Reader Feedback On State Of The IBM i Base, IBM i Salaries
April 11, 2022 Timothy Prickett Morgan
I have been enjoying your series on the state of the IBM i environment. Those and other recent IT Jungle articles have helped me better understand some of the things that I am seeing as a training vendor.
As you and I have often discussed, the IBM i market has divided into two groups: the roughly 30,000 active customers and 120,000 others. My company, Manta Technologies, has customers among both groups.
As a former math professor, I tend to think in Venn diagrams. I had to fight the urge to pull out the colored pencils when I read about Jack Henry, an IBM i customer who is also a very successful IBM i vendor and a customer of Manta since 1998. Like many successful businesses, they take education seriously, sending employees to conferences and providing in-house training via vendors like Manta. These organizations have faith in the future and, since they plan to hire new employees every year, renew their licenses to keep Manta training always available.
In contrast, those companies in the “other” group treat training like a maintenance contract or system upgrade. They will consider it only in an emergency. Often, they will hire a new employee who knows nothing about IBM i. Ironically, many of these organizations have also been Manta customers since 1998 or earlier. The difference is that they have used our courses maybe four or five times out of the last 28 years. Once a new person has been hired and trained, we don’t hear from the customer until someone else retires and a replacement is needed ASAP.
A third group Manta customers that do not qualify as either “active” or “other” IBM i customers are those IT professionals who have been fired when their employers moved to Linux- or Windows-based systems. Some thought that they would have an easy time finding employment among the active IBM i group. But few state-of-the-art companies want someone whose only programming experience is RPG II. Manta has been proud to help such people learn RPG IV, including the free-form syntax.
Speaking of RPG II, I recently received a call from a gentleman whose company’s applications are all RPG II code running in the System/36 environment. He is the system administrator, while his boss, the company CFO, is the only person there who still knows RPG II. She is retiring soon, so they are researching whether it is possible to migrate everything to RPG IV. If such a conversion would be too much work, it is unlikely that management would let them stick with IBM i. I wonder what percentage of the 120,000 inactive IBM i shops are in this situation.
The migration goal is theoretically possible, given the existence of an IBM utility program from the early 90’s to convert RPG II to RPG IV Other tools are also available to go all the way to the RPG IV free-form syntax, which is easy to learn from Manta courses. I am not sure, however, whether they understand the effort that will be needed to modernize the application by breaking the monolithic applications into smaller procedures that make the best use of the ILE environment. And that’s before they even start thinking about SQL! If anyone reading this has gone through this process, I’d be happy to pass along any advice that you can offer.
At this point, however, your article about IT salaries comes into play. When the boss retires, it is unlikely the company will find a programmer (other than a bored RPG retiree) with the skills or desire to take on the challenge of spending a career working on 35-year-old code. They will also be shell-shocked to learn the price of recent graduates.
I would have loved to hire Will full time. Unfortunately (for me), he received offers from Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Oracle. Every one of the offer packages was at a level that would have let me buy my first four houses with change left over for a new car. Will’s decision was not based on money, however. The company he chose is letting him pick where he will work and which project he will join. Given the option of converting RPG II code or writing new code that will influence people’s lives around the world, which would you select? Me too, but at least I have EasyTutor.
P.S. Our current family joke is that I asked Will whether I could take the best offer that he turned down. Depending on which grandchild is telling the story, the punch line is either “Gramps doesn’t know that I already got that job to keep me busy after school” or “Unfortunately, nobody’s shopping for old timey code.” What they don’t know is that Blue Origin is opening a Denver office and they are looking for an experienced IT trainer. If only I could believe that my wife and grandsons would ever stop laughing when a Blue Origin launch was aired on TV.
I have truly valued your insight and humor over these many years, which I believe started way back at Midrange Computing when I proved mathematically in a feature story, based on the amount of actual learning content you could get and the cost of that content, and much to the chagrin of our publisher and sales manager at the time, that the Manta training courses offered the best price/performance compared to on-sight group training, going to conferences, and a bunch of other options I can no longer recall. I had very logical reasoning to back it up, and I managed to tick off a whole bunch of advertisers as well as the training staff at the company.
I stand by that analysis two decades later, and while I would now add that there are lots of good reasons to go to trade shows or to do on-sight training in addition to doing Manta courses. <wink>
As for Blue Origin, why not? If Shatner can do it, why not you? And while I am at it, tell Will I need my damned warp drive so I can be a Starship captain. . . . Maybe my youngest, Mia, can get the job done. Ellie, Henry, and Chloe have other paths that don’t lead in that direction. The world has enough code, and what Earth needs is a new frontier so we can protect this precious blue marble floating in the Tennessee of the Milky Way galaxy. Getting off this planet and expanding the reach of humanity has always been the best – and safest answer. As for Elon Musk, I am all for sending him to Mars today, and I volunteer to help him pack.
I would like to get back to a place where the citizens of the United States of America pay for a real space program and we all take joy in its accomplishments. Some things we can only do collectively, and some things we should only do collectively. I watched people land on the Moon when I was four, and I never forgot that and studied aerospace engineering as an idealist thinking I might be designing a space station. I never forgot how we were heading in the right direction before we somehow lost our way after 1970. I still believe in Starfleet – and to be perfectly honest, I wish for the Force, too.
But seriously, it is good to know that the view of the market that I have compiled is not missing the mark. All the feedback I am getting says I have it more or less correct. But what can we do about it? That’s the rub, ain’t it?