IBM i Fresh Faces Push Boundaries
New developers are continuously moving forward with innovative mobile and open-source applications. These applications are changing how companies do business.
By Shirley S. Savage05/01/2017
New developers are continuously moving forward with innovative mobile and open-source applications. These applications are changing how companies do business. Most new developers come to the IBM i platform with little to no prior knowledge of the system. After initial trepidation, the new developers’ skepticism quickly evaporated after seeing the platform’s benefits. IBM i gives them the freedom to create new applications that can not only improve business operations but also help their organizations stay competitive.
As new developers, Kody Robinson, Liam Allan and Stephanie Rabbani perceived IBM i as a green-screen legacy system. However, their opinions changed when they began to work with the platform and experienced the many capabilities of IBM i.
Robinson, a business and financial systems developer at Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., was first introduced to IBM i in college when he worked at a bank. The bank’s vice president of IT admired the platform because it was stable and secure. Robinson quickly learned the value of the platform and its capabilities. “I knew from the beginning that a lot of big Fortune 500 companies used because of the stability and security that it gives,” he says. “Let’s be honest, that’s one of the most important things for companies. I knew that it was all green screens though, and nothing else really. Now I know that anything any other platform can do, the IBM i can do it better.”
Allan, a 20-year-old software developer with Profound Logic Software in the U.K., learned only about systems management and RPG during college. Based on his limited knowledge, he assumed the system “was really boring and couldn’t do very much.” Now he admits, “Obviously, I was pretty wrong about that!”
“I enjoy this system because there is still a lot of potential to do great things with the power it provides,” Allan notes.
Allan won the 2016 COMMON Student Innovation Award for his impressive work on open source for IBM i. Rabbani’s first job out of college was working for BCD Software in Canada. She had never heard of IBM i or RPG before accepting the position but found she could use web languages on the platform and could also run RPG/CGI programs. Rabbani was impressed by the platform’s SQL functionality, which “makes for a simple, fast web program,” she says.
Rabbani, now a senior web developer working with Alan Seiden at Seiden Group, appreciates IBM i’s stability and reliability because the system can handle tons of data flowing through her PHP applications. “We don’t get calls from clients at midnight that their box is down,” she notes. “IBM i has really served my clients well over the years.”
The value of IBM i lies in the fact that the platform constantly evolves to meet developers’ needs whether it is mobile applications, open source or ILE languages.
Mobile is one trend that affects AECC and the broader business community. “One of the main trends right now, at least in my eyes, is to be able to give our internal customers access to applications on their phone,” Robinson says. That involves adding modern web applications that leverage modern resources. He’s pleased to see that the IBM i community is focused on making new web-based applications with IBM i on the back end. “Young professionals love the comprehensive web-based apps, and that’s what I want to do for my internal clients,” Robinson says.
While web applications are Robinson’s latest challenge, his first hurdle was modernizing AECC’s legacy RPG applications. While Robinson didn’t know RPG when he joined the utility, he took on the challenge of determining the best way to leverage and update the existing programs.
Working with three experienced RPG coders on the IT team, Robinson used free-format RPG, Rational* Developer for i and PHP to modernize the applications. ARCAD-Transformer RPG from Arcad Software was used to convert the legacy applications into free-form RPG. Robinson, along with the leadership of his director, also introduced PHP to the company’s mix and helped transition from DDS to DDL.
The project gave Robinson the opportunity to understand how free-form RPG works. He’d watch the ARCAD program doing its conversion. He also spent time researching and reading about RPG development.
The utility’s move to free-form RPG cut development time in half, saving time and money. It also provides agility in meeting current and future demands. Thanks to the work done by Robinson and the IT team, Robinson won the COMMON-IBM Power Systems Innovation Award in 2016.
“Now I know that anything any other platform can do, the IBM i can do it better."—Kody Robinson, business and financial systems developer, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.
Open source is another industry trend affecting programmers and IBM i. Sharing code and ideas improves the quality of programming, says Rabbani. In addition to PHP, IBM’s decision to add open-source code like Python and Ruby to IBM i expands many more capabilities, she notes.
Open source continues to be one of Allan’s passions. He likes the collaborative aspect of it and often contributes his code to the community. Websites like GitHub, Bitbucket and GitLab allow others to see code, make changes and upload the revamped code so he can see what changes other developers make.
Allan sees open source as a way to bring the tightly knit IBM i community even closer. In 2016 he was named the COMMON Student Innovation Award winner for creating a virtual machine and programming language that runs in ILE.
IBM’s embrace of open source helps to bring younger programmers to the IBM i platform. “Personally, I am happy to see more and more open source coming on and off the platform,” he says. “I love that we have more ILE projects and repositories appearing on the web.”
Allan has turned his attention to porting the Lua programming language to ILE as well as writing a DB2* module enabling it to access the database. As well as a DB2 module, he is developing another module to work with more system APIs for things like objects, data areas and data queues. He has written an ILE package manager and build tool in RPG for ILE projects. Another project involves a plugin that allows developers to work with ILE languages from within the free source-code editor Notepad++, allowing you to edit, compile and see errors from compiles on IBM i. Allan is also planning more features.
Further, Allan plans to port a project called JerryScript over to IBM i to run in the ILE environment. There is no reason it can’t run in ILE, he says.
Node.js, an open-source environment, is gaining more IBM i users. In his spare time, Allan develops open-source code that runs on IBM i or runs for IBM i. He and IBMer Jesse Gorzinski, business architect, open source on IBM I, are responsible for maintaining the OSSILE repository on GitHub where programmers can submit snippets or full projects written in any ILE language for others to use.
