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Microsoft Is Knocking: Should You Let It into Your Career?

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In the world of information technology, the one thing you can always count on is change. Change can either help or hurt your career, depending on how you approach it.

Bob Dylan sang those words in the ’60s, and if sung today to anyone in the computer field, they would still be true yet carry a new meaning. If you have been in information technology (formerly called data processing) for 20 years or more, then you have seen lots of changes and know what I am talking about. The times, they are a- changing. Do you remember 80-column cards? 96-column cards? Keypunch machines? Card readers? How about PL/I or assembly language programming? Do you remember the first transistorized computers, circa IBM 1401? Then came the IBM 360 and 370; and IBM System 3 with a new language, called RPG II; followed by IBM Systems 32, 34, 36, and 38 with another new language, called RPG III. And, finally, came the IBM AS/400.

Somewhere in between the IBM 360 and 370, and the System 3 and System 34, came the PC, the Commodore PC, and a revolutionary personal computer called Apple. As you may recall, the first IBM PC came with an operating system called DOS and was developed for IBM by a small startup company called Microsoft. I wonder what the people at IBM were thinking when they decided to put tremendous resources into developing the first personal computer? Did Big Blue envision what the PC would mean to business or that the industry would become the fastest growing segment of both the United States and world economy? Do you remember the days before you had a mouse on your desk? How about before you had a color monitor? Do you remember when gooey (GUI) was used to describe a really good candy or an ice-cream sundae?

Mainframe people thought that theirs was the only real computer for business; everything else was but a cheap imitation. IBM midrange people were content with the amazing things that the IBM midrange series could do. Even when PCs started becoming popular for home use and for such specialized business applications as financial spreadsheets, most IT professionals shunned the PC as a toy meant only for games or hobbyists. I remember when, only five or six years ago, I would ask programmers if they had PCs at home so they could fax me their resumes. Most would chuckle and say that they

had seen enough of computers at work and that they wouldn’t dare touch one at home. My, how times have changed.

Today, along with owning a TV, VCR, and telephone, it is simply expected that a person has a PC and is online. Today, more than 80 percent of the resumes sent to our search firm are sent by email, less than 3 percent are mailed, and the rest are faxed. Three years ago, I wasn’t online and knew nothing about email. Oh, yes, I had heard of it, but I guess I wasn’t that PC savvy. Now, my business could not survive without email, and access to the Internet for both posting job openings and general information has been a real benefit to our business. Like many companies, our Web page serves as our billboard along the information superhighway.

A Simpler Time

Initially, the first PCs at a company were used by the accounting department or for producing spreadsheets. Next, they were used for word processing, churning out letters, documentation, training materials, etc. Later, the PC was tied into the System 38 and could be used as a terminal or a standalone PC and eventually networked so that information could be passed back and forth between the PC and the midrange computer.

During this evolution of the PC, the inevitable became clear: The PC was here to stay, providing, as it did, unique information through mostly inexpensive off-the-shelf software. As users and executive management became more PC savvy, they made more demands on the IT department to access enterprise systems residing on the System 38 and AS/400. In many cases, the users knew more about the PC software offerings than the AS/400 staff, and these users wanted a way to use information already residing on the AS/400. Realizing the PC’s potential in the marketplace, Microsoft, along with other software developers, dedicated all of its resources to continually upgrading software offerings and either developing new products or acquiring smaller leading-edge companies. PC software companies kept playing leapfrog in an attempt to win a major piece of the IT pie in corporations. And the result? The PC hardware and software industry has grown at rates the likes of which no one has seen since the Industrial Revolution. From the garage to the Fortune 500, the Information Age has arrived, coming to us by the Internet, through a server, accessed by a PC, running on Microsoft Windows.

Gaze into the Crystal Ball

And what role will Microsoft play in your future? I’ll say it briefly: Microsoft will touch you, and, like it or not, you will have to interact, to which you reply, “I am an RPG programmer, and all day long, I work with RPG code, developing or modifying systems for manufacturing or distribution or accounting. I don’t see any need for me to learn Microsoft Access or Microsoft Visual Basic (VB) or Microsoft NT or Microsoft Office.” Well, if you’re retiring in the next two years, you just may be right and you don’t need to learn it. However, if you expect to be in any computer environment for longer than two years, as a recruiter and career counselor, I would say your career will be better off if you know more than just RPG 400. Call it “career insurance,” if you will.

