On March 5th, 2013, looksoftware and Maxava held an event in downtown Melbourne. The original invite can be found here: http://www.looksoftware.com/home/ibmi-melbourne.aspx
Attended by many IBM i customers, the event was a little marketing and a little evangelism. Similar to the longer iBelieve events being held by looksoftware in North America over the last year, none of the sessions were a vendor pitch. This seemed to resonate well with the audience, and the Q&A session was simply not long enough to satisfy their curiosity. From my perspective as the emcee, it was a successful event given that the questions raised may be the start of a dialog in the local IBM i community.
Alison Butterill, the IBM i Product Offering Manager shared her passion for IBM i as she presented the latest picture of the platform and a taste of IBMs direction for IBM i. Where IBM i has come from its roots in the AS/400 of last century still amazes me, and certainly, there were a large number of attendees who were educated that day. It seems that Alisons passion may raise the audience passion, but she definitely has the content to support the excitement.
I was up next, and shared my own excitement for IBM i applications I have been modernizing, with an emphasis on cloud and mobile. I know I left the audience with lots of new concepts to ponder, and a comfort that modernization is not the hurdle it once seemed.
Before lunch, Simon OSullivan from Maxava helped the audience understand some of the trends in cloud computing related to IBM i, with the Maxava perspective of seeing HA and DR being a driver of a new push into the cloud. Simon showed us how their mobile application has changed the perspective and usability of IBM i applications for their customers. After lunch, Brendan Kay talked about modern applications, with a discussion of the looksoftware perspective of the difference between average and amazing applications. If you have a chance to see either of these sessions at the regular conferences where Maxava and looksoftware present, or to view their webinars, I encourage you to do so - no matter which vendor you choose for your IBM i solutions, the perspectives offered by both companies are extremely educational.
At the end of Alisons session, the questions had begun in earnest. The audience of IBM i customers, it seemed, were far from being complacent about their IT and the future of their preferred platform. Because there were still some great sessions to come, we held the questions until all the speakers were finished, and then the Q&A started. There is no doubt that we could have stayed all day, and when we did end the event, the conversations from the event room to the elevator (and beyond, I am sure) continued fervently.
The questions ranged from individual IBM i OS and product questions to major decisions about what tools to use for modernization. There was some discussion of which desktop tools are best in the new world of cloud and mobile - driven in part by the traditional cost of licensing desktop OS and software - although opinions differed on the correct answer. When the session finally ended, the hot topic of discussion was about finding young and new IBM i resources to replace the soon-to-be-retired developers of the bygone AS/400 era.
Since this is a favorite topic of mine, and one on which I am an advocate, my voice was definitely heard. The question of where to find the next generation of IBM i developers is one that is asked around the globe. And, in each territory, the same question has the same answers, yet each thinks their own question is unique to them. While the answers seem not to be clear, let me repeat the talking points I brought up during the close of this event.
Question: How do we find the next generation of IBM i developers?
How did you become an IBM i developer? While many IT managers are looking for some quick fix of a graduate who knows RPG and IBM i, it seems that only a very small percentage of the current IBM i developer community learned RPG in a classroom inside a formal curriculum. It was either on-the-job training or specialized in-house training where the skills were initially obtained. Are you facilitating this approach to grow your own next generation of IBM i developers?
Have you asked any schools in your community about IBM i graduates? The majority of schools with an IT curriculum continue to claim there is no demand for RPG or IBM i graduates. Yet, the majority of IBM i shops would hire this graduate were they available. The disconnect between education providers and business is staggeringly wide. Can you join forces with the other IBM i shops in your community and approach the education providers with an indication of the demand for resources that you wish to fill?
How do you see the platform? Is it still an AS/400? An iSeries? Are you still developing with green screen editing tools? Are you building applications and maintaining code that looks like it was written in 1999? Until you see the platform as a modern, evolved, scalable, integrated and open platform, you will find the attraction to your preferred platform does not extend to the next generation of IT developers. Have you kept up to date and upgraded the skills of your existing IBM i developers?
Once upon a time, you had a passion for your job and your platform that was boundless. You bragged about it to your fellow workers, to your community, and more than likely, overflowed into your personal life. You were willing to learn new things, keep up to date with technology, find new techniques of application building, and evolve as a developer. Today, it seems, the passion has become dormant, and a typical IBM i resource in this second decade of the 21st century is comfortable with a status quo from almost two decades past. What are you doing to reignite your passion? What are you doing to learn about the platform as it exists today? What are you doing to sell the future of the platform to your business, your colleagues and your community?
In summary, these considerations are only the start of a conversation. With the responsibilities of maintaining existing applications, juggling many tasks with smaller budgets, and being pushed by users who are far ahead of the current user experience level of your applications, there seems to be little time to devote to building IT resources to suit your environment. However, until we - the IBM i community - make some noise to the outside world about how amazing this technology is, how fabulous it is to solve business problems, how much better the ROI can be, the investment in future resources for IBM i will remain at the very small level where it sits today.
The conversation is ready to be continued. The dialog requires some action. At the end of this event, there was a general feeling that the community can do something about this very important question.
The only challenge?