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IBM’s AS/400 Certification Program is supposed to provide companies with qualified personnel while offering IT professionals a way to advance their careers. Does certification make the grade?

As IBM continues to roll out new languages, hardware technology, operating system software, communications, and Internet capabilities, IT professionals need to learn how this new technology works and how to integrate it with existing technology. But providing IT education and training to your employees can be a catch-22. On the one hand, you need to train the staff you have. On the other, there’s the fear that as soon as you train them in a new technology, another company will hire them away from you. But if you don’t train them in new technology, you risk losing them to a company that will. And don’t forget that lack of training also causes delays in implementing new projects and can create faulty implementations that make a project ineffective.

IBM’s new AS/400 Professional Certification Program may be a path that leads you out of this quagmire of contradictions. The program provides a framework of educational goals that can focus the dollars your company spends on training. It sets realistic standards by which you can measure the progress of your employees against their peers, and it provides a measurement for employees, allowing them to see the value of your company’s training investment. But is it an expense that is worth the time and effort, or is it an investment that can offer long-lasting dividends? Let’s explore the merits and realities from both the management and employee perspective.

A Management Perspective

Is the IBM AS/400 Certification Program a route your company should take? As an IT manager, it is your responsibility to take a closer look at the program because it may significantly affect the productivity of your staff.

How do you evaluate the value of certification? For starters, take this issue to your MIS steering committee and have the committee investigate the IBM AS/400 certification process.

Next, you can schedule IBM certification testing of a few interested employees. After testing, ask the participants for their impressions and feedback, which you can report to the IT steering committee.

After the certification participants receive their results, the MIS steering committee should meet again to review their feedback. Regardless of whether they pass or fail the test, find out if they feel it was a fair appraisal of their skills. Your most technical project leaders or managers should review the scores and give their opinions as to whether the test results accurately portray the skills of the test takers.

Be cautious of accepting or dismissing the program if the results are not what you expected. In order to give the program a fair shake, try again with another pair of test takers. This should be a learning process for everyone. For those who don’t pass the certification test, it will point out areas they may need to work on. Correcting those mistakes can help that person become an advocate for doing things the right way. For those who pass, their skills will be affirmed.

Keep in mind that some highly qualified, competent employees may do poorly on a programming test. For instance, somebody with 20 years of programming experience might recognize a problem when being tested but not remember the exact solution. On the job, that programmer could simply ask a coworker for a solution to the problem or consult a manual.

I’ve seen some companies that test job applicants with programming problems that no one has seen in 10 or more years because the company never upgraded its own code. Someone who has worked only with RPG/400 or ILE RPG would have a different answer than the company using RPG III. My experience has been that most programmers cringe when they hear the words programming test as part of their interviews. Some of the most experienced and highly regarded programmer/analysts have refused interviews when a test is involved.

Certification as a Recruitment Tool

Education and training opportunities can be factors for job candidates in deciding whether to work for a new company or for employees continuing to work for your organization. Although the IBM certification process is quite new, you can use certification to your advantage by offering the training tools and support to help your staff achieve certification. What better way is there to show how much you value professionalism and opportunity at your company? In the IT field, education and training are usually more important than money. They go hand in hand with challenge and opportunity. As a manager, you can show your commitment to education by endorsing participation in technical seminars, COMMON, local user groups, and the purchase of educational media and technical journals, with the goal of helping your staff achieve various appropriate certification designations.

Realities of Certification

But how precise of a measuring stick is the IBM Certification Program? Is the program a reflection of real-world problems and solutions or ivory-tower expectations of those who wrote the book? From what I have read and heard about the IBM certification process, it seems to be a valid real-world appraisal. See “AS/400 Certification and You,” an IBM white paper by Thomas M. Stockwell, MC, February 1999, (also at www. midrangecomputing.com/mc/99/05) for details on how the test was developed and evaluated.

Of course, as goes time by and more people take the certification test, we will get a better idea of the program’s value. I think it’s still too early to either jump on the bandwagon or disregard it. Is the program a ploy to imitate Microsoft and Novell, or has IBM realized that, in order for companies to implement its hardware and software solutions, it needs to foster formalized education about AS/400 solutions?

What about the cost of the program? It’s not so much the testing fees that mightconcern companies; it’s the cost of sending staff for additional training whether it be off-

site, in-house, college classes, books, or videos. Whatever the cost of supporting this education, look at it as an investment in the successful implementation and support of projects as well as increased productivity.

As shown in studies referenced in Thomas Stockwell’s white paper, IT organizations that were supported by certified individuals had less downtime than shops without certified individuals.

Certify, Then Good-bye?

Are you wondering whether endorsing certification in your company will prevent turnover? My opinion is that it won’t. Other companies may be attracted to recruiting your staff because they are certified or have training on specific software and utilities. But, consider education and training costs of doing business. It is too early to calculate what the demand will be for certified individuals over the next few years. As of today, certification is not a criterion I’ve heard of in search requirements for AS/400 personnel. In fact, few companies or AS/400 staff have even heard of the certification process. Companies are more likely to seek staff with J. D. Edwards or MAPICS, Inc. experience in the programming and application development areas.

On the LAN side, it is a slightly different story. Novell and Microsoft certification is sometimes a requirement. When Novell LANs began appearing in AS/400 shops, companies preferred to hire somebody who was a Certified Novell Engineer (CNE). As time went on and the staff CNE began cross-training other LAN administrators, companies began relaxing the CNE requirement. Part of the issue was the fact that companies did not want to pay CNE-level salaries for more than one network person. Companies became more comfortable with LAN administrators who were still taking CNE classes or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) classes for Windows NT LANs.

