ALL400s Survey Paints a Picture of IBM i Community
April 20, 2022 Alex Woodie
It’s been three years since John Rockwell ran an ALL400s survey, which he periodically ran several times before. At the urging of members of the IBM i community, Rockwell recently ran another survey, and he shared his conclusions with IT Jungle.
At first glance, the results of the latest ALL400s survey, which includes responses from more than 600 people, shows what you might expect. For starters, we all know the IBM i community is getting older, with retirements looming for some. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. But as one drills down into the results themselves, a more nuanced view of the IBM i community comes into focus.
Take age, for instance. The IBM i installed base is often regarded as a group of “grey beards” that are one step away from either retirement or a date with the Grim Reaper. How does that perception stand up to the data? Not so well, apparently.
Only about 5 percent of the folks who took the ALL400s survey are in their 20s, while about 11 percent are in their 30s, and 12 percent in their 40s, according to the survey. That means less than a third of the IBM i community is composed of what one might considered “the youth vote.”
The survey found 32 percent of the installed base are aged 60 to 69, with about 5 percent indicating they’re 70 or older. This might be considered the “close to retirement vote.”
But the most common age range for the IBM i user base, it turns out, are the 50-to-59 year old bracket, with a 36.5 percent share, according to the survey. Are these the “greybeards” Rockwell was looking for? Rockwell has a practical answer.
“The answer might depend,” he says, “on how quickly the people in the 50-59 age group turn grey.”
It seems clear that most of these folks — greybeards and otherwise — aren’t leaving their jobs anytime soon. Retirements are at least 10 years out for 45 percent of the folks who took the survey, and six to 10 years out for another 25 percent of them. About 5 percent said they’re already semi-retired, and about 4 percent say they will be retiring in less than a year. About 20 percent say they’ll retire within the next one to five years, the survey found.
The data shows the rumors of the pending demise of the IBM i workforce are greatly exaggerated. “It’s rumored that 20 percent plan to retire within a year,” he wrote. “If the rumors are true, then it wouldn’t give companies much time to react. According to the survey, those rumors are definitely not true.”
Rockwell’s data shows a slow and steady departure of IBM i professionals over the next decade, which is something that IBM i shops should keep in mind, but not something that should cause a panic. “We should make reasonable plans for business continuity of course,” he says, “but it doesn’t look like something we should give ourselves a heart [attack] over.”
Here’s something else that causes heart palpitations in some: Rumors of pending migrations off the IBM i server to the cloud (yikes!), Linux servers (double yikes!) and Windows boxes (are you kidding me?!)
The news here is mixed, but with potential caveats. Rockwell’s survey shows an emphatic “no” on the migration question for 49 percent of respondents. However, that leaves about 51 percent that are theoretically open to the idea.
The survey found that about 15 percent say a migration off the platform is something that’s being discussed in their organizations, and about 14 percent say they will eventually move at some unknown point in the future.
Another 22 percent or so say they have solid plans to move off the box in the coming years–four percent said they’re moving this year, 5 percent said they’re moving within two years, and 4 percent said they’re moving within three years. When the timeframe is moved out to five years, 9 percent said they are planning to move. Another 3 percent said they’re planning to move off the IBM i, but are planning to keep the old IBM i box for two years “for historical purposes.”
Rockwell said it was hard to take some of these claims of plans to move off the platform seriously.
“When it comes to… migrating off of the IBM i to another platform, the answers people gave might need to be put through some sort of reasonability test,” he wrote. “In my mind, and based on the number of companies I run across when updating the ALL400s Company List each month, that percentage doesn’t pass the reasonability test.”
Survey-takers listed a wide range of reasons for why they might want to move off the platform. The most commonly cited reason (22 percent) is difficulty finding RPG programmers. “Modernization” was the second most-cited reason with 19 percent, followed by “moving to cloud” (14 percent); “perception is IBM i is old technology” (13 percent); “lack of understanding of capabilities of platform” (12 percent), “off-the-shelf applications don’t run on IBM i” (11 percent); and want to adopt “industry technologies” (10 percent).
Rockwell had some theories about these answers (although he says he’s never personally encountered an instance where an off-the-shelf application not running on IBM i was the reason for a migration). The difficult in finding RPG programmers has been well-documented, and Rockwell has no doubt this is driving some companies away from IBM i.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s a company’s business model that makes it either hard to find RPG programmers or easy,” he wrote. “If a company requires them to work on-site, then it will have a hard time finding RPG programmers. If a company lets them work remotely it won’t have a hard time finding them. It’s as simple as that.”
Since the age-range of the IBM i professionals skews toward the higher end, it becomes less likely that IBM i professionals are going to uproot their families and move to a new city to take a new job, he says.
“Companies who adapt to this reality will find plenty of RPG programmers who can fill their open positions,” Rockwell says. “If they widen the field to people in other countries the pool of applicants [will be] be even larger.”
We’ll be looking deeper into the results of the ALL400s survey in future issues of The Four Hundred. Stay tuned.