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Promoting IBM i – Fresh Faces!

July 11, 2017

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In my previous two blogs, (here and here) I’ve talked about reasons your executives might have to do a review of your platforms—things which indicate that the time is right to get prepared to promote the value of IBM i to your business leaders. To do that promotion, you need information. Today I’m going to address one of those reasons: staffing.

You know the issue: As great as the technical people in the IBM i world are, we’re all getting older. We know we need to see an influx of younger people to supplement us when we want to do more than our current staff can handle, and eventually to take over responsibilities when we and our colleagues retire. This is a major concern, and a reason to consider your platform choice, if you have IBM i applications and operations that are critical to your business. This is what we mean by Staffing being a Hot Button.

Fortunately for our community, the influx of newer, younger people has begun. In fact, that “youth movement” is one of the reasons that there has been so much energy and excitement at recent conferences. It was true at the COMMON Europe Congress, and it was also true at the COMMON Annual Conference; in fact, I mentioned it in my blog about that conference.

To help spread the word about this youth movement, IBM Power Systems Marketing kicked off a program called Fresh Faces, which highlights several of the people who are new to the platform. By hearing their stories, we can all get insight into what it takes to attract and keep the next generation of IBM i technology professionals. The Fresh Faces program has been going on for a few months; the faces of a few of them are featured on the IBM i website, and you can read some of their stories in IBM Systems Magazine.

New, starting today, we also have several videos that were recorded in Orlando at the COMMON conference.

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As I mentioned in my COMMON blog, I had the chance to sit down with four of the IBM i Fresh Faces and just have a discussion about what it’s like for them, as new members of the IBM i family. They were honest and extremely positive. If you would like to see the whole discussion, it’s about 45 minutes long, and the URL is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmZJ-lhcyfk.

In addition to the full video, we’ve begun extracting smaller bits in which our Fresh Faces make specific points:

While they speak very well on their own, for the purposes of this discussion, let me take a few of their points and elaborate how these videos have messages which can be used when addressing the staffing hot button.

Stephanie Rabbani mentions right at the outset that she and her team spend time integrating IBM i and other platforms, and that her job involves web development. Also, if you read her background a bit, you’ll find she didn’t know IBM i or RPG coming out of college. Well, those are two great points that go well together. Web development, and connecting IBM i to other platforms are business requirements for many companies. It’s great to see that new developers can have an immediate positive contribution to these kinds of projects, while learning what they need to know to work with existing applications and environments. These points bolster your argument for the IBM i platform, particularly if you can show your business that you already have projects where newer developers could apply their skills, or if you have proposed such projects which can increase the value IBM i brings to your business.

In fact, as we discuss developers on the platform, you really should hear what each of these Fresh Faces says. Kody Robinson recommends that businesses who have a lot of RPG code should not limit themselves to looking for RPG programmers. Instead, advertise for software developers, because if you have Rational Developer for i (RDi) and free-format RPG, students who learned “Java and C and all these other languages” can “hit the ground running.”  This is one of the reasons IBM has invested so heavily modernizing the RPG language itself, but probably even more importantly, in creating a set of modern tools—RDi—which are so easy for new programmers to pick up, no matter what their development language is. If your team is using modern tools today, this can help your case as you defend IBM i in your shop. And if you have not yet started using these tools you can show your management that investing a relatively small amount of money in tooling will not only increase your own productivity, but will also make it possible for the company to bring in new talent.

In fact, part of what Lynell Constantine talks about is that his employer, Credential Solutions, has a requirement from their own employees—their customer service managers – to work with browser-based interfaces rather than the older green-screens and static reports which have been the company’s legacy. This points out that the skills which Fresh Faces bring to your company can also help with the expectations of the younger people outside of IT, who expect modern, high-function interfaces. The key here is that the issue of staffing is not just an IT issue. If your company wants to modernize what they are doing so that IT can provide the kinds of functions the business needs, sure, you could look at moving to a different platform, but if you bring in new programmers, give them the guidance and tools they need, you will be able to do what you need on IBM i while avoiding the expense and disruption which always accompany a platform change.