Allan wants to dispel the idea that open source prevents companies from capitalizing on such projects. He believes that once companies know how to use open source properly, they’ll be able to discern how they can monetize it, thus creating opportunity.
IBM i has been an evolving platform and continues to be a platform of choice for many new developers. “IBM is one of the most innovative companies in the industry and they are putting their clients’ needs first,” said Robinson.
Fresh Faces of IBM i
Lynell C. Constantine
My role primarily consists of a mix of developing new RPG/Java* programs to automate old manual business processes and the modernization of older, fixed-format applications still running in our company.
I’ve been working as an application developer for a little over a year, but I have been actively involved in local IBM i user groups for the past three years. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to RPG through Jim Buck’s classes while attending Gateway Technical College.
Right now, I’m working on the modernization of CGI programs throughout the system. As with most IBM i shops, my company has a mix of old and new programming techniques throughout the system due to the recent adoption of free format in RPG IV.
The thing I like most about IBM i is how close you feel to the files/tables on the system and the integrated language environment (ILE). Database accessibility is amazingly straightforward in RPG IV and, in my experience, is much easier to use than any other language that I have used for this purpose. The ILE blew my mind the first time I learned about it. It’s absolutely invaluable and makes the system that much more robust.
TRADUI Technologies GmbH
For my computer science studies, I visited the Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. I began an internship at TRADUI Technologies in February 2012. On the basis of my work there, I found my topic for my bachelor thesis: “Migration and integration of an open source business intelligence tool to IBM i.” Specifically, I examined the ways deployment is possible on IBM i, the database performance (particularly DB2* for i) and a basic concept for data storage.
I’ve been working on IBM i for five years. Right now, I’m a leading part of our product developer team, with a focus on open-source business intelligence (BI) and reporting tools (BIRT). My work lies mainly in developing software solutions and extensions for open-source BIRT to support our customers. It also includes the design of technical reports on custom requirements.
For example, we’re developing an extension module for our report server to create and display interactive dashboards (interactive charts, dynamic tables). In this case, BIRT is only the middleware to collect the data and serves as a tool for developers.
The biggest trends affecting my business are BI and Agile software development. For all of our customers using IBM i, it’s helpful for the processes of development and deploying our software products.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)
I’ve been working on IBM i for five years. In my current role, I maintain IBM Power* hardware and IBM i software running a custom-developed claims processing application.
To me, the coolest thing about IBM i is that it runs legacy and modern code simultaneously.
Given the integrated nature of the platform, it’s easy to gain experience in security, database administration, application performance tuning, backup and restore, disaster recovery, and more. It’s a great place to start out your career.
Those who have been working on the platform for a length of time can also easily try their hand at an open-source project or use one of the DB2 services to automate admin functions. IBM provides great support for this platform, so there’s really no limit to what you can make of it.
I was one of those people who thought IBM i was an older technology that businesses ran because they had to. Now, I see why you would want to choose it for your business. Plus, IBM i has a wonderful network of individuals who are very passionate about the platform, and who are willing to mentor others.
Kelly Lynn Mason
Smalley Steel Ring
I have worked in IT and with IBM Power Systems* for about a year and a half. I take care of help desk tickets that involve program changes, set up and map EDI customers, and lead the user education program.
I’m also the conference director for the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association (WMCPA). Being part of that community helps me to learn from those who have been in the industry for a long time. Any time you can gain knowledge, you are more acceptable to change within an evolving environment like IBM i.
Older languages on IBM i can be easily converted to easy-to-read, free format. We have used tools to convert all of our fixed-format source to free format. Then we use free format to make program changes. I access the programs I’m working on and rewrite using embedded SQL if warranted.
TRADUI Technologies GmbH
The biggest trends affecting my business right now are business intelligence and big data. I’ve been working on IBM i for three years, and my most interesting current projects involve open-source BIRT. Our company specializes in developing reports and advising clients on BI solutions and strategies.
The strength of BIRT is that it’s built on Java* and it’s highly capable of being integrated. This can be a blessing and curse at the same time, because when I have to implement certain customer requirements, I have to know exactly what the technology is capable of performing. The advantage of the IBM i platform is that BIRT is built into many products. This allows IBM clients who have smaller reporting requirements (such as Maximo) to achieve a fast and efficient result.
To me, the coolest thing about IBM i is the integrated architecture, which matches powerful hardware with fine-tuned software. I recommend a career in IBM i because you get a complete insight into a long-standing, stable and innovative OS.
Spotlight on 22 Years of Innovation
Owner and Founder
I’ve been working on IBM i and its predecessors for 22 years. My consultancy company specializes in various programming projects for clients on IBM i. Our clients operate in different sectors and range from small companies to large enterprises.
For one of our customers, a design furniture company called JORI, we developed a 3D configurator running on IBM i. The JORI collection has, at present, 102 models including sofas, armchairs, reclining chairs, tables and more. Our JORI 3D configurator (bit.ly/2mJkf5P) allows customers to compose and visualize their own configurations. This configurator won the COMMON Benelux Excellence Award in the application development category.
Along with several other projects, I’m also building a render server on IBM i that will create 3D renderings. Nowadays this is mainly done on client PCs, but that takes a lot of time. Rendering on the server allows more possibilities in 3D on IBM i.
Being part of the IBM i community has helped me immensely. Many great people have donated to the community in open-source tools. I donated a POP3 mail client written in RPG to the open-source EASY400 community. I started what I call “co-sourcing” projects among my clients. This means that each of them codes part of a common software application. I coordinate things and also contribute code. In the end, all of the participants get a custom-made software product with less coding effort than doing everything yourself.
Shirley S. Savage is a writer and communications strategist. She's fascinated by tech, science, finance, energy and the way innovative people think.