COMMON Education Gets Member-Driven Tweaks
January 8, 2018 Dan Burger
COMMON isn’t an organization that’s prone to making major changes. But that doesn’t mean the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to IBM Power Systems – most obviously IBM i – is opposed to improving what it has and introducing a few new ideas. During the holiday season, COMMON president Justin Porter explained to IT Jungle what moves COMMON made in 2017 and previewed some coming attractions for 2018.
Porter says COMMON is increasing its emphasis on member-driven training and education, and one of the best examples he talked about was the new for 2017 RPG Boot Camp. The Boot Camp concept is designed for new employees who need to get up to speed with IBM i topics. Although the RPG Boot Camp was the first down the chute, System Administration and Lotus Boot Camps are in the works. We should see the System Admin version in 2018. The Lotus edition is in the early discussion phase and will likely not be ready for prime time until 2019.
The RPG Boot Camp was slow out of the gate, but Porter says it has gained momentum and the uptake now is very good. “It is running ahead of first-year expectations and feedback is good. It fills a niche as an easy, timely, cost-effective way to learn modern RPG,” he says.
The early attendees include those who have never written a line of RPG code as well as those who realize the benefit from learning more about modern RPG. “It beats trying to learn RPG on your own,” Porter says. “It’s better organized learning and a way to develop consistency in structuring code.”
The education is delivered online with a self-paced schedule, which means no set time frame for beginning or ending. The online sessions are based on pre-recorded video presentations from RPG experts reinforced with practical exercises. It includes discussion boards (forums) where questions can be asked, and answers provided, by experts or Boot Camp graduates who have learned their lessons well. Porter describes it as “a community-driven conversation” and part of the socialization that is a user group strength. It’s also subscription based, so Boot Campers can remain connected, participate in the forums and receive on-going education as RPG enhancements are introduced. “It’s not a one-and-done access to education,” he says.
“A good developer can learn modern RPG easily,” Porter says. “It is not a complicated language to read and write for those coming out of college with a conceptual understanding of how development language works and why it works. Basic programming logic makes it universal.”
Members – individuals and corporate – have been asking for this, Porter says, but it’s not necessary to be a COMMON member to enroll. Non-members will pay a higher fee, however.
Speaking of COMMON membership, there are some changes taking shape in that regard when a new four-level option package goes into effect this year. The four membership levels are: Basic, Professional, Student, and Chapter. Member discounts applicable to training will vary depending on membership level. Different levels of information access will also be variable depending on membership status.
Another training and education offering that’s expected to debut in 2018 is being referred to as Technology Trends. It will be sort of a Boot Camp Light and will focus on topics Porter describes as prevalent and timely. His examples are GitHub and IFS technology deliverable in smaller packages that contain a video, some source code, and command lines.
COMMON is planning to introduce a mentorship program, which involves pairing up students, and possibly young professionals, with experienced Power Systems professionals from the user and vendor communities. It’s a work in progress, Porter says. The program is integrated with the COMMON Education Foundation, the organization in charge of scholarships and bringing students to COMMON conferences.
The Watson Driveway – two events held in Rochester, Minnesota, during 2017 – will spawn additional Driveways in 2018. The how to really make use of Watson on IBM i approach and the instruction by IBM Watson developers has been well received. There are no plans for a Watson Boot Camp, but it could be an effective way to get the information to the users in a nuts and bolts format without the need to travel.
Porter says the success of the last two Virtual Conferences has prompted discussions of adding a third Virtual Conference in 2018. There’s no registration fee for these conferences and they are open to anyone, not just COMMON members.
The annual spring conference, which most veteran attendees refer to as simply The COMMON Conference and was officially referred to as the COMMON (insert appropriate year here) Annual Meeting and Expo has been renamed PowerUp (insert appropriate year here). Porter says session times are shortened to allow for more sessions and a wider topic assortment. Some topics will get deeper as a result of a series of focused technical sessions.
Other changes include a small array of panel discussions for a more interactive experience between the panelists and the attendees. And additional keynote sessions targeted on hot button topics. Porter mentioned security as one keynote topic, but other subjects were not revealed. Keynote sessions will be scheduled at times when no other sessions are under way and will be held in the main auditorium.
“It’s a change of format,” Porter says about the agenda tweaks “We can’t be the organization we were twenty years ago with the same format. The content, delivery, and format have to change with the times. We want to find more ways to share problem solving success stories. It builds on the member-to-member experience. It’s part of our plan to continue to improve.”