Education and Mentorships Welcome Younger Developers to the IBM i Community
Jim Buck, Andrea Fletcher, Peter Glass, Richie Palma, Brandon Peterson and Kody Robinson discuss attracting new talent to IBM i.
By Jim Utsler11/01/2018
Young developers may be unfamiliar with the IBM Power Systems* platform and IBM i. They may be unfamiliar with RPG as a programming language. Thankfully, finding and attracting them to work in your IT department is possible, as people familiar with this situation can attest.
For example, Richie Palma, with IBM business partner iTech Solutions Group, says some programmers, even if not specifically trained in RPG, should simply be given a chance to succeed. As he puts it, the next generation of programmers “are part of the Google generation of very quick learners and tech problem solvers.”
Academic program leaders—including Peter T. Glass with the IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative (PSAI); Brandon W. Pederson of the Worldwide IBM Power Systems Content and Community program; and Jim Buck with imPower Technologies—point to supportive educational environments as a way to attract people to the platform. “The IBM i community has really gotten behind the initiative to grow the platform by introducing it to new IT professionals,” Pederson says.
And recent grads, current mentees and once-newbie IBM i users—such as Kody Robinson with the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation and Andrea Fletcher of Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance Company—stress how important it is to teach people that IBM i is, despite what others might say, a robust and modern computing environment, and how key it is to have nurturing internal encouragement. As Fletcher adds, “I’ve been privileged to work with some really amazing people who have taken the time to sit with me and teach me different things.”
You can read more about their experiences and insights here—and how they may apply to your organization.
President and founder, imPower Technologies
I’ve been involved with teaching and mentoring young developers for over 15 years. When I was teaching on the college level, I always asked students, “Why did you decide to get a degree in information technology?” Many of the students answered, “Because I like computers.” I would then explain to the students that, “They weren’t going into computers, they were going into business!” You could see the confusion on their faces.
But I would go on to explain that, “IT exists to support the business and by extension, your job will exist to support the business.” The challenge for today’s businesses is not the programming language or the OS. It’s educating these developers on how businesses work.
So I smile when companies talk about the exodus of employees and their RPG programming skills. I turn out incredible RPG programmers in 10 weeks. But what I can’t do is teach these developers your company’s business. Companies need to take an active role in developing the next generation of IBM i professionals by educating them on how their business works. The programming language is the easiest aspect of this to solve.
Brandon W. Pederson
Worldwide IBM Power Systems content and community manager, IBM
At the beginning of 2017, we launched the Fresh Faces of IBM i. We look for young and upcoming IT professionals pushing boundaries with IBM i and the IBM Power Systems platform to address the myth that there is a skills gap in the market for IBM i professionals.
Our goal was to highlight these innovative young professionals to showcase their story and talents to the IBM i community. Since then, the community has really gotten behind the program and have been nominating young people who we’ve showcased in IBM Systems magazine to continue to show that IBM i has a bright future ahead of it.
Other than nominating Fresh Faces, the IBM i community has really gotten behind the initiative to grow the platform by introducing it to new IT professionals. Jim Buck, an IBM Power Systems Champion, has mentored many new talents on IBM i and has communicated the value of having these skills to his students and the career opportunities they will be presented with.
Aaron Bartell, another IBM Power Systems Champion, has built a free IBM i multitenant cloud service called Litmis Spaces in which students and new developers can get started learning and working with the platform quickly and easily.
The IBM PSAI, which provides schools and universities access to hardware and software to help train their students and develop the next generation of IT professionals with IBM i skills.
Software developer, Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance Company
When I decided to go to college, I took a variety of classes that involved both computer hardware and software. One of those classes was an RPG class. The first day of that class, I remember sitting in front of the computer and hearing the words my professor, Jim Buck, was saying but realizing I had no idea what he was talking about.
I must have had a look of terror on my face because after class, he caught me in the hallway and said, “I noticed your face when I mentioned that everyone had probably coded something before so I just wanted to tell you, don’t give up. We need more young women in the industry. If you stick with it, I know you can do it. If there’s ever anything I can do to help, I’ll help you.” Those words are the reason I stuck with it and started working on the platform.
Throughout my short career so far, I’ve been privileged to work with some really amazing people who have taken the time to sit with me and teach me different things. At the job I have now, everyone has been so encouraging and taught me so much. When I have a question, having someone who will not only tell me the best way to do it, but also why it’s the best way is invaluable. It makes me feel like they want me to succeed. Additionally, having a boss who is willing to tell me when I’ve done a good job is also something that means a lot to me. All actions may seem insignificant for the people doing them, but to me, they make all the difference in the world.
Peter T. Glass
Program manager, Power Systems Academic Initiative
The PSAI has been in existence since 1996 under a variety of names. Whatever it’s been called, it was designed with one key mission: to get college students to experience IBM hardware and software.
In support of this was a 2012 reformation of the program, when Systems Technical Training assumed management of the PSAI effort. Since then, PSAI membership has grown from 125 participating colleges and universities to nearly 700 member schools (a 400 percent growth rate). The reason for this explosion in participating academic institutions is that PSAI now offers faculty nearly 100 IBM courses and other courseware from Red Hat, SUSE and Zend. PSAI provides teachers with nearly unlimited access to a high-end POWER cloud for teaching and research purposes.
Participating students are exposed to the newest IBM courseware and powerful IBM Power Systems servers that provide them with the experience and skills necessary to compete in the workplace. In turn, IBM clients are anxious to hire students that know the IBM i, AIX* and Linux* on POWER* platforms and have used our PSAI cloud to gain valuable experience running applications on Power Systems hardware.
IBM Power Systems Champion and tech solutions consultant, iTech Solutions Group
We need to remember the people we’re hiring for the next generation are part of the Google generation of very quick learners and tech problem solvers. I see so many companies looking for an RPG developer with a degree and a minimum of five years’ experience writing legacy RPG code on a specific ERP package. You won’t find a younger individual who even thinks about applying for that job.
What you can find is a young individual who learned three languages in college and another five in their basement, is moldable and who’s eager to make $42,000 a year. Get them Rational* Developer for i, load up the Open Source PTF group and provide them with an IBM i mentor within the business. You should also allow them to mentor an interested RPG developer who’s been writing code on the platform for decades. You’ll be surprised what that type of cross-pollination of skills can produce for your business.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that the biggest constraint in the effort to bringing younger people to the platform is giving them a chance.
Systems Analyst II, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation
IBM, COMMON and other user groups have done a great job at helping attract younger programmers and admins. It seems like everywhere I go, there are new, young, fresh faces on IBM i. It’s exciting!
But we, as a community, need to do two things to help push and attract new developers to IBM i. The first is to start pushing that the platform is modern. You can run all these open-source languages on it and interact with so many systems. There’s nothing that you can’t do on it. I promise you can bring in a developer out of school and they can jump right on the platform.
Secondly, you must have modern code in your shop. No one—and I mean no one—is going to come from a OOP-type language and want to proactively learn RPG III. It was good back in the day, but the cold hard truth is that it’s outdated. Fortunately for us, IBM has nice free-format RPG now that looks just like any other language you can think of. This is crucial to help attract new developers to the platform.
Bringing new developers and admins to a platform is how a platform survives. IBM, vendors and user groups from all over the world make it easy for Power Systems and IBM i to live a long, flourishing life. We, as a community, need to recognize the importance of this and take time to implement modern practices in our shops. Once we do, we’ll have more developers than we can shake a stick at!
Jim Utsler, IBM Systems magazine senior writer, has been writing for IBM since the mid-1990s.