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Technology Focus: Educational Services for IBM i Professionals

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As the generation of RPG programmers who built some of the great IBM i application systems that run many SMBs drifts toward retirement, replenishing their ranks poses some urgent problems.

 

Even as long as 20 years ago, it was fashionable to say that if you didn't keep your technology skills sharp, the only thing you'd need to learn for your next job was how to say, "Do you want fries with that?" While that was clearly some hyperbole designed to shock, the base sentiment remains true. If you work in a technological field, you have to keep up with what goes on with the technology, even if your particular enterprise isn't using all the aspects of the technology that it might.

 

Not that it's easy for IBM i programmers, operators, and other personnel to keep abreast of a fast-moving industry. Particularly in SMBs using the IBM i, small IT staffs can make it particularly difficult for professionals to find the time and energy to undertake more training when workloads seem impossibly heavy and the skill set required to keep one's present job sometimes doesn't change much.

 

Once someone's been with the same enterprise for several years, it can also be hard to stay focused on the idea that, for anyone, the day can come on which they're part of the staff that has to be trimmed to keep the company afloat. The possibility that IT pros may need to market themselves in an industry that didn't stand still while they were plying a quiet backwater somewhere is frightening and easy to avoid contemplating.

More Than Just Programmers' Careers in Jeopardy

However, these are merely the major traditional arguments in favor of keeping technical peoples' skills up to snuff. What's changing the equation as we enter the teen years of the 21st century is that education and training issues are starting to become a strategic problem for enterprises themselves, instead of just for their employees. Many enterprises' trusty staff of IBM i programmers and analysts, some of whom have been in the trenches since the early 1980s, are edging toward retirement. The application systems they've built, some encompassing millions of lines of code, can't simply be replaced or rewritten. Where are the programmers who will soon be needed to maintain and extend those mission-critical parts of an enterprise?

 

The logical solution, which is to hire new programmers coming out of the nation's colleges and universities, is anything but a slam dunk. Many of today's college graduates in computer sciences misperceive RPG and the IBM i as "old technology" and imagine corporate IT work to be dreary tinkering with ERP apps when they could be designing video games instead.

 

Whether or not a majority of IBM i professionals and their employers clearly understand the scope of the problem is questionable.

 

"I don't see many current IBM i professionals taking conventional college programming classes," notes Jim Buck, an IBM i programming instructor at Gateway Technical College in Wisconsin. "In many cases, I feel that some professionals on this platform are just waiting to retire, and they don't want to learn anything new."

 

On the other hand, the problem is far from being as simple as baby boomers looking to coast to retirement. With a U.S. economy that is still struggling to emerge from recession, companies in their fourth or fifth year of belt-tightening are sometimes just trying to stay alive on reduced revenues. Often the first potential corporate outlays to take a hit are "optional" employee benefits such as training, with employers hoping their IT people will take up the slack on the cheap or on their own.

 

"Employers are cutting education budgets and telling their employees to watch a free webinar. A webinar is a great introduction to a subject but [it doesn't] take the place of a classroom setting, if for no other reason than you have a knowledgeable person to guide you through the learning process and a structured environment with deadlines," Buck observes.

Climbing out of the Hole

This is not to say the situation is hopeless. Some educational institutions have seen the opportunity an aging IBM i workforce represents and are responding. More colleges and universities are offering IBM i-related courses than ever before. These vary widely in subject matter, but there are some institutions of higher learning that provide i-related classes in nearly every state of the U.S. IBM's Academic Initiative program has compiled a list of these, sorted by geographic location. IT professionals can often find classroom training opportunities in their areas, and enterprises looking for new blood can use these schools as recruiting resources.

 

There are also signs that computer science students can overcome their misconceptions about IBM i technology and embrace it. "This year, I've completed 10 years of teaching IBM classes at Gateway," Buck reports. "Once students are introduced to the IBM i operating system and have an understanding of it, they are very excited about it. Some colleges still only teach SEU, PDM, and fixed-format RPG, [which] students do look at as old technology. Gateway teaches RPG IV/free-format, which students say is easy to work with." Gateway also offers courses in Rational tools, IBM i Access for Windows, and DB2, Java, and VB.net. In the fall, it will be offering mobile device programming and advanced classes in PHP, Java, and VB.net. Similar opportunities are available at select schools across the U.S.

 

Another aspect of the education picture is also embodied by Gateway, which offers IBM i training in a two-year program. "I'm seeing more companies making the strategic decision to hire younger IT professionals. Previously, companies were only interested in graduates from four-year institutions," Buck offers. He goes on to note that students from the Gateway program often have jobs before graduation, and the hiring companies often help the students finish their four-year degree. "This in itself is beneficial to the companies because they can offer guidance to the employee as to their field of study."