In the AS/400 and earlier IBM midrange arena, programming and operations support personnel learned their trades through computer schools, colleges, and on-the-job experience. Yes, some companies sent their people to classes at IBM centers, but this was usually after they had already had some job experience. Many of the early LAN people who have either CNE or MCSE credentials received their certification first and then went on to find their first job in the computer field. In the IBM midrange arena, most of the candidates that I’ve interviewed over the past 25 years were never trained on IBM midrange systems prior to gaining their work experience. Most learned on IBM mainframes and studied COBOL programming in either a college or computer trade school. I see this fact as a 180- degree difference from the PC LAN world to the IBM midrange world. Does this mean certification won’t be the driving force on the AS/400 as it was on the PC LAN arena? It’s still too early to tell.

Certification as a Hiring Criterion

As a hiring manager in today’s market, making certification one of your firm requirements isn’t really feasible. If a candidate is AS/400-certified, that’s definitely a plus. Currently, the number of people who have taken or passed the certification test is negligible compared to the body of IBM AS/400 professionals in the field, but over the next few years, that may change. According to Thomas Stockwell’s white paper, in 1997, 4,000 IBM AS/400 professionals were certified. By 1998, there were 10,000. IBM expects that number to double in 1999 and every year thereafter. Still, the program is too new to make it a hiring criterion. Keep in mind that IBM requires all Business Partners to carry at least two current certifications in order to retain Business Partner status, so the Business Partner segment is the first area to be penetrated by the IBM Certification Program, not the corporate environment.

In today’s market, finding experienced personnel of any caliber is difficult. Whether this changes depends on how well IBM markets the idea of certification to both companies and individuals and how readily they accept the program. If companies see a noticeable increase in productivity as a result of certification, they will continue to endorse

the program by spending more on certification for their staff. As more companies realize the value of this IBM Certification Program, it will become an expected qualification.

The IT Professional Perspective

Are you really a professional? What have you done for yourself lately in terms of education and training in your field of expertise? What comes to your mind when you hear certified public accountant as compared to accountant? How about board-certified plastic surgeon or certified financial planner?

If I may paraphrase Webster’s New World Dictionary, profession: an occupation requiring advanced academic training, such as medicine, law, etc.; certify: to declare something true, accurate, etc. Definitions aside, professionals are those who study their industry above and beyond the 8-to-5 routine and participate in seminars, conferences, and professional groups to learn more about their profession to better serve their customers. In addition, they invest in themselves, paying their own way when their company won’t.

As a recruiter, I read eight technical trade magazines and two search industry publications, serve on the board of an AS/400 users group, and buy about six PC software books per year. I also attend at least three to four technical conferences or trade shows per year. Now, I don’t read every article in every magazine, but I look for the articles that interest me and tell me where our industry is headed.

If you are an IT professional, you need to take a look at how certification might help you in your career both today as well as in the future. Is IBM certification the route you need to go, or should you be looking at taking classes in object-oriented technology, Visual Basic, or Java? If you’re in operations support, should you get networking credentials, such as Novell’s CNE or other product certification?

With so much going on in different areas of technology, deciding which classes to take and which seminars to attend is difficult. Regardless of the area of technology you’re in, you will be coming into contact with a variety of products and technology. Although you cannot be an expert in every area or with every product, today’s IT professionals need to know more than one area. Those who think they can survive into the next millennium by taking one straight and narrow road may find themselves passed over for a promotion or a new job. However you do it, you need to increase your knowledge about our industry.

Will You Do It for Yourself?

Are you the kind of person who is going to wait until your company decides to start you on the certification process, or are you the type to become the first among your peers to become certified? You owe it to yourself to study and evaluate the certification process as it applies to your personal goals. You also need to evaluate the value certification brings to your marketability whether you are a staff employee or contract programmer or consultant. Are you better off taking individual classes in the areas you want to pursue? Or should you take a blend of specific classes, such as Java or Visual Basic and then certification in programming? The answers will be different for everyone, but you need to analyze your interests and where the marketplace is headed.

While I am still curious to hear feedback from both people who have taken the certification test and companies that have sent staff through the certification process, I believe that certification will benefit you. Although certification will probably not be a requirement for hiring in the near future, it would definitely be a plus to you and to your employer. Listing any specialized training or certification on your resume tells potential employers that you are a professional and that you are taking the extra steps to learn more about your field of expertise. Certification also demonstrates you are someone who is continually learning as opposed to someone who uses the same old techniques you learned 10 or 15 years ago.

In the past, companies valued employees who provided long-term stability and had few job changes. Some of those people were great, loyal employees who knew their companies and jobs very well. The problem was that they were not always adaptable to a new environment. Unless you are constantly learning new technologies and taking on new

responsibilities, you always run the risk of getting stale. The certification process can be a way to avoid that rut.

Throughout my 25 years in the IT search industry, I have seen a pattern repeated over and over again. The first group of professionals to learn a new leading-edge skill or software package become highly sought after by the next wave of companies to implement the technologies or software package. This usually means a salary premium of 10 percent or more.

Will this happen for those who get IBM certification? Again, its too early to tell, but I believe certification will have some value. If nothing else, going through the certification process will give you a better idea of what you know and what you still need to learn. Passing the certification test will give you the recognition, which you have truly earned.

Time Will Tell

Certification supported with other in-house and external education can prove to be a real asset to a company’s productivity as well as for employee attraction and retention. For as much money as is invested in hardware, software, and services, it always amazes me how some companies fail to invest enough time and money in training staff to properly support it. Maybe the IBM certification program will be a key factor in implementing new technology faster and more successfully. The key to the success of the IBM Certification Program lies in how well IBM markets the certification process to companies and individuals other than Business Partners and, in turn, how well IBM midrange professionals, employers and employees alike, accept the validity of the certification process.

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How AS/400 Experience Pays

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Years of Experience on AS/400

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    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn 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

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    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.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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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.