Well, that's nice, but how do you learn to use all these tools? Well, it turns out that IBM has a program in place to provide all the education you could ever want--for free! This program is part of the iSeries Application Initiative (iAI), and it is specifically designed to provide thousands of dollars worth of education to ISVs for free. Yes, you read that correctly: thousands of dollars of free education.
By joining the iAI program, you will have access to scores of training opportunities, both face-to-face and electronic, for free. One page alone listed ten Digital Video Learning programs on subjects ranging from developing iSeries applications using SQL to learning both fundamental and intermediate RPG IV. A lot of it is introductory stuff, but it's iSeries-specific introductory stuff, and that's the point and indeed the point of this whole article. I keep hearing how the iSeries is dead because there's no way to learn it and nobody teaches it anymore, and this program clearly contradicts that statement. Quite the contrary, it shows a serious commitment; the page I mentioned has over $10,000 worth of education. ISVs can access these education products for free via the iAI program.
And it's really simple. First, join PartnerWorld. It's free, so if you're an ISV and not part of PartnerWorld, you're missing out. Once you've joined PartnerWorld, you then join the iAI. Go to the iAI portal, and at the bottom of the page, click on the link to join the iSeries Application Initiative. Next, you'll find one of the ubiquitous IBM forms that looks pretty innocent at first: name, phone, email, and so on. Scroll down and you'll see another 30 questions regarding your product and your current and future plans. The questions are all pretty standard and have to do with whether you plan to use various IBM technologies such as WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal, and Lotus Workplace. Also, there's the ever-present skills assessment list that asks you to rate yourself on various technologies. But that's it. Post it and you're done.
According to Michael Sandberg at IBM, someone from IBM will then get back in touch with you. He couldn't give a firm time frame, but I get the impression it would be within days rather than weeks or hours. More importantly, though, is that the contact from IBM is supposed to be a real long-time iSeries expert--someone who has worked with the platform for a long time, really understands the machine's capabilities, and can give you a functional assessment of your product. In a follow-up to this piece, I'll let you know who my contact was and how that went.
Frankly, I'm excited; if this goes as well as I hope, I'll be shouting this program to the heavens, since it looks like IBM is finally putting together internal iSeries experts with iSeries ISVs. That's the only way we're going to be able to reconnect and get back to the business of creating killer iSeries apps. The rest of IBM seems content to let the iSeries glide off into the ignominious oblivion of another database server, but some people inside IBM are as passionate about the box as we are here in the field. And if IBM is putting those people in this program, then there is a chance for some great things.
Please note: The program is not just a free-for-all. It is in fact a structured plan designed to get you into new technology as quickly as possible. As I said, I hope to do a follow-up piece on how my particular experience went, but the general idea is to walk you through assessment, education, implementation, support, and eventual deployment. For a little more information, please go to the forums for this column.
Here's the catch...and you knew there had to be one, right? This program in its current form is available only until the end of the year. After that, there is no guarantee that this education will still be available. Which makes sense if you think about it: IBM is basically giving away all of this free education in order to get people onto the platform. If it doesn't attract people, then why continue the program? So I think in the end it will be our interest in the program that determines its long-term viability. In any case, it's in all of our best interests if ISVs take advantage of this program right away. They'll get better education, and we'll all get better software, and that's just what the iSeries needs.