Partner TechTip: Building an RPG Programmer

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You've been asked to help train a new programmer with neither IBM i nor RPG experience. Where is she going to learn the necessary skills?


Believe it or not, companies are hiring again. Some are even hiring RPG programmers! Unfortunately, many of these new employees don't have the skills you expect from an RPG programmer. Some are recent college graduates proficient in C, Java, PHP, JavaScript, and other languages that may be useful to your company. Others are mainframe COBOL programmers. In too many cases, they have neither RPG nor basic IBM i skills.


Suppose that you either are the development manager who hired the new programmer or have been asked to help train him/her. Suppose also that you've been doing this for 20 years or so. Where can you get help in training the new employee?


Probably the worst place to start is to think back on how you were trained. Why is this so bad? After all, you survived the experience to become a pretty good programmer. The answer is that the education business—like IT— has changed tremendously in 20 years. In 1990, many junior colleges and technical schools taught AS/400 skills. Today, despite the efforts of IBM's Academic Initiative, the number of such schools continues to decline. It's unlikely you'll find a school in your area that teaches RPG programming. Similarly, many people learned from IBM classes or public seminars taught by independent vendors. The market for public RPG classes has also dried up. While you can find consultants who will come to your site to teach a class of 10 or more, it's extremely difficult—if not impossible—to find RPG classroom training any more. In writing this article, I searched the IBM training site for "RPG" and couldn't find a single class in North America. If you want someone to take the same RPG class that you took (upgraded to RPG IV, of course), you'll need to send them to Australia or Belgium.


Some people remember a favorite book or self-study course that helped teach them the basics. While some of these options still exist, you need to be very careful. Does the text cover RPG IV (at the current level), or is it a rehashed RPG III book? One way to tell is if the examples are all written in RPG /FREE. Does it teach only SEU, or does it also cover modern integrated development environments (IDEs)? Do all database examples show DDS, or is SQL also taught? Can you learn how to write a CGI program in RPG?


To remain a successful RPG programmer, you've learned a lot since your first RPG course. New-hires should not have to begin at the same starting point and reprise the history of the AS/400 family. Instead, they should learn modern IBM i programming techniques so that they can be productive as soon as possible. At the same time, keep in mind that it's not just about RPG. An IBM i programmer also needs basic operational skills and expertise with several languages and tools.


At the very least, someone hired as a new RPG programmer should be trained in the following areas:

  • IBM i concepts and facilities, including the IFS and LPAR
  • Use of standard interfaces to the OS, including the text-based (green-screen) interface, Navigator for i, Access for i, System Director Navigator for i, FTP, and NetServer
  • Work management concepts and basic operations to manage jobs, messages, and spooled output
  • Creating, compiling, binding, and running programs using both SEU and products in the Rational IDE family (WDSc/RDI/RDP)
  • Writing and maintaining both RPG and CL programs
  • Debugging programs
  • Creating and maintaining databases using DDS or SQL
  • Designing screens and reports
  • Invoking SQL from within an RPG program
  • Writing a CGI program
  • Using standard query tools
  • Developing Web-based applications using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript


Your new employee may arrive with some or none of these skills, which is why it's important to find a vendor, such as Manta Technologies, that can cover it all or any subset. Manta has been training IBM i programmers since 1994. It was the first company to offer self-study courses on RPG IV, ILE, IFS, and other key technologies. Equally important, it's the only self-study training vendor to have kept these courses up to date over the years. If you need turn a new-hire into a productive RPG programmer, you cannot do any better than to use Manta's online courses.

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