Liam Allan is an example of a Fresh Face who knows RPG because he learned it himself, and he also works extensively in open source languages. He’s taking advantage of the tight-knit community which surrounds IBM i. One significant advantage we have, as a community, is the existence of user groups—both online and in person—filled with people who help one another. Whether it’s “Club Seiden,” which gets mentioned a few times in the video, or midrange.com, or LinkedIn groups, or the many user groups we have, there are many resources you can use to supplement any training you’ll need to give new staff.

On that note, did you see the article entitled “IBM User Group Roundup?” Take a look for more information on user groups across North America and around the world.

Liam’s story also helps to illustrate another important point: IBM i has an extensive, integrated, collection of the languages and tools, including open-source ones, which new IT professionals use. If your organization thinks they need to move to a different platform to get these, or to attract younger professionals, they are misinformed. They can do it all on IBM i. They do not need to change platforms.

All of these Fresh Faces, as well as the others highlighted by IBM are motivated, curious people who want to make a living in this constantly changing world of IT. If you can show them that they will be working on interesting projects, using their current skills while growing new ones, they can be as passionate about IBM i as we are, and they can bring a breath of fresh energy into your business.

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While the staffing hot button is not completely addressed by knowing about these Fresh Faces, I am sure the lessons we learn from them can be applied when you need to address the issue in your business.

In my “Promoting IBM i” presentation, I also point out some of the many resources which are available to help find and educate new employees. Some of them:
  • IBM’s Academic Initiative, starting at onthehub.com/ibm, can be used to find schools that teach IBM Power Systems and IBM i content, and it contains some course material for learning basic topics in IBM i.
  • COMMON has many videos available to anyone in the community, including a new “Boot Camp” to help people who don’t know IBM i get introductory education. Check it out at http://www.common.org/online-education/boot-camp/.
  • The community has lots of experts who share their experience, and two of them came together for a discussion on how to attract, hire and retain new employees in the IBM i world. Brian May, of Profound Logic has a presentation he does on the topic, based on his experience with setting up an internship program, and in this podcast he discusses the topic with Paul Touhy, a well-known educator and consultant who shares a passion for bringing all IBM i professionals the tools they need to succeed.
  • I’m sure there are more!  Please add comments to this blog to help me and others find resources to help us all bring new people into the IBM i fold. Your experience can help, too!

I truly appreciate the efforts of everyone involved, from the Fresh Faces who are telling their stories, to the IBM Power Systems Marketing team who have done the work to make those stories accessible, to the others in the community who are doing their parts to make it easier to attract our new, young colleagues.

One last point, and this is important since this whole topic is about evaluating IBM i and comparing it to other potential platforms your business might use. While we in the IBM i community focus on this staffing issue as something unique to IBM i, I can tell you this issue is pervasive on all existing IT infrastructure platforms; mainframe, Unix and Windows customers also face it. Most students today are not being taught a specific operating environment. I have extensive experience talking to customers who have multiple platforms, and with leaders from other platforms I’ve met. This issue of aging staff is prevalent in any IT organization that has existed for more than a few years.

No, most students these days are learning the concepts behind computers and software, and they tend to work in programming languages that are available on most platforms rather than learning a specific one. They are using tools that make programming and debugging much easier than the tools from the 1980s, and these tools can be used to write code for many platforms. Until they get into the “real world” of business, many of these young programmers don’t learn the details of a specific platform, and they don’t have enough experience to evaluate one platform over another. New developers get excited about the working environment and opportunities at a potential employer more so than the platform used in the IT department.

I’m pleased we, the IBM i community, have been addressing the issue for several years, and by the increased participation and visibility of the Fresh Faces and Young i Professionals we’re seeing, we know something is working. Let’s keep it up!

And if you see a Fresh Face in our IBM i community, welcome them and invite them to tell their story!  


Posted July 11, 2017 | Permalink

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