Another thought to ponder is this: If you, as an IT professional, cannot support the necessary Microsoft products your company uses, then who will? Will they be outside consultants or Microsoft-trained staff? Will they be the other AS/400 professionals who understood the importance of being versatile? Oh, yes, and then there are the salary issues. In major-city markets, a good VB programmer/analyst with five years of VB experience is earning in the neighborhood of $65,000 to $80,000. In the AS/400 to PC client-server comparisons that I have seen, many of these VB people don’t have the business or application development skills that most AS/400 programmers have, but they have capitalized on a market in which there is a vacuum of knowledge.

Technology is changing. Computers are faster. Software is more advanced. And, people are looking for better ways to gather information, store it, retrieve it, and share it with others. Years ago, technology seemed to change at a slower pace. If you were COBOL programmer 25 years ago, prospects were good that COBOL would be the only

language you ever needed to know. With RPG programming, we saw RPG on the IBM 360/20, then RPG II on IBM Systems 3, 34, and 36. If you were an RPG II programmer in the ‘70s, your programming skills remained fairly secure for about eight to 10 years, until RPG III in the IBM System 38 arrived on the scene toward the end of that decade. Many RPG II programmers made the transition to RPG III and the System 38. For those who did not, the number of job openings decreased tremendously. For a period of about two or three years, RPG II programmers were able to find jobs in System 38 shops and make that transition. After that period, however, hiring managers and System 38 shops would not accept RPG II skills alone. Those programmers who did not upgrade their skills were locked into the diminishing world of RPG II.

Currently, we are going through another one of those major technology shifts, and you don’t want to be the one to put your head in the sand and ignore what is happening around you. Embrace change because it is what brings about new opportunities and challenges and what makes your skills more valuable.

Reach a Higher Ground

Before the days of software packages for the IBM midrange, a programmer’s coding and analysis skills and personality were generally the hiring criteria. However, as more companies began to use purchased software packages, such as those offered by J.D. Edwards, Computer Associates, System Software Associates (SSA), Infinium Software, and MAPICS, knowledge of these packages became an additional hiring criterion. Being a model employee with excellent stability at one company is no longer enough. Now, you also need specific software knowledge or additional “bells and whistles,” as some would say. Will history repeat itself? Will companies keep raising the bar for what they want in an ideal employee? I think so. After 25 years of doing searches for IBM midrange clients, I’ve seen the bar raised higher and higher. Yes, there are exceptions to every story, and, as recently as six months ago, I placed a veteran RPG II programmer in an AS/400 RPG installation. But, for the most part, companies expect more and more for their money. Today’s senior programmer/analyst must also be a systems analyst and an expert coder, must understand the company’s business (be a business analyst), train users on the software, manage multiple projects, evaluate hardware and software, have good communications skills, and train or manage other programmers. Tomorrow’s senior programmer/analyst will also need to coordinate Internet and intranet services, e-commerce, integrating data between the AS/400 and multiple other platforms from UNIX to NT servers, executive management systems and groupware, not to mention coordinate host strategic-decision-management software and tools from the likes of Microsoft and Lotus.

Now, What Do They Want?

Although most companies are not asking me to find them an RPG programmer with VB as a requirement, several employers have said it would be a plus. Most programmers I have asked are familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel. Hiring managers in today’s AS/400 installations expect every programmer/analyst and project leader to be thoroughly familiar with these programs, along with Windows 95 or Windows 98. Most companies are using Microsoft Office 95 or Office 97 and are beginning to expect the IT staff to be familiar with these products. It can be embarrassing when your users know more about computer solutions involving PC software and hardware than does your programming and technical support staff.

One manager has told me that she would not hire a project leader who wasn’t familiar with Microsoft Project. The same company is currently sending a number of its programmers to classes on VB. VB has become the mainstay language of the PC server. VB is to the PC what COBOL has been to be IBM mainframe computer. While there are other languages, they are not as mainstream. VB is not without its limitations, but it serves its purpose and is the common denominator of the popular Microsoft suite of products. Software developers know that, to have a chance at success, their products must be written

for the Microsoft standard, Windows 95/98. The general consensus of medium to large AS/400 sites is that they are beginning to use VB or plan to use it in the immediate future.

IBM is betting heavily on the success of Java, but Java won’t make Microsoft go away. Even though Java could very well be the language of the future, today’s PC Server language is VB, and Microsoft provides the tools of choice. VB is to client-server applications, what Cobol has been to the IBM mainframe. Both IBM and Microsoft are making sure that the Microsoft products will eventually work seamlessly with one other.

