The Bottom Line on Certification

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The debate over certification rages on in the AS/400 world. How important is certification? Find out by exploring the current trends in certification and the hidden values certification holds for employers and employees alike.

Many IT professionals wonder about the emphasis placed on certification. “Why is it so important to my career?” they ask. Good question. Of course, the question presumes that certification is, in fact, important to a career in information technology.

Hardly a new phenomenon, certification has existed for years in other professions. Anyone planning to become a lawyer, doctor, or accountant must first obtain the appropriate education. The education you receive qualifies you to take an exam that, should you pass, certifies you to practice your profession. Certification also provides a guarantee that the food you eat and the medications you take have gone through some sort of approval process before they are ready for consumption. Certification is all around you.

Closer to home, certification serves as an important measuring stick in the world of network technology. Microsoft and Novell have devised excellent certification programs. In fact, it is likely that you cannot find a job in that specific industry unless you are either certified or in the process of obtaining certification. Becoming certified demonstrates you have an accepted level of competency to perform the necessary tasks of your trade. Basically, those who do the hiring consider job candidates without certification risky.

Certification hits even closer to home with the increasing attention it receives in the AS/400 arena. Currently, only IBM Business Partners are required to be certified. Because certification is not mandated for other AS/400 professionals, some might answer “no” when asked whether certification is important to their career. However, I think those people are a bit shortsighted.

An RPG programmer, for instance, can get a job without obtaining IBM’s certification in RPG programming. In fact, that same person can win a job even when directly competing against an IBM Certified Specialist in RPG Programming.

The reasons are twofold. First, today’s AS/400 marketplace has an overabundance of jobs and a shortage of programmers. As a consequence, prospective employers don’t necessarily focus on certification—they want bodies. The workload is too demanding and the backlog too deep.

Second, IBM certification exams for the AS/400 are new to the industry; therefore, not enough certified professionals have penetrated the market. While the jury is still out on certification, neither the AS/400 talent nor those searching for AS/400 talent will take certification seriously.

Assessing Needs of the Future

Let’s look at the supply and demand trend for a moment. Today, AS/400 professionals have no problem getting jobs—and jobs that pay well—without certification. However, what about the future? What happens after the Y2K circus is over? At some point, IT staffs will catch up on the projects put aside because of Y2K. Although it might seem distant now, I see a time when the AS/400 workload and the backlog of projects will become more manageable.

In addition, drastic changes in the development environment with RPG IV and Java, the introduction of ILE, and a shift in AS/400 usage bring new challenges to the interested parties. The skills an AS/400 professional needs will become more diverse. These changes will spark an increase in training and education. All this, I believe, will cause companies looking for AS/400 help to become more selective in their hiring.

In short, the supply will soon surpass the demand. Moreover, the demand is going to take new form. When that happens, competition for AS/400 jobs will increase. As the pendulum swings in favor of employers, those seeking work will need a competitive edge. In addition, those doing the hiring will look for more ways to weed out applicants. All this will take place regardless of whether the industry obtains a true understanding of the value of certification.

Backed by Facts

Understanding of certification will come only with time. Meanwhile, more people will take the IBM certification exams. As the sample of data increases, so too will the legitimacy of the process. History has already shown this with other certification processes. As mentioned in Thomas M. Stockwell’s white paper, “AS/400 Certification and You” (MC, February 1999), which is also available at, the International Data Corporation (IDC) has conducted surveys sponsored by companies that provide certification programs. The most recent study, completed in October 1998, is summarized in “Financial Benefits to Supporters of Microsoft Professional Certification,” a white paper you can download from train_cert/download/downld.htm.

This study tried to determine whether companies that invested in Microsoft Certified Training for their employees had a return on their investments. IDC surveyed 150 IT managers working with Microsoft Windows NT environments in companies with more than 100 employees. The survey found that the cost to certify one employee runs just under $14,000. This cost includes training, testing, travel, and indirect costs such as lost employee time and a 12 percent premium per year paid by some companies for certified employees.

Despite the cost, IDC found the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification to be a wise investment from a financial perspective. The white paper reported a decrease in server downtime and an increase in help desk productivity. Additionally, according to the report, IT managers generally rated MCPs as more productive in at least their area of certification. The report also stated that these more productive employees helped reduce reliance on outside contractors and consultants.

