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I recently had the “opportunity” to take the IBM Professional Certification test for the IBM Certified Specialist-AS/400 RPG Programmer. If this hadn’t been a job requirement, I’m not sure I would have bothered. I don’t believe that someone who is certified is necessarily better able to do the job than someone who is not. However, employers seem to put a lot of faith in this process, and IBM is making certification a condition for remaining or becoming an IBM Business Partner (BP). Consequently, you too may someday have to get certified.

My experience with taking this test was unpleasant. I went into it with an attitude: “I’ve been writing RPG code on the AS/400 for over a decade. I certainly know how to write a program, for crying out loud. Give me your silly test, and I’ll condescend to mark the correct answers.” These were not the most intelligent thoughts I’ve ever had. Because I didn’t prepare for the test, I made it harder than it needed to be. Yes, I passed, but it could have been a less stressful experience if I had studied. Only after taking the test did I realize that this was the first test I’d taken in more than 10 years. No wonder it was so difficult: I’d forgotten how to take a test!

What about you? Are you prepared to become IBM certified? If you plan to take one of the IBM technical certification tests soon, you’d better make sure you take some time to practice. You can’t count on the fact that you do this stuff every day for a living to get you through it. Here’s another thought: If you are contemplating changing jobs anytime in the near future, you should be aware that many employers, and even some recruiters, now use evaluation tests, written by AS/400 professionals just like you, to make sure job candidates have the basic skills they are looking for. This might not sound like a big deal, but if you find yourself in front of a potential employer and he asks you to explain based pointers, for example, are you prepared to do that? Whatever your reason for wanting certification, you must put yourself in the mind-set of the student you once were.

Preparation Is the Key

How can you achieve this mind-set? By participating in as many educational opportunities as you and your company can afford and by taking the time, on your own, for self-study and self-education. There are many resources available to you to become not only technically proficient but also more “student-minded.”

Uh-oh!

A standard practice for individuals and companies has been to attend technical conferences such as those held by COMMON and IBM. These are great resources, but, unless used properly, they won’t educate you effectively. The type of environment that works best for education is still the traditional classroom model: a real live person teaching you and then testing you to ensure that you have learned the material. When you attend technical conferences, try to get into this type of session. You’re more apt to actually learn something. The lab sessions are great sessions, too, as they let you gain hands-on experience.

IBM offers a wide variety of other educational opportunities as well. For example, IBM’s five-day AS/400 RPG IV Programming Workshop prepares you for the AS/400 RPG Programmer Professional Certification test. This course is offered in various cities around the country at many times throughout the year and is a great resource for those who want to learn RPG IV and prepare for the certification test at the same time. For more information, point your browser to www-3.ibm.com/services/learning/us and type the course title into the Course Catalog search option.

IBM also offers courses (both online and in a more traditional classroom environment) on such topics as business intelligence, Job Scheduler/400, Domino, and many others. For more information on these courses, go to www.- 3ibm.com/services/learning/us. Besides IBM, there are many other great sources for online education.

Another option to consider is computer-based training (CBT). Many courses of many types are available. For example, Midrange Computing has teamed up with Manta Technologies to create a wide variety of CBT on such topics as Client Access/400 printer support and ILE program development in RPG/400. These courses offer the traditional classroom model of instruction, hands-on learning, and evaluation testing to make sure you learn the material. If you’d like to see all the courses available to you from MC and Manta, point your Web browser to www.mc-store.com/mc-store/cbts.html.

Don’t Forget Your Old Alma Mater

Finally, consider courses at your local community college. Many colleges offer courses in Java and Visual Basic (VB). In addition, more and more junior colleges are teaming up with IBM through its Partners in Education program to provide AS/400-specific courses such as programming in RPG IV. Nothing keeps you in practice for taking tests like being forced to take tests on a weekly basis.

Whether you are preparing for a certification test, interviewing for a new job, or simply desiring more knowledge, if you are earnestly seeking a way to gain more education, the resources are available. Don’t take your education for granted. Even though you are out of school, the learning never stops. Make sure you go about getting the knowledge you need in the manner that gives you the most bang for your buck.

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