Be the Change – Developing IBM i Education
I had been working on this post when Steve Pitcher’s excellent column Finding the New Breed of RPG Programmers was published, as well as Brian May’s Young RPG Talent: It Exists if You Make an Investment. In addition to thinking these are important and timely articles, I also realized it is a good perspective for me to acknowledge as I start writing on this topic.
There is a lot of discussion about what the IBM i community needs to educate the developers in this area. There is a known dearth of transitional and basic instruction. From entry level students/recent graduates, to professionals who start in a given specialty then transition to Power System teams, to the types of positions that need to support the IT departments, people can use IBM i education.
We all read the alarming articles about companies leaving the i because they can’t find RPG programers. We all know about the misconception that this machine is old school. As I have mentioned many times I find it frustrating that those who lament the loss of the good old days are the same developers who are reluctant to advocate on behalf of the platform. All of this doesn’t change the fact we need to address skill development at all levels of our community.
I have been a member of the OMNI User Group in Chicago since 1998 when I was introduced to the organization from my teacher at Moraine Valley Community College (this Mike Pavlak guy who couldn’t stop talking about the beauty of single level storage architecture, object encapsulation, and raving about “Dr. Frank” ). At that time MVCC had a comprehensive curriculum comprising introductory basics of the AS/400, CL, 3 RPG classes increasing in difficulty, and an advanced class on the system and administration of the box. These classes could be added to others and be a recognized minor to an earned associates degree. While most students took the remainder of their classes in the MIS department, some added these offerings to liberal arts or business degrees. These classes were popular to the point of having the one AS/400 Lab full every night of the week, making the opportunity to do homework resemble musical chairs*. Chicago had a diverse educational base for the AS/400 future, and OMNI was happy to embrace these students and support them throughout their careers.
Like so many other schools MVCC stopped offering full-semester iSeries content when the classes could not attract the required registrations. The department incorporated DB2 into the Database Application class and iOS into the Operating Systems class, retaining as much content as was feasible. Eventually a first-rate PHP curriculum was added. However the lack of a specific IBM i offering was noticed and over the years people questioned what happened to the program. Where to find education has been brought up regularly at OMNI meetings between professionals who recall MVCC being the go-to location to help developers get up to speed. The generic answer is one we have heard across the country. Not enough students, trouble finding teachers, lack of interest, etc.
Michelle August is not only the leader of the COMMON Education Foundation (CEF) she is also the department chair at Moraine Valley Community College (and was awarded Professor of the Year for 2015.) After seeing her great work in bringing students to COMMON conferences and integrating them into the community, I had to ask about offering IBM i content at my alma mater. She was matter-of-fact about the challenges; first she needed to have someone willing to develop and teach the content, and then the students need to be attracted to the program.
Focusing on the students it seems reasonably simple — their end goal is employability. The IBM i is a leader in the Power System install base and is used in every industry in the world. Watson is proving the capability of the machine on the global stage and the remarkable professionals at IBM promote the vitality of the platform to anyone and everyone who will listen. Alex Gogh’s speech at COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Expo in Anaheim is a perfect start to a promotion attracting students, “Power revenue grew for the first time in several years and it was led by the Power i community in double-digit growth.”
The jobs are here, learn the skills to get them.
Next is developing the content and finding a teacher. After enough exposure to the teachers involved in the IBM Academic Initiatives and CEF, it became evident to me that it is important to Be The Change You Want To See In The World. If I want education that will attract the next generation, I need to be involved in providing it rather than ruing the lack thereof. Luckily Jim Buck (Gateway Technical College) is brilliant and generous and has made his teaching materials available to colleges to support their instructors.
Since we need to attract the students initially and build their desire for the education we decided to create and offer a survey course. Obviously we can’t offer RPG 101 and expect to sell out the class, or even get enough bodies to prevent cancellation. The first step is to show students the value proposition of the platform and expose them to the myriad ways they can have careers in the IBM i on Power Systems world.
Starting January 2016 at Moraine Valley Community College, Foundations of IBM i on Power Systems will be offered in the MIS Department. It is a 17-week section that meets once per week, and it will be a mile wide and an inch deep. The class will have 1 topic per week, touching on everything from the languages used, administration, hardware, history of IBM, Watson, iOS, security, and much else applicable to the platform. While it won’t enable the students to run with anything on the i, it will show them the trails available. They will see what can be done, and what can be explored, as well as allowing them to interview and speak intelligently about the infrastructure of the organization that might hire them.
From here I hope classes will be added on the operations and functionality of iOS. RPG has been tentatively scheduled for Fall 2016.
This is where the rubber meets the road. It is one thing to say that we need this education in our community, that we need to attract the next generation. Here is my commitment to advocate for this platform and continue to support the professionals needed for the IBM i and the companies it runs.
I will continue to report on this process and our progress.
Happy learning![*] Geeks Offering – there were over 200 terminals in the computer lab at MVCC in the mid to late nineties. Only 32 of them were connected to the AS/400. However the entire lab was token ring-enabled, making the lack of access to the AS/400 infuriating to those of us who understood what that meant. Plus there was no stapler for use by students.