Even though this particular study concentrated on Microsoft, a 1996 survey conducted by IDC and sponsored by IBM, Lotus, Microsoft, Sybase, and Sylvan Prometric also employed similar methods. The results of this survey appear in “Benefits and Productivity Gains Realized Through IT Certification,” a white paper you can find at Education/certify/news/proidc.phtml. This study interviewed 253 IT managers in shops with more than 100 employees. All shops operated in a client/server

environment and were classified as either certification supporters or certification nonsupporters.

The findings concluded that certification supporters (those who employ certified professionals) can operate in a more sophisticated environment with the same number of resources. Substantiating this conclusion is a 25 percent increase in the number of LANs and a 40 percent increase in the number of servers found in supporters’ shops compared to those of nonsupporters. These shops do not implement LANs and servers merely for the sake of having new equipment or technology. The more sophisticated environment means greater client/server decentralization and the ability to work with more complex operating systems, such as Windows NT, Novell, and OS/2.

Increased complexity does not necessarily guarantee increased productivity. Operating more machines while using more complex software could just as easily create more problems. However, the 1996 survey revealed certified staff could handle a more sophisticated environment as well as the noncertified group handles a less complex environment, and they did so with the same number of people.

Of the IT managers interviewed who support certification, more than 80 percent said that certified employees are more productive. Almost half (46 percent) of the nonsupporters agreed that certified employees were more productive in at least their area of certification. In addition, 92 percent of surveyed managers who supported certification said they achieved all or some of the benefits they expected from their certified employees. Respondents said the top five benefits of certification were as follows:

• Greater knowledge and increased productivity
• A higher level of expertise and skill
• Improved support quality
• Reduced training costs
• Better morale and greater commitment Again, as in the 1998 survey, IDC compared the productivity of certified employees with the cost of getting them certified and measured the return on investment in dollars. To do this, IDC further classified supporters and nonsupporters by specifying parameters. To be considered a certification advocate, a company must have done one of the following:

• Required certification when hiring IS employees
• Used an outside service firm only if the staff is certified
• Required certification of all technical staff Conversely, the survey deemed a company a nonadvocate if it had not required certification to hire IS employees, had not supported or paid for certification, or had failed to consider the certification status of service firm staff when choosing outside service firms. The study used the certification advocate’s information to determine the costs of certification, as shown in Figure 1. Then, the study compared the number of support calls taken per employee and the average downtime per server between the advocates and nonadvocates. Figure 2 shows that the advocates handled more support calls per employee: 21 calls to just 15 for the nonadvocates. On average, the advocates also experienced less server downtime: 3.5 hours as compared to 5.3 hours for nonadvocates. Both groups claimed downtime about twice a month.

When comparing the two groups’ costs (measuring the cost of lost productivity for nonadvocate sites against the price of certifying an employee), IDC found it took less than a year to recoup the costs of certification. After that, the increased productivity of a certified employed coupled with the savings of decreased server downtime produced an annual savings of about $13,000 per certified employee (see Figure 3).

Although the numbers differ a bit between the 1996 and 1998 surveys, both surveys had similar results. Each found that the costs of certifying employees is recovered quickly through increased productivity, decreased server downtime, and less reliance on outside help. Hiring precertified employees just speeds up the rate of return. Another development worth noticing is the escalating return on investment. Even though certifying an employee cost less in the 1996 survey, the 1998 survey found a much greater return on

investment. As the complexity of the environment grows, so does the benefit of employing certified professionals.

The Usual Arguments

As stated before, the number of certified AS/400 professionals is too small to make a similar study possible. However, I believe, based on consistent results from previous surveys, that the AS/400 profession would benefit from certified individuals in terms of increased productivity and an increased ability to operate the more sophisticated AS/400 environment that fast approaches.

All this said, most people you talk with regarding IBM’s certification deem it unnecessary. Even with the numbers and data staring them in the face, people still argue that simply passing a certification exam does not necessarily prove you are good at your profession. I agree. Some people might excel at test taking but are not worth the price of the paper the certification is printed on.

In essence, the certification exam tells you that an individual has some minimum competency of the material covered. This competency provides a strong base on which to build the rest of the skills necessary for the job. Certification also provides a consistent base on which to measure those skills.

An offshoot to the latter debunking of certification is the argument that passing the certification exams does not necessarily make you better at your profession. Again, I must agree. The act of taking the exam does not, by itself, increase your skills (except maybe your test-taking skills). It is meant to measure the skills you have. As an added benefit, you might increase your skills by preparing for the test but not by taking the test itself.

