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Fresh Faces Spring 2020 and the “How do I get programmers?” Question

Steve Will introduces the newest class of IBM i Fresh Faces.

Illustration of people working together around a table; text saying You and i blog.

It’s time again for a new class of Fresh Faces to be named. In this month’s IBM Systems magazine, Power Systems, you’ll find short profiles of several young professionals who have recently joined the IBM i community.
I’d guess most of you know what I’m talking about already, but just to summarize: For the past couple of years, the extended IBM i team has been making an effort to highlight the stories of people who are new in the IBM i workplace. While our community contains a large number of passionate people who have 20-plus years of experience (I am one of them!) we all know we have to build a new generation who can work with us, and then take over for us. That set of new talent has been dubbed “Fresh Faces” (thanks to an excellent marketing person who has, sadly left IBM [hi, Elizabeth!] but whose spirit lives on in our current IBM i marketing person [hi, Brandon!])
In fact, one of the most talked-about blogs I have written in the past few years is this one, in which I talk about the large number of Fresh Faces who have joined the IBM i development team here in Rochester.
As you read about these new Fresh Faces, you’ll notice a theme which has been consistent since the very first class was announced: very few of these young people knew about IBM i, Power, RPG or any of the other technologies which are at the core of our platform. However, they all had technical skill from school and/or prior jobs, and they were willing to learn. Their new employers were willing to let them learn on the job, while also asking the Fresh Faces to use their existing skills to add value.
Benedikt Ruzicka is the exception to that rule, in the sense that he was introduced to IBM i while attending Schule für IT in Vienna. He works for Panasonic Industrial Devices Materials Europe, and his job involves modernizing and bringing value to his company’s clients. He’s even spoken about the success they’ve had at user events, such as the COMMON Europe Congress.
Speaking about using IBM i technology to provide modern value is something he has in common with three other Fresh Faces: Mike Zaringhalam, Tony Turetsky and Thomas Decorte, who are already giving back to the community by sharing their knowledge of modern RPG and open source on IBM i.  
Open source was the single pathway into the world of IBM i for Calvin Buckley, who drove the Mono project which puts .Net on IBM i. This type of effort and commitment portends a great career for these Fresh Faces. As Felix Kasper, who started using IBM i at his employer’s in 2016 says:
We’re currently modernizing our existing programs. For example, we brought our asset accounting software onto the web with web services and JavaScript. We recently created a system for purchasing goods to help solve a customer problem. The system’s databases are located on IBM i, and communications with the PC-based order tool use web services. The orders are created on IBM i, which streamlines and simplifies the process for the customer.

This sort of work—using modern technology to extend the value of existing solutions—is exactly what our IBM i community wants to do.

Training New RPG Developers

I frequently get email from people in the community asking where they can find RPG programmers. In my responses, I point out a couple of very important things:

  1. While there are a few students learning RPG in schools, they are learning modern RPG, so it’s important that the person asking me about “RPG programmers” be aware that their enterprise needs to adopt modern, free-format RPG – typically using the conversion tools in the market to move from older, fixed-format to the modern form.
  2. Once a commitment to modern RPG has been made, an employer can hire “modern software developers” and then have those developers learn modern RPG. This process can take a couple of months, or perhaps only a few weeks, depending on the situation.  

In fact, in the same issue of the IBM Systems Magazine that features the new Fresh Faces, you’ll find a Q&A with Susan Gantner, one of the industry’s leading RPG experts, and co-author of an RPG blog for many years. Susan talks about the future of development on IBM i, with an eye towards what young developers can expect.

Programs to train new RPG developers do exist—and they’re thriving. In Sweden, three businesses—all of which needed developers with RPG and SQL skills to keep their mission-critical applications running—combined forces to develop curriculum and create an academy. Graduates of that program were hired into IBM i shops of the sponsoring businesses in a matter of weeks. 

The key message today: There is a path into IBM i for people who have little to no experience on the platform, and when we help these people become Fresh Faces, they bring enthusiasm, skill and a desire to create success around them—exactly as the generations before have done on the platform.

As long as we know how to help them get introduced into our passionate community, we can be confident they will work alongside us for now, and then take over for us once we have moved on. Y’know—if we ever decide to move on. As for me, I’m not moving on any time soon, so it’s great to welcome the Fresh Faces into the world of IBM i!

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