 

Buck wears another hat, that of President of the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association. In that role, he advocates for companies looking for future i personnel to get involved with local colleges nationwide and encourage the colleges to start offering i-related courses. "I call it 'Adopt a College.' If companies would approach local colleges and explain the opportunities for their students, colleges will listen. This will also help the colleges understand what technologies are needed by industry. Many college instructors become isolated and start teaching what they perceive as cool and that will attract students. This can result in graduates with skills in technologies that aren't needed," Buck concludes.

Continuing Education Resources

For i professionals already on the job, there are a wealth of resources for extending their technical expertise. In addition to some colleges and universities offering i-related subjects as online courses, there are numerous user groups located around the U.S. that provide educational events of a less formal nature, along with opportunities to network with other IBM i professionals in their local area. IBM maintains a list of these user groups.

 

Finally, there is a broad middle ground between formal academia and local user groups; it's made up of commercial companies offering learning programs that can help professionals brush up, catch up, or get an edge on technologies and issues that affect the i. These enterprises are listed below. (Please note that these listings do not include training offered by many software vendors for their own specific products.)

 

Please consult the links provided to get a fuller picture of each company's educational offerings. And as always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.

Educational Service Companies for IBM i Skills

Automated Training Systems (ATS)

Online Courses

ATS provides online video training courses in IBM i operations, programming, database, XML Web services, Webfacing, and WebSphere.

 

Avotus Corporation

Wireless Management

Avotus specializes in training for management of wireless mobile devices and networks in business settings. Topics include mobile-device provisioning, optimization, accounting and expenses, and use management.

 

CBT Nuggets

IT Training

CBT offers online video training in many IT-related areas. Courses specific to IBM i include Web programming with PHP and .NET.

 

CertFX

AIX Certification Exam Training

DB2 Certification Exam Training

IBM Certification Exam Training

Lotus Certification Exam Training

WebSphere Certification Exam Training

WebSphere Portal Certification Exam Training

CertFX offers training and tutorials for students planning to take certification tests in AIX, DB2, IBM, Lotus, WebSphere, WebSphere Portal, and other topics. Help includes sample tests and a "don't pass/don't pay" guarantee program.

 

Champion Solutions Group

Events

Champion offers a variety of conferences and webinars on changing issues in IT.

 

COMMON

Conferences and Events

COMMON Education Foundation

COMMON, the user group for IBM i, presents an ongoing schedule of conferences, events, webinars, and virtual labs on IBM i-relevant topics.

 

The COMMON Education Foundation is a committee of COMMON that fosters expansion of midrange education in colleges and universities. It also fundraises to provide scholarships that enable IT professionals selected by a lottery to attend COMMON conferences and events if prospective students' enterprises can't afford to send them.

 

Cosaint

Security Awareness Training

Cosaint specializes in training employees about information security awareness, although not limited to any particular computer platform.

 

DMC Technology Group

System i Training

DMC offers training at its Toledo, Ohio, training site or onsite at your location by special arrangement. Course topics include operations, security, work management, and CL and RPG programming.

 

GEMKO Information Group

RPG Training

GEMKO's 21st Century IBM i Training subsidiary offers courses in topics such as RPG, ILE, SQL, PHP, Rational Developer, DB2 Web Query, and extending apps to the Web.

 

GFM Consulting

Security and Audit Seminars

GFM offers online and onsite seminars in security and auditing issues affecting the IBM i.

 

IBM Corporation

IBM Professional Certification Program

IBM PureSystems Training

Conferences and Events

IBM offers professional certification, onsite and online training, and a worldwide schedule of conferences and events that offer training in all of the company's products and in issues related to using its platforms in IT settings.

 

Intelligo

ERP Training

Intelligo provides end-user training in several major ERP applications for IBM i, including Lawson, JD Edwards/PeopleSoft, and SAP.

 

iProDeveloper

eLearning Events

iProDeveloper offers online and in-person learning events and conferences in such topics as RPG, PHP, systems management, and Web services use.

 

Interskill Learning Pty. Ltd.

Datatrain

The main thrust of Datatrain's course offerings is for IBM mainframes, but the company offers training in WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Application Server.

 

Manta Technologies

IBM i Training

Manta offers a wide range of IBM i-related training courses that are self-paced and run on any PC equipped with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Courses maybe purchased individually or on a library basis.

 

MC Press Online

Books

Events

Publications

Videos

MC Press Online provides books, e-books, textbooks, seminars, events, newsletters, e-learning, webcasts, and videos on virtually any IBM i-related topic, as well as topics such as career development and general IT issues.

 

Rochester Initiative

Programmer and User Training

The Rochester Initiative provides multiple online courses for IBM i programmers and end users. Popular topics include SQL for RPG programmers, MS Excel and the iSeries, .NET for RPG programmers, Turbo Query, system operations, and CL programming.

 

 

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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    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.

     

     

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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.