One last complaint sometimes made about the certification process is that it rewards good test takers or, worse yet, punishes poor test takers. I don’t really know how to answer that one. I believe that if you know the material, you will do well on the test; if you don’t, you won’t. Of course, anyone can experience a little anxiety, but that should go away as you answer the first few questions, assuming you have confidence in your answers.

Actually, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. We have it pretty easy. Many of us enjoy excellent careers and make good money even without a college degree. Some might have a two-year degree, but most AS/400 individuals I work with do not hold a four- year college degree. Look at certification as an effective way (more effective, some studies say, than obtaining a degree) to increase recognition among your peers and, more important, increase your salary.

Microsoft Certified Professional magazine conducted a study that found a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certificate added $11,000 to an individual’s salary. Students are realizing that what they learn in one year of computer science studies in college will be obsolete by the time they earn their degrees. That same study noted a bachelor degree alone will get you $20,000 per year, but when combined with certification, your entry-level salary soars to $50,000.

So, any anti-certification folks out there should look at the bright side a little. When certification becomes more of a demand in the marketplace and more of an incentive for AS/400 professionals, appreciate the fact that you don’t have to spend a minimum of four years to obtain a computer science degree just to realize that after the blood, sweat, and tears you invested in that degree, only a small percentage of what you learned is actually applicable in the real world. Go get certified!

AS/400 U! Go, Big Blue!

The changing dynamics of the AS/400 in the next few years will require increased training and education, and going back to school to earn a degree might not be the most practical means. So, how do you get the proper training to pass a certification exam? IBM’s AS/400 Division has created a way to concentrate your education on what you really need in a manner suitable to your current situation, all the while leading toward the goal of professional certification. That vehicle is AS/400 University.

AS/400 U is a mixture of AS/400 divisions, third-party educational providers, and university campuses that have come together to solve the problem of AS/400 talent deficiency. The program starts with AS/400 technology and development and branches out to certification, college education, and self-directed study. These goals are met with the help of certification objectives, AS/400 education materials, AS/400 seminars and classes, and, finally, professional certifications. With AS/400 University, the seed has been planted to grow more productive and efficient AS/400 professionals. IBM’s AS/400 certification is the fruit of that effort.

Certify and Prosper

So, why is certification important to your career? I think we have seen why. Current trends show that the number of certification tests given by IBM per year will quadruple by 2001. The increasing sophistication of the AS/400 and computing environments in general will warrant a more specialized expertise, which, in turn, will warrant professional certification.

The current AS/400 labor crunch will reverse itself as the new millennium unfolds. As the competition for jobs increases, job seekers will need to distinguish themselves from the pack, and those doing the hiring will want to raise the bar. Certification can accomplish both objectives.

The published success rates for other, more established, certification programs show that certification adds a number of benefits for both employer and employee. For employees, certification proves competency in the field, provides increased recognition among peers, and increases salary. From an employer’s perspective, certified employees can increase the efficiency in IT support, decrease downtime, and enable a company to lean less heavily on outside help. In addition, the return on your certification investment is met within the first year. This means that the hiring of precertified people will ultimately increase savings for the company.

But forget all those hard-hitting, power-packed benefits. The primary reason certification is important to your career is that you get to wear the little AS/400 certification pin on your lapel.

Median Direct Costs Training, testing, and study materials $2,040 Median Indirect Costs Lost work time and travel expenses $1,690 Additional Salary 11.7% on average, based on $50,000 $5,850 Total Cost per Certified Employee $9,580 Source: International Data Corporation, 1996.

Figure 1: Advocates admit that there is a cost associated with certifying employees.

Average Daily Support Average Downtime Downtime Cost per Calls per IT Employee per Server Server per Incident* Advocates 21 3.5 hours $669 Nonadvocates 15 5.3 hours $1,102 Difference 40% 51% 65%

*Defined as lost employee productivity as a result of inactivity to access the server. Source: International Data Corporation, 1996.

Figure 2: Certified employees handled more support calls and experienced less server downtime.

Monthly PC Support Staff Monthly Downtime Total Annual

Cost per IT Employee* Costs per Server Costs

Advocates $167 $1,338 $18,060 Nonadvocates $452 $2,204 $31,872 Savings $285 $866 $13,812 Certification Expense $9,580 Payback 9 months *Assume one IT staff supports 50 to 54 PCs.

Source: International Data Corporation, 1996.

Figure 3: Investing in certifying your employees can pay dividends.



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    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.