Open New Doors

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Are languages such as COBOL, RPG, C++ ,and even Java on their way out? It seems that application development, a career many of us chose, is maturing. It reminds me of the steel industry. During the boom, when all the major cities were being built, being a steel worker meant you had a job for life. But as generations entered that industry, not only did the original pioneer steel works mature, but the industry matured. When most of the big-city skyscraper construction was completed, the need for steel dropped substantially. The steel industry went into a depressed state for a while. Then building maintenance and some minor new construction helped reinvigorate the industry. But it will never get back to it heyday.

Is the IT industry going through the same phenomenon? Has all the software for general-purpose business applications already been written? If you're spending 80% or more of your time doing maintenance programming, then for you the answer is yes.

But like the steel industry did, we need to come up with new applications and uses for our skills and "product." This will open up new ventures and new opportunities for everyone.

Certainly, government-enabled opportunities such as HIPAA and SOX compliance are just temporary work programs, as was Y2K (which I blame for nearly destroying our industry). But what is the solution to ongoing corporate application development slow-down?

Perhaps programmers need to understand the industry in which they are writing code: distribution, warehousing, electronics, manufacturing, hotel management, gaming, retail, etc. Do you actually know the industry you're working in? Or do you only know how to write code in RPG and/or another language?

You might be surprised to learn that filling just one application need in your corporation may lead to some creative ideas for new application development. Come up with an idea for an application that solves a problem for your company. It doesn't have to be a million-dollar idea (from a development-cost perspective); it could simply be the solution to an annoyance that your company has to deal with. If you have an idea of how to develop an application that solves that problem, propose it. Or if you can, do it independently in your downtime at work.

I did this back in the 1970s, long before most major application programs were even possible. I wrote a distribution report for our transportation department. It was something the VP of Operations had dreamed of having, but the IT manager didn't comprehend that it would be possible with our System/34. So I spent a few hours one month working on the report.

When I finished, it generated over 300 "greenbar" pages. I was on second shift, so I walked it over to the VP's office and dropped it on his desk. The next day, he saw it. Shortly after I came in around noon that day, he went into my manager's office with the report under his arm and spoke for a while. I didn't know what they were talking about. (FYI, my manager didn't know I was practicing my RPG II skills in my downtime).

The VP came out of my manager's office and asked me to join them. I went in and the look on their faces was something that scared me at first. I actually thought I was a goner.

But the conversation went something like this:

VP: Bob, did you do this?

Bob: Yeah.

VP: Why?

Bob: Because you mentioned in a couple of meetings that you wished our system could produce this report.

VP: So you wrote it.

Bob: Yes.

VP: Bob, I'm so excited about this I just can't tell you.

Bob [smiling]: OK. Good.

From that one report, I was assigned a lot of new work and was given a lot of opportunity to fix other application problems that the company had been putting up with for a few years.

Perhaps we all need to do some coding on the side and help our own companies save time, save money, and promote creativity in the non-IT staff so that management has reasons to ask us for more applications.

In other words, stop saying, "No, we can't do that." Because if you continue saying "no," then someday they will walk up to you and say, "Hey, we're going with .NET and won't need your services after we've implemented it."

Bob Cozzi is author of the best-selling The Modern RPG IV Language, Fourth Edition as well as RPG TNT: 101 Dynamite Tips 'n Techniques with RPG IV and is host of the i5 Podcast Network, which provides free video and audio podcasts to the i5 community. You can also see him in person at RPG World in May 2007.