RPG Investment Advice For Long Term Goals
March 13, 2017 Dan Burger
RPG programming remains a hugely important skill in the IBM Power Systems niche where the IBM i lives. It shares that space with other languages such as Java, PHP, a few fourth-generation options and a host of open source options. More than once in its long life, RPG has been declared dead.
Like an untended plant, some IBM i shops have let RPG die. It lingers on with little or no nourishment in other organizations. But it’s also doing very well as a modern language when in the hands of skilled programmers. Who are the skilled programmers and what are they doing that’s keeping RPG active and alert in its old age?
There are three important factors: the use of a modern editing tool, the avoidance of old fixed-format, columnar RPG coding techniques, and the involvement of a mentor who leads the modernization efforts of code and coders.
Last week, I sat in on a webinar titled Be the Best IBM i Developer You Can Be. It featured IBM Power Systems Champion Trevor Perry tossing questions at IBM Power Systems Champion Jon Paris. Both champions have seen RPG at its best and worst. Here are some of the webinar’s highlights–insights and advice from Paris.
The biggest problems for new RPG developers–whether they are fresh out of school or coming to an IBM i environment from another platform or language–is the same problem existing developers find. There is very little focus on application documentation within IBM i shops.
Paris says the best opportunity to change this shortcoming is to encourage the new RPG developers to begin writing codes to standards and documenting accordingly.
To keep programmers enthusiastic and interested in RPG, Paris advises that new programmers be shielded from old code.
“If you have a lot of creaking, RPG III-style code laying around and it’s causing you maintenance issues, don’t try to teach new people to use it,” he warns. “If you show fixed-format, columnar RPG to programmers who have never seen RPG before, they will never become enthusiastic about RPG programming. They will never fall in love with the language. They will never appreciate it. Show them RPG code that looks modern, that looks the way they are used to programming, and they will get the hang of it and they will like it.”
Most IBM i programmers believe that RPG is the best language for writing business apps. Even those who know multiple languages choose RPG for business apps more often than not. Developers that come from backgrounds outside RPG Java, PHP and the prominent open source languages can use the tools they are accustomed to while developing for i, making the system far more open than it once was and is often given credit for.
Paris’ advice for companies that want to modernize their IT environments and developers who want to modernize their skills is to add another language that can be used on the platform.
“I recommend PHP to RPGers because it can be written procedurally and then gently move into the object oriented development world, which is often difficult for people who have coded in procedural languages for many years,” says Paris. “It doesn’t matter what you do. Learn something new and apply it to your RPG. It becomes circular process. Learning another language improves your RPG. Improving your RPG challenges, you to do more with other languages and so on.”
To watch the entire webinar, click this link.