You’re Hired! Finding Your Next IBM i Pro
November 14, 2016 Dan Burger
The skills shortage dilemma for IBM i shops is a reality. It’s also an excuse. New technologies are being introduced rapid fire in IT and each has a learning curve that is being handled by people who choose to do so. It takes time and effort. This is enterprise computing. It’s slightly more difficult than learning to play the kazoo. But nearly every IBM midrange system admin or RPG programmer started out being thrown into the deep end of the pool.
You don’t find new employees with the enterprise skill sets of someone with 10, 20, or 30 years of experience. That comes with on the job training and is hastened by IBM i veterans sharing the knowledge. Less than a few of those veterans began their careers fully prepared for the job ahead of them. Today’s computer science graduates are far better prepared. And if you are any good at sorting out the ones who are motivated and enthusiastic and are willing to invest in their on the job training, the skills shortage is nothing more than a speed bump.
Certainly, a person with some knowledge of the IBM i and RPG has advantages, especially when paired with enthusiasm and problem-solving abilities. So, that’s what you look for. It’s called cherry picking knowing where to find the sweetest cherries and getting there before anyone else.
That leads me to a program spearheaded by the COMMON Education Foundation and supported by the IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative and a handful of IBM i software vendors and business partners. Five years ago, it was only capable of bringing two or three students to a COMMON conference for a look at IBM i-style enterprise computing and the professionals that make it work. At the most recent COMMON conference, 31 students attended. There was some cherry picking going on.
Although it’s not set up like a job fair, COMMON Education Foundation President Michelle August noted it was conducive to networking and making first impressions. There was student-sponsor dinner that included COMMON board members and conference session speakers and a panel discussion that hit on topics such as skill sets, important characteristics to identify during job interviews, and tips about what employers look for during a job search. The panel included IBM i professionals Richie Palma, Steve Pitcher, Kevin Mort, and Ajay Gomez.
“I think this is an important component to bridge the gap (make introductions, provide resources, and get them involved) between our aging IBM i workforce and the next generation of IBM i professionals,” says Palma, a young IBM i consultant with Arbor Solutions. “I know from experience that this is one of the most inviting professional communities that I have been a part of. You just have to put yourself out there.”
“Exposing students, beyond the classroom, to the possibilities that the IBM i platform has to offer is so valuable. The conference speakers and participants exemplify the close-knit and caring reputation of the IBM i community by connecting with the students and mentoring them. The students are encouraged by the number of companies represented at the conferences and they see the reality of the viability and importance of the platform.”
Students are making connections at conferences and winning jobs. Three of Parker’s students have been hired by one company, Arlo Steel, as a result of contacts the company made with students at the MiTec conference, has added three MCC graduates in the past two years.
The numbers are small, but the percentage of success has been big, Parker says. Since MCC students started attending IBM i tech conferences five years ago, it has increased its visibility among Midwestern IBM i shops.
You make your own luck is one of those old sayings with a lot of truth in it. You can wait for luck or you can do things to increase your chances for success. IBM i shops with a strategy for maintaining or increasing its IT advantage are becoming more proactive on building its skills instead of claiming there are no skills to be found.