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IBM Programs Help Clients Expand Skill Sets

Power Systems Skills


“Our core mission—100 percent of our focus—is delivering technical training, because people are thirsty for knowledge,” Mario Franzone, manager, Lab Services Worldwide Technical Training Events, says of several IBM Power Systems* educational initiatives.

And this isn’t hyperbole. Whether through IBM Systems Lab Services’ IBM Systems Technical University (TechU), the IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative (PSAI) or IBM Global Training Providers (GTPs), interested parties can learn pretty much everything they want to know about Power Systems and related technologies, such as cognitive computing and SAP HANA.

Notably, these robust training and educational opportunities include information about all of the OSes that run on IBM Power Systems. “We have significant content across the platforms, IBM i, AIX* and Linux* on POWER*. So regardless of the OS you’re using, we offer rich content that includes the latest innovations,” notes Angela Fresne, events manager, Lab Services Technical Training Events Marketing.

A Great Platform

These educational offerings are quite varied, both in scope and level of expertise they cover. The PSAI, for example, caters to both new and seasoned professionals working with Power Systems, no matter the OS. By working closely with some 650 schools in nearly 70 counties, the program is spreading the word about Power Systems and how to best take advantage of them, without regard to skill level.

Sample coursework covers IBM i, Linux and AIX; Ubuntu, Red Hat and SUSE; and Zend PHP—educational and training curricula representing both established and more recent technologies and a mix of the two. For example, some courses teach experienced Linux professionals to code using RPG for IBM i.

Depending on faculty needs, institutions can sign up for beginner, intermediate and advanced courses, which are written by discipline-specific IBM professionals. Much of the coursework can be accessed via the Power Systems Academic Cloud.

Currently in use by more than 250 universities and colleges, the Power Systems Academic Cloud provides both instructors and students free, 24-hour access to a PSAI-specific POWER7+* and POWER8* servers dedicated to teaching and research purposes, including hands-on training. Myriad IBM educational resources support this, including technical libraries, IBM Redbooks* publications and IBM subject matter experts.

As students progress, they also have access to a job board, where internships and entry-level and experienced professional jobs are posted. “This is a great platform for everyone—students and companies alike—as people who are retiring need to be replaced with a younger workforce,” remarks Peter Glass, PSAI program manager. All of these PSAI resources, including the IBM courseware, IBM educational resources, the Academic Cloud and the job board, are free for participating institutions.

A Flexible Education

TechU is a traveling educational resource for Power Systems (and IBM Z* and IBM Storage) users. Franzone likens it to a “conference” that’s held at different global destinations throughout the year. Some conferences last three days, while others can stretch out to five.

As Franzone further explains, “We have a worldwide footprint—we hold events in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Africa, Australia and Asia—to support that mission. We’re continually innovating and staying on the leading edge of the IBM Systems Group, while covering every major area related to Power Systems. This includes basics of AIX, IBM i and Linux. Our biggest, newest focus is on cognitive computing.”

To support this, TechU organizers develop educational tracks for attendees to take, with multiple tracks running in parallel. So, if someone is focusing on AIX, she might go to a performance-tuning track one day and a track about cognitive computing the next. In essence, attendees have the option to float from class to class depending on what they’re interested in.

“You can go to our agenda preview tool, limit the selections to your OS or enter a topic that might be of interest to you—maybe machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) or system tuning. It’s really simple to build your own track with the key things you need to learn about now and that are top of mind in your role,” Fresne says.

At a recent TechU event held in Cairo, one attendee who focuses on Power Systems found some open time and began looking for alternative educational opportunities. He ended up in an IBM Z session. According to Fresne, this type of flexibility allows TechU attendees to learn about new topics they may not have considered before—even if just out of curiosity.

Diverse Learning Opportunities

Additionally, attendees can gain direct-from-IBM expertise about a multitude of topics. As Franzone explains, “We create many opportunities for people to directly interact with the experts, including through panel discussions, where they can interact with IBM development experts and teachers. And if they want to hear from clients about how they implemented a particular IBM solution—what went well and not so well—they can ask them about specific, nitty-gritty details. Having a combination of IBMers, business partners and IBM clients, often available in tandem, is just one example of where TechU shines.”

To encourage this type of interaction, TechU organizers have even gone so far as to set up “interest tables” at lunch. For instance, if someone wants to share their experiences with or learn more about cognitive computing, she knows to find a seat at that table. The same holds with topics such as blockchain and other technologies. Poster sessions, meet-ups, panel discussions and networking events also foster this direct interaction with experts.

“A large part of our focus is giving people a relaxed, easy-to-navigate environment where they can meet each other and have meaningful discussions,” Franzone says. “We also have a solutions center with vendors in our expo space. So, we’re not only bringing in IBM and client speakers, but also third parties that can further our educational goals and contribute to this vital learning environment.”

Franzone has seen an uptick in TechU attendance. A kick-off event in Orlando, Florida, earlier this year had record attendance, as did events in Cairo, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Florianopolis, Brazil. Much of this is driven by emerging technologies, such as cognitive computing. This is representative of a changing world, where platform-agnostic, business-critical computing skills such as security, cloud and cognitive computing outrank learning about different OSes.

The Sweet Spot

IBM also works closely with GTPs. Although not directly under the purview of Lab Services, they provide yet another way for Power Systems clients to bolster their already-considerable expertise by delivering training in more than 130 countries worldwide.

“With content created by IBM subject matter experts, our GTPs support the breadth of the Systems Technical Training portfolio spanning almost 200 courses, most with hands-on labs, covering Power Systems, Storage and IBM Z topical areas important to system administrators, programmers and other IT professionals,” says Mark Stennett, IBM Systems client technical training development manager.

Despite their indirect connection to Lab Services, the two groups do in fact collaborate with one another. “Several of those groups are sponsors at our TechU events, reaching out to a group of people that’s already focused on learning. So, if people come to our events, they can connect with those GTPs and learn more about their offerings and how those can enhance their TechU experience,” Franzone notes. “In some cases, we’ll provide them with a lot of content. In fact, a development team that’s part of Lab Services is chartered with creating some of the content they distribute to their clients.”

Whether on-site, in a classroom or virtually, their offerings are plentiful and include both individualized training and group sessions. For example, if an organization needs to learn the ins and outs of SAP HANA on Power Systems, it can either assign an individual to take a course or a SAP HANA-specific group. The choice of delivery method is up to the organization.

“If you’re looking for something tailored to your exact needs, GTPs are a great resource. For the most part, GTPs provide online learning and/or really targeted classroom lessons. So you might contact one of them and say, ‘Come to my place and teach a class of 30 people on this one topic.’ That’s their sweet spot,” Franzone says.

A Simple Mission

Whether via the PSAI, TechU or GTPs, many different training options are available for Power Systems clients. The one thing they all have in common, though, is their dedication to what they do: educating people about both current computing techniques and upcoming technologies.

“Our mission and sole focus is training,” Franzone says of TechU. “We consistently receive exceptionally high satisfaction ratings—into the 90th percentile—and large numbers of repeat customers that come every year. This is in large part because the only thing we do is to train and teach. It’s really that simple,” Franzone says.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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