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RPG Expert Susan Gantner Offers Advice to the Next Generation

A Q&A with the founder of the RPG & DB2 Summit.

Susan Gantner with Fresh Faces Logo

IBM Systems magazine (ISM): Can you describe your partner roles with System i Developer and Partner400?

Susan Gantner (SG): Our primary mission is education and, very specifically, education of IBM i developers, so we do it in two different ways. Partner400 is the company that Jon Paris and I created. We do some consulting, but again it’s primarily education-related. We mostly work with individual companies, so we’ll typically do an on-site class, for example. Partner400 itself is one of the owners of System i Developer. We partnered with our friend Paul Tuohy to form System i Developer because we wanted to put on a conference. We put on the RPG & DB2 Summit events that are currently running a couple of times a year in the United States, and occasionally we do a subset of the Summit events elsewhere. 

ISM: Why do you think IBM i user groups have remained relevant for so long?

SG: One of the things that I find very different about IBM i compared to other platforms is that it’s very rich in community. The IBM i platform itself is so different from other platforms in that we tend to come together as a group. I think it lends itself to people banding together and becoming friends with each other over the shared experience of this unique platform.

ISM: What would be your biggest piece of advice for women who may be considering a career in IT?

SG:  I think the biggest piece of advice is to take the bull by the horns; take yourself seriously. I think women have a tendency to doubt themselves and their capabilities perhaps a little bit more than men in general. I know I did that certainly when I was younger. I think women should understand their capabilities and stretch themselves, trying something that they aren’t 100% certain they can do. I’ve done that many times and proven that I can do a lot more than I thought I could.

“The IBM i platform itself is so different from other platforms in that we tend to come together as a group.”
–Susan Gantner, partner, Partner400 and co-founder, System i Developer

ISM: For people who are entering college with a goal of working in IT, where should they focus most of their attention? What’s going to be the most valuable skill set by the time they hit the workforce?

SG: I think they should focus their attention on what specifically within IT interests them. There are people in IT who are really good at or interested in building the next Facebook or some kind of app like that. I, on the other hand, was much more interested in business applications. If you spend too much time becoming really in depth in a particular technology you can sometimes lose track of where you really want to be. If you want to be a business application developer, then focus on the business side. Obviously, you need to learn the technology as well, but recognize the fact that technology will change over time. It’s more important to know what’s possible to do and what’s feasible to do.

ISM: Why do you think IBM i is still an exciting opportunity for younger IT professionals?

SG: You don’t have to worry as much about the details and the management behind working on IBM i. It’s an easier platform to write code. There’s less grunt work. They can concentrate their efforts on “Let’s build this app.”

ISM: Do you see the diversity increasing in the IT community, and what do you think could be done to help increase that?

SG: We were talking about women in IT earlier and it seems to me, at least from what I read, that the percentage of women in IT is going down. I think it’s a shame because I think women tend to be very good at focusing on the business application side and communicating with the business. I don’t know what’s causing the decline in women in IT, but I am very much into the idea of bringing more women in, also bringing younger people in. 

ISM: Do you have any positive examples of more established developers and new developers working together to solve problems?

SG: At Partner400, we go on-site and work with one company at a time. We have done a few classes where we teach developers about the IBM i platform and about the RPG language specifically. Once we convince them that they don’t have to worry about all of the less exciting background stuff that can be involved in business applications on other platforms, they tend to gravitate toward IBM i as a platform and to RPG. They’re happy with RPG because it’s pretty much like most all of the other languages they know and, in some ways, it’s easier. We bring those people in to work hand-in-hand with the more experienced, typically RPG people. The younger developers tend to bring to the table their skill with web and mobile interfaces and use of web services. Meanwhile the experienced RPGers bring their expertise in the business, the database and application structure and how to ensure the applications are reliable and robust enough to stand the test of time. The blending of skill sets raises everyone’s game.

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