TechTip: Evolutionary Change and the IBM i Developer

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Dont fight evolution! Adopt new stuff!



The topic of this article resulted from several recent events:

  • The June anniversary of the AS/400 launch and its 27th birthday
  • A television campaign by a national cable provider regarding ability to CHANGE
  • Debate about RDi vs. SEU concurrent with developer comments that IT managers wont spring for RDi because of its expense in the IT budget
  • Recently released totally free-format RPG programming techniques


These events prompted me to evaluate changes in our industry. Information Technology workers are often in the role of agent of change (or worse names, I suppose, depending upon whether those experiencing changes are ready or not). Originally, information systems were bought or built and then installed and everyone just had to live with them. Now, weve evolved into a collaborative society, an inclusive, mobile and social society where buy-in and agreement are sought, meaning not only does everyone have an opinion, but its normal to express it, even if only 140 characters or fewer at a time. 


Pondering this, its impossible not to appreciate the evolution during a generation of IT professionals. Weve taken the world beyond cards and tape in the back room, from batch to OLTP, through the invention of the Internet, past Y2K, to supercomputer-powered apps in our pockets. DOS grew to become Windows10, Apple went from near death to a high market cap consumer-focused company. Were on the cusp of The Internet of Things (IoT), where you control your home from work; your clothing, shoes, and jewelry monitor your health; intelligent refrigerators help with grocery shopping; and, hopefully, your self-driving car will stay in its lane and wont get hacked. A drone will deliver your groceries, and your robot will put them away. There is so much data that the term big data soon will be too small for the tidal wave of information at our fingertips. 


When it comes to IBM i (or its predecessors CPF, OS/400, i5/OS), its been a long and fruitful relationship; many of us have been in love with this platform for a work lifetime! Yes, love is a strong word to use for an operating system, and I can hear someone saying, "Such a geek! Guilty as charged, but Im thinking Im not the first to suggest these feelings. Maybe admiration, respect, or pride are better choices? There's little question that creating an operating system so robust, so ready for business, so ready for almost any task, is a remarkable achievement. Eclipsing competitors from the 70s through 90s, it was built to last but able to change and has not only lasted, but evolved and improved with time. It remains one of the most-used computing environments ever delivered.


You're reading this, so youre likely already a fan of the IBM midrange. Youre nodding agreement or thinking Im preaching to the choir, maybe even saying, Duh, no kidding. Many of us have enjoyed a lifetime of employment due to what we now refer to as IBM i on Power. Weve benefited from applications we developed and the consulting, teaching, or managing that we did.


I'd like to thank the IBM employees, young or old, current or former, working or retired who invented, built or continue to build, and support this platform and the ecosystem that surrounds it. I wont be alone in an expression of gratitude for work done right, kids put through college, mortgages paid, and fun had! Some of the worlds best and brightest built this. Thank you very much!


Ive been in all the typical IT roles, coded in various languages, built business systems, integrated utilities, and worked with AI systems. Heck, I was a CIO for a while, although they didn't call my role that at the time. Again and again, those roles within corporate IT in various industries taught me several things:


  • Change in IT is continuousalways has been, always will be.
  • Keeping up and adopting new ideas, though challenging, usually means benefits, more work accomplished, reduced cost, and increased productivity.

  • Change, although sometimes feared in the short run, typically increases employee loyalty and enjoyment on the job, applying to both developers and customers, clients, or users!


So whats the message that comes from all this? To IT professionals at all levels: Dont fight evolution! Adopt new stuff! 


If youre the manager, when a developer asks for Rational Developer for i, have them download the trial version and report back about the benefits they see.


If youre a developer, whether newbie or grizzled veteran, try something new that could benefit your productivity or that you always wanted to learn. 


How do we translate this into specifics of programming professionals on the IBM i platform?


  • Try an RPG procedure vs. a subroutine.
  • Try SQL vs. DDS.
  • Try RDi vs. SEU.
  • Try authoring an RPG program using a GUI interface or mobile device vs. 5250.
  • Try Web Query vs. Query/400.
  • Try writing code in a new language.
  • Try something from IBMs new open source options.
  • Try building a tool to automate something in your daily routine.
  • Dont just try it, do it (sort of a Yoda sentiment in there, I guess).


Attempt something new that benefits you or the enterprise. Have fun while doing it, whatever it is that you decide to do! 


Whether you're a manager or developer, start calling it IBM i instead of "the AS/400" and see if anybody in the room smiles!