A Skills Shortage Solution Alert
October 23, 2017 Dan Burger
Employee development doesn’t get the credit it deserves when it comes to talent acquisition. Putting the right people in the right place and giving them the right tools is not a new concept. Many of the top programmers work for companies where this concept has been in place for years. They are homegrown. It follows a pattern: Hire programmers with useful skill sets and if that doesn’t include modern RPG, train them.
The steep green-screen learning curve and natural tendency for young developers to resist the old fixed format RPG isn’t really a factor with modern free format RPG and neither is the conversion of fixed format RPG to free format. Inexpensive conversion tools are available (see the HelpSystems RPG Toolbox and the ARCAD Transformer RPG) and the process is uncomplicated.
If you need help with this, it’s available. One of your sources is Jim Buck. Buck has taught RPG at the college level for 15 years. He’s co-authored the modern RPG textbook. And he’s been on teams that developed modern RPG certification tests for IBM and COMMON. His new training company, imPower Technologies, is what he believes is the best way to put RPG developer skills in shops that can put them to use.
The pool of programming talent these days is heavily weighted toward Web skills. Concurrently, the IBM i developer community is largely Web skill deficient. This has created a business problem that leaves organizations searching for answers. Too often the search is aborted — defaulting to status quo — or the results are ill-conceived, costly, unproductive time-sucks. Both unpleasant options are avoidable for those who learn from others’ mistakes.
Companies that claim they can’t find employees with the right skills are going about it the wrong way. If you’re looking for plug-in employees with multiple IT and business skills, including RPG and IBM i, those folks have been placed on the endangered species list.
What Buck has in mind is online training in modern RPG with an emphasis on hands-on programming work that’s being reviewed and graded by a professional. It includes student access to an IBM i partition where programs can be tested and compiled and GoToMeeting access with Buck or other professionals when questions or problems arise. (Just don’t get Buck started on any topics related to sailing.)
Students make their own schedules for completing the course assignments and the entire program, however, Buck recommends an established pace and employers facilitating matters by setting aside time for employees to complete the training during work hours.
“An employer putting an employee in this course needs to set aside time for the employee to devote to the course with completion goals in place,” Buck says. “If you give an employee 10 to 15 hours a week and tell him or her you want it done, the results will be better. The goal is to have a productive employee and my assumption is that the person taking the course has already been vetted, hired, and has a degree (or work experience) in programming.”
A sharp programmer, with an employer that sets aside work time devoted to this course, could complete it in four to six weeks, Buck says. An employee working a couple hours a week during “spare time” could take months to complete the course.
Because the course teaches modern RPG, students require access to Rational Developer for i (RDi). IBM offers a 60-day (eight-week) free trial version of RDi, which might dictate a completion date for employees in this training program. (A one-year, single-user RDi license can be purchased for as low as $866 including software subscription and support for those of you who might be wondering.)
The coursework is divided into nine sections and closely follows the content in the “Programming in ILE RPG” book Buck co-authored with Bryan Meyers. A sampling of the topics covered in this course include: RDi concepts and debugging; free format RPG operation codes; subprocedures, modules and service programs; SQL, date and string handling; interactive programming concepts; and Web services.
Each section has fulfillment requirements that include video lectures (approximately 30 minutes); video programming examples (10 to 15 minutes) that explain how and why programs are written and show RDi shortcuts and tips; and then a quiz and a programming assignment. Each section must be completed before advancing to the next section.
Students have access to an IBM i partition, where they can log on and do the work. Code can be copied into their library within the partition, which allows them to use it, compile it and work through the example programs.
“This is pretty much the way I did things while teaching at the college,” Buck says. “Although at college I had to keep everyone in sync. There assignments were made the same day for everyone and they were all graded at the same time. A set schedule for everyone would restrict people too much in this IBM i program we are making available.”
Buck also pointed out the course content is an excellent preparation for the COMMON Certified Associate Application Developer. He believes certifications are important, add validity to the capabilities an individual possesses, and he encourages individuals to take the certification tests.
Upon completing the course, the employer will get a report card that shows how well the student performed in each of the nine sections.