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Filling the Skills Gap: It's Academic

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If you spend much time lurking in the various System i forums, you'll inevitably come across a few vociferous, angry rants about how IBM is abandoning System i to its inevitable demise. The tirades are often thunderous enough that you'd be forgiven for believing them. However, the doomsayers' hypotheses bear scant resemblance to reality. IBM's Academic Initiative for System i is proof of that.

The mission of the Academic Initiative is to provide colleges and universities with the resources they require to teach the System i skills that businesses need. At the time of writing, according to the Academic Initiative's Web pages, approximately 100 schools in the United States alone and 80 additional schools in the rest of the world participate in the program. IBM has been working hard to expand the program, so these numbers will likely be out of date by the time you read this. Making it harder still to quantify academic participation, IBM is reluctant to talk about the number of schools involved because its focus is on working with education institutions that will develop high-quality curricula with meaningful System i content rather than on producing a bloated list.

Another reason that global statistics about the Academic Initiative are difficult to come by is that IBM is intentionally driving the program from the local level to ensure that it meets actual needs. To maintain the local focus, IBM has an Academic Initiative leader in each of 20 regions worldwide, although that person may also have other roles within his or her region.

One number that IBM does boast about is student participation. More than 20,000 students in over 25 countries are now benefiting from the Academic Initiative annually.

The principle objectives of the program are as follows:

  • Get universities and colleges to teach upgraded curricula that include independent System i–related courses and integrate System i subjects in existing courses.
  • Nurture the active job community and foster collaboration by ensuring that participating schools are connected to the System i business community, including System i customers, Business Partners, ISVs, and user groups.
  • Increase and/or create System i mindshare among students and, as Linda Grigoleit, worldwide program manager for the Academic Initiative for System i, put it, "let them know that the world does not run on Windows."

The skills development aspect of the program is very much demand-driven, a demand that exists despite the common perception. In the various System i forums, you'll occasionally read posts lamenting the dearth of System i jobs. Again, reality seems to be at odds with these views. According to Grigoleit, a primary reason that IBM started the program was because "our customers and Business Partners are telling us that they can't find the skills they need. So there are jobs out there."

Program Elements

The program consists of the following three basic elements:

  • Access to System i hardware and software
  • Education for faculty to teach them about System i or to update their knowledge
  • Curriculum content that can be incorporated into classes

Hardware and Software

A key component of the Academic Initiative is a $2 million System i installation maintained by IBM. It acts as a hub for the program and exists exclusively for teaching purposes at the participating schools. At no cost, students and faculty can access the hub remotely through a URL to use in teaching labs or to download course material. About 2,500 to 3,000 people use the hub on a regular basis.

The hub holds software from IBM and its Business Partners as well as courseware that registered education institutions can use for free.

Beyond the main hub, smaller hubs are scattered around the world, primarily at universities, but at least one is being administered by a System i distributor. At the time of writing, one hub was being installed at the University of Nebraska and three more at key universities in China. There are also operational hubs in Poland and elsewhere in Europe.

In addition to the resources available on these hubs, IBM offers participating universities and colleges significantly discounted lease and purchase options on System i hardware and software.

Faculty Education

Keeping professors and instructors up-to-date on System i is another major objective of the program. IBM provides in-person faculty education that is offered primarily in the summer because that's when professors have time that they can devote to the courses. For example, faculty from approximately 30 education institutions, mostly in the United States, recently attended a summer school put on by IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.

The faculty courses are taught by IBM educators and experts, along with professors who are already teaching System i concepts in their universities. Summer school events are being conducted in a number of other countries as well.

IBM also invites faculty to other IBM events and makes Web-based education available to them. In addition, COMMON has a program that allows professors to attend the COMMON Conference for free, and many local System i user groups offer faculty free or discounted memberships.

Curriculum

IBM provides ready-made, free courseware that can be downloaded over the Web by program participants. At time of writing, the courseware repository listed 27 courses. Topics covered include system architectures, application design and development, database design and analysis, work management, backup and recovery, high availability, and security, among other subject areas.

It doesn't stop there. IBM is actively developing new curricula in technical skills as well as in related business concepts. "As you know, it's a business system," explained Grigoleit. "We work with a number of schools of business on MIS programs and courses because they are very interested in not just the technical side, but also the business side."

When drawing up the curriculum, IBM keeps in mind System i certifications. "We have a three-phased approach to our curriculum development," noted Grigoleit. "Phase one is about operations and a little bit about system administration, etc. This is about a 60-hour course that can be used as a single course or as separate modules that can be put into existing courses.

"In order to make sure that our courses are preparing students to feel confident that, if they conquer the course sufficiently, they can then be successful in a System i certification exam, we're involving some of our educators and some of the courseware development folks in the development of the certification, as appropriate. They will not be involved in the actual question-writing because we don't want to run the risk that our educators will teach to the test, but they are involved in course blueprinting and in defining the skills that system operators need to understand."

Business Partners

IBM is not in this alone. Business Partners and ISVs are supporting the education community in a big way, whether through the Academic Initiative or on their own. For example, in March of this year, Or Yehuda, Israel-based Magic Software Enterprises, announced a grant of $1 million worth of business process and development software to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in support of a worldwide hub for advanced teaching and for remote access by other universities.