Constant Change

What we’re seeing in the IT field is a changing environment and new dynamics based on rapidly evolving technology. Every five years, you can expect a major change in technology that could affect your career. Some of the technology that we now take for granted wasn’t around five years ago or even 10 years ago. Just about every AS/400 shop I know of has either Novell or NT LANs, or both. Every company has email and most have Internet access. Most companies have a Web site, and, in the next two years, most companies will be doing Internet commerce of some type. Today, the password is Microsoft; tomorrow, it could be Java or Linux. Is such a shift likely? Is it possible? Although most people, including myself, don’t think Microsoft will ever go away, I do think that Microsoft will be challenged as Java continues to evolve as a popular portable language and Linux catches the eye of more major companies as a possible Windows server replacement.

To be able to be better at reading the “crystal ball,” find out what solutions other companies are implementing and what type of software products they are using, including Microsoft products. Good sources for information are your IBM representative, your business partners, your local users group, and technical trade magazines. Also, be aware that IBM is positioning itself as a solution provider. A few years ago, Big Blue realized that, while it competes with Microsoft in certain areas, some Microsoft products and solutions served IBM’s customers well. There are times IBM will recommend and implement a Microsoft solution that works well with the IBM AS/400.

So, What Should You Learn?

While you don’t need to be a certified Microsoft products specialist, I think that you should start out by being proficient in using Microsoft Office 97 suite of products. Recently, IBM announced some new connectivity sockets that will allow a free exchange of information from the AS/400 to the PC server. I highly recommend that you stay on top of any developments in this area and try them out as they become available. That way, you’ll better understand the capabilities of these advances and how they may benefit a solution at your own company.

Imitate IBM and view yourself as a solution provider. In areas where you don’t have the expertise, either jump in and learn it or team up with others who have it. While you may not need to be an expert, acquire enough knowledge about a product or solution so that you can be part of the solution process. If you want to start slowly, I recommend you first get involved with Access programming and take a class in VB later on. Start getting used to the object-oriented world of programming. If you are a project leader or project manager or IS manager, I strongly recommend that you become accustomed to working with Microsoft Project, which has pretty much become the standard project management application at most companies. I would also recommend that you learn PowerPoint, a Microsoft program designed to help develop visual presentations.

An easy way to get involved with Microsoft products is to request that your company send you to the same classes that it sends users to. Some of these classes may be one or two days, and others might be six to eight sessions. Your company would be wise to give you this training so that you can better support users and understand how you might use these products to provide solutions. As an IT manager, sending some of your staff to these classes could provide them with a real incentive to stay with your company. After they’ve completed the classes, give them a project in which they can use their new

knowledge, even if it’s only a minor project. Learning new technology and being able to use it is a real motivating factor in employee retention.

If your career is more on side of operations and technical support, then you probably have already seen the impact of Microsoft products on your shop. Just five or six years ago, it seemed to be good enough for computer operations and support staff to know the AS/400 and remote communications. Today, when I get a call from a client to fill an operations position, that client invariably wants a prospective hire to be familiar with LAN administration on NT servers, and sometimes on Novell. There is a need to know about email and fax servers, firewalls, security issues, etc. This is holding true to all positions on the operations-support side, down to the data center managers. I know of a few smart data center managers and directors who have taken classes and received their Microsoft NT certification. When it comes to job searching, they will have a definite advantage over managers who don’t have these credentials.

A Brave New World

Should you learn about Microsoft products? If you want job security, promotional opportunities, and marketable skills, the answer is yes. If you feel that you don’t have the time to learn on your own or take classes, then make sure that you save up a nice little nest egg for when you are unemployed for two or three months during the next recession. Companies need to support more and more software products, and they are not going to hire a specialist for each and every product. So, the more you know, the more your career will grow to reach your expectations.

Keep up on trends by reading the various trade magazines. Analyze the classifieds to see what skills companies are looking for. If 75 percent of companies are advertising for a certain skill, it’s a good indication of how valuable that skill might be to your career. Attend local users group meetings and regional technical conferences to take a closer look at the up-and-coming technologies that could have an impact your career. Pick up a book on the topic you want to learn more about, or take a class at your local community college or adult education facilities. Start with your own PC at home and upgrade to the latest Microsoft operating system and Office 97 suite.

Invest in yourself. The price of some of these products is minimal compared to the cost of not having the skills. Don’t wait for your company to send you to classes. Invest some of your own time and money in your career. The dividends will be enormous.

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  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have 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. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    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.