Profound customers. The conversations led to a job offer, which Allan accepted.
He follows in the footsteps of other popular IBM i community members who have joined Profound: Scott Klement, Brian May–both IBM Power Champions–and Ted Holt, the senior editor of IT Jungle‘s tech tips newsletter Four Hundred Guru.
“It wasn’t necessarily the Node experience that Liam had. It was the work he had done at the code level in converting RPG to C# (a conversion process that Allan figured out on his own because it seemed interesting to him). It’s the same type of process that we are working on with Node,” Roytman said during an interview with IT Jungle last week that included Allan, who was getting a first look at Profound’s facilities in Orange County, California, as well as offices in Dayton, Ohio, and Starkville, Mississippi.
“I was pretty excited,” Allen said about the job offer. “There’s been a fair amount of progress. I’ve been writing a fair amount of code every day. The collaboration process is good.”
“The key thing with the team Liam works on,” Roytman says, “is that we have people on the team with experience on the business side of development with RPG and database-driven skills. Some with understanding more on the compiler level. This in not just business programming. It’s tools development and it requires knowledge of what goes on deep in the operating system. There are people on the team who have been with Profound for years and know the product line very well.”
The jury is still out on whether Node.js and other open source development will become mainstream for the majority of traditional RPG developers, but Roytman’s observation is that companies are bringing new people onto the platform and those people are more likely to be familiar with the open source languages. “There’s a transition happening,” he says.
Allan agrees that the interest in open source at traditional IBM i shops is not huge, but it is growing among developers who are mindful of current trends.
“I do know a lot of RPG developers who are interested in open source. (He still collaborates with other open source advocates on the Team Seiden chat site.) Often it comes down to whether their employer gives them the opportunity to try to use open source development or not,” he says.
In his new job with Profound, Allan will be working from his home in the south of England. He’ll be back in the U.S. in October, however, as a speaker at the RPG & DB2 Summit in Chicago. Apparently he also made a good impression on Jon Paris, Susan Gantner, and Paul Tuohy, the team that presents the Summit events when they met Allan at the iUG conference.
“The reaction of attendees to him and his sessions were extremely positive,” Tuohy said in an email. “Of course, the big thing is that he is a 19-year-old who is articulate and has a passion for the platform. We folks in the IBM i community have a natural tendency to look at the age of people who work on the platform and think of it, and everything associated with it, as being old and staid. “Liam and his ilk show us a very different perspective–and that is contagious.”
An outbreak of enthusiasm sparked by a 19-year-old programmer? Who would have predicted that?