"Magic Software's grant to the University of Nebraska builds on the work of the IBM Academic Initiative for System i to enable the university to act as a hub for the advancement of innovative solutions in areas such as business process improvement," said Mark Shearer, general manager, IBM System i. "The presence of software companies like Magic Software as part of the community of software providers supporting System i enhances collaboration between IBM and the university."

Magic Software is not the only ISV involved. For example, Burnsville, Minnesota-based RJS Software Systems attended an iSummit gathering of six or seven Business Partners and about five colleges, all from the Midwest. The group discussed how they could get involved in the Academic Initiative. The immediate actions they identified included loading software on the hub so schools can build the software into their curriculum and so students can work with software that is used in the real world at today's businesses. RJS and other System i Business Partners also plan to consider students for internships at their companies.

ProData Computer Services is yet another example of an IBM Business Partner that has provided free releases of its software to all schools participating in the Academic Initiative. The company's stated reason for doing this is to help IBM increase awareness of System i and to help increase awareness of ProData's own products.

This brings up a question: What's in it for the ISVs and Business Partners? "From a perspective of internships, we get a better crew," explained Bill Whalen, sales and marketing manager at RJS. "On the other side of the fence, we maintain and build the platform. We want to make sure that System i sticks around. In addition, if students work with our software in a college setting, then when they get out in the working world, they'll know about us."

Centerfield Technology is another IBM Business Partner that is participating in the program. In fact, it began to get involved with universities before it even knew that IBM had an Academic Initiative. "At the beginning of last year, we decided that it was a great idea for us to donate some of our software," said Jenniefer Halverson, director of IBM System i client-partners at Centerfield Technology. "My husband had been working at a university for 25 years. He was privy to all sorts of software, and I thought, 'I wonder if they could use ours.' So we contacted a lot of schools and asked them if they were interested."

Centerfield Technology now donates its technology to any school that wants it. "We're not in it for the money," explained Halverson. "We're not charging the colleges maintenance. If a college wants our tools, they can have them. We want to help in any way we can to increase awareness and help the schools."

When asked about the business justification for Centerfield's contribution to education institutions, Halverson made the point that "it should not be about revenue dollars today. You cannot say that education in general is going to come back to you in dollars today. Education is an investment for the future."

It's All About Jobs ...

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, the unmet need for skills at System i customers, Business Partners, and ISVs was an important factor driving the creation of the Academic Initiative. To ensure that the program effectively matches skills development with real-world skills requirements, IBM is targeting it primarily at those geographic areas that already have a large System i community. In those regions, it is also using the program to build "academic networks" that foster widespread, robust interactions among students, faculty, IBM, System i Business Partners, ISVs, and customers.

"Everywhere we go, when IBMers talk about the Academic Initiative in customer events, in partner events, or wherever, we talk about these academic networks and that we really need [partners' and customers'] help to help us with the schools in their communities," stated Grigoleit. "There are lots of ways that they can help. And we're seeing both customers and partners getting involved in all of these ways. For example, they can guest lecture at a college or university. Schools love to have somebody from industry come in and talk to their class about some aspect of the technology, which gives their students a real-world view as opposed to the academic view."

System i Business Partners and customers are also helping by offering projects that students can work on to get actual development experience while they are in school. To the same end, customers and partners are also providing internships to students and sometimes also to faculty, mostly during the summer. Business Partners and customers are also inviting students to visit their data centers to see System i in action.

The businesses involved in the program are also considering college graduates for jobs because, as Grigoleit points out, "It's all about jobs. If students and schools know that there are jobs out there, then they are much more interested in learning about the field."

IBM is also working with COMMON on its online Career Center and encouraging customers and partners to use it. Once the number of job offerings posted on the Career Center grows—it currently sees about one to three postings a day, although that number is growing—IBM plans to start promoting it to the schools as a career search option.

Résumés and job listings can be posted to the COMMON Career Center for free. Employers can also buy a "featured job" listing that gives their posting more prominence. Currently, the price for a 30-day featured listing is $40 for COMMON members and $80 for non-members.

... And a Little Bit of Fun

To inject some fun into the program, this year saw the first of IBM's System i Innovation Challenges. Open to American and Canadian students 18 years of age or older, the contest tested contestants' Web research skills as they discovered the System i platform, encouraged them to set their creative juices flowing to produce a video about System i, and, finally, required that they develop an innovative System i application.

The first-place team members received an all-expenses-paid trip to visit Nintendo in Redmond, Washington, where they were able to see System i in action. As an unannounced bonus, they also toured the facilities of Costco, another major System i user in the Seattle area. Additional prizes included Nintendo Wiis, iPod Nanos, gift certificates, T-shirts, and Zend PHP Certification Training courses and Zend PHP Certification Exam vouchers. The winning team was The A-Team from Marywood University. Its members were Wesley Fagen, Julie Gavin, Michael Jozaitis, and George Zimmerman. Dr. Rex DumDum was the sponsoring professor.

The first Innovation Challenge saw the participation of 110 teams from 50 schools. All of the winners are posted on the IBM Web site. IBM will be launching a similar contest in Europe this autumn.

More to Come

MC Press intends to run another article that will examine the Academic Initiative from the perspective of the students who participated in it. We'll get their impressions of the program, explore the benefits they've received, and discuss any changes they'd like to see. A publication date for this article has not been set yet, but if you are one of those students and would like to make your views—positive, negative, or merely anecdotal—known, please contact the author, Joel Klebanoff, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at your earliest convenience.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. He is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at joel@klebanoff.com.


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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.