If you’ve already decided you need to enhance your skills, the next question is what kind of training is best for you. Find out what training programs are out there and whether they work with your schedule and budget.
If you work at one of the more progressive AS/400 shops in the world, upper-level managers have seen the obvious need to provide funds to cover the costs of training programmers in new skills. Count yourself lucky if this is the case where you work because most AS/400 companies put training last on their lists of necessary business expenditures.
Oddly enough, more and more AS/400 shops are relying on programmers who have come by their jobs from disciplines outside of the programming arena. In many cases, system operators and network administrators are choosing career paths that move upward into programming; they need to be trained to do their new jobs. In other cases, employees who are familiar with their particular company’s applications and who work in accounting, order entry, customer service, or other departments opt for an AS/400 programmer position not only to pitch in to help cover Y2K projects but also to advance their careers. In still other cases, companies are converting from legacy mainframe and midrange platforms to the AS/400, and their IT people need training in order to familiarize themselves with the new platform and to learn how to use it properly. Of course, all these training needs must be met quickly.
Perhaps most significantly, there is increasing pressure for all AS/400 programmers to become IBM-certified not only to bolster their levels of expertise but also to verify and quantify it. With AS/400 programmer turnover at an all-time high—about a third of programmers surveyed recently by Nate Viall & Associates have changed jobs in the last two years—and an increasing emphasis on Java and Internet technologies among college students, AS/400 shops are hard-pressed for programming talent and can’t really turn down anyone who wants to learn how to make an AS/400 sit up and bark. Enthusiasm is always welcome, but that doesn’t really solve anything. The only way to turn that enthusiasm into better programs for the company and higher salaries for prospective (and current) AS/400 programmers is to provide those employees with adequate training.
The vital thing to remember is that it is far cheaper, not to mention less stressful, to bring in a low-level programmer or even a nonprogrammer, keep him on staff, and train him as he gains experience than it is to buy a seasoned programmer in the heat of a crisis. This is especially true this year as the millennium bug is wreaking havoc with IT projects. Plenty of companies that survive Y2K will be so far behind on e-business that it may not matter that they beat the Y2K bug. The short-term savings that are realized by skimping on training come back to bite all IT organizations sooner or later.
Most educators seem to agree that the average person learns best in an environment that includes a set curriculum of classroom instruction with other students, access to an expert on the topic, and some lab work. But this scenario is not always practical, especially for cash-strapped and geographically remote companies, and it is certainly not always necessary. That said, there is no proven method of figuring out the most cost-effective and least time-consuming way to get training for yourself if you are a programmer or for your IT staff if you are an IT manager. There is no training benchmark that shows how well the various training methods—ranging from books and tutorials to computer-based training and classroom instruction—deliver on their promises to educate programmers. There is no guarantee that spending more money will deliver better results, because people perform according to their talents and inclinations as much as to the training they get. Nonetheless, programmers and managers need some way of gauging the cost of getting an AS/400 education. So how do you choose the option that’s right for your situation? To give you a feel for the options and the costs, I have examined the cost of RPG training through various formats and for various scenarios, ranging from RPG training for a beginning programmer to training for a large staff of programmers. Among other things, the analysis looks at the cost of each type of training, the time each takes to learn, the proximity of the training, and the reusability of the investment.
Training for Yourself
You know the training method that suits you best, so figuring out the optimal way for you to get RPG training for yourself is somewhat simpler than the situation faced by IT managers who have to assess from the outside how they think their people will best learn. If you want to get RPG programming skills and have access to an AS/400, you could simply buy a stack of RPG books that take you from rudimentary programming concepts right up to the most sophisticated object-oriented ILE and RPG subfile programming methods. Online booksellers at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and computer literacy.com have a large selection of RPG books, including the same ones sold by Midrange Computing on our Web site www.mc-store.com.
A mini-library of RPG textbooks and reference manuals (some even including CDROM tutorials) ranges in price from $400 to $500. While a library can give you a thorough education, this training approach lacks structure—no one, including you, knows how long it will take to get through the material in these books. Moreover, you have no idea what is important, and you probably won’t have a way to try out what you are learning as you learn it. Likewise, while these books can be passed on to another prospective RPG programmer in the future, there’s no way to be sure the guy sitting in the next cubicle is a bright autodidact like yourself.
Perhaps a better choice than learning by the book is to use computer-based training. A number of vendors provide such training materials. (You can get a full list of independent AS/400 training providers at www.as400. ibm.com/educ/itp.htm.) Automated Training Systems (ATS) provides audiocassette courses (available at www.ibmuser.com or www. mc-store.com) that guide students through the AS/400’s features while they are actually sitting at an AS/400. In the RPG area, ATS offers several products. AS/400 RPG/400 Programming is an introductory course that teaches RPG/400 logic, specs, file definitions, and basic report writing; it costs $995 and takes 16 hours to complete. A follow-on course, AS/400 Interactive RPG/400 Programming, teaches application screen design, cursor control, error message handling, and field-level help; it also costs $995 and
takes about 15 hours to complete. AS/400 RPG Subfile Programming comes next; it shows how to build, display, validate, and manipulate subfiles. It costs $995 and takes 15 hours to work through, too. From there, students move on to AS/400 Advanced RPG/400 Programming, which goes through program exception routines, user-defined data streams, multiple subfile handling, and other heady stuff; it costs $795 and takes 10 hours to work through. All told, these courses cost $3,780 and take 56 hours to complete.
Manta Technologies has been providing AS/400-related computer-based training since 1994. All of Manta’s courses (available at www.mantatech.com or www.mcstore.com) run on PCs running DOS, OS/2, Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT, provided they have CD-ROM drives. In the RPG area, Manta offers a bundle that costs $1,341 and is composed of the following courses: RPG Fundamentals, RPG File Processing, Rounding Out the Essentials of RPG, Compiling and Executing an ILE RPG/400 Program, Developing a Modular RPG Application, Developing an Interactive RPG Program, Advanced RPG Programming, ILE Program Management, Debugging an RPG Program, and an RPG Programming Competency exam. Manta says the study time for each course is between 18 and 24 hours and that they are intended for both new RPG programmers as well as those familiar with the S/36 and S/38 versions of RPG. These computer-based training courses can be purchased on an individual basis for $149 each, a 10 percent premium over the courses in the bundle. It is hard to gauge whether the Manta training is better than the ATS training—the only way to do so is to get student references from both vendors and compare the results—but the Manta courses at least have an exam at the end to show what you have learned.
The AS/400 University Umbrella
Last year, IBM began orchestrating its AS/400 educational offerings under a new organization called AS/400 University. Composed of IBM training offerings and the offerings of its strategic partners, AS/400 University looks, at first glance, like the wave of the future. However, at this writing, specific AS/400 University-accredited courses are only being identified by the AS/400 University, and until this accreditation is completed, all of IBM’s educational opportunities are being offered separately by the divisions that created them.
Some of these opportunities are available through IBM’s Learning Services division, which offers two different RPG-related course packages: one that provides a basic programming foundation for the AS/400 (touching on system operation, AS/400 concepts, CL, RPG, database coding, and SQL) and another tailored specifically for creating RPG programmers. The latter starts out with an 80-hour RPG computer-based training course that costs $1,600 and runs on just about any old PC. It then moves on to a five-day AS/400 RPG III programming workshop, which costs $2,215, and a three-day class that shows programmers how to move from RPG/400 to RPG IV, which costs $1,250. Finally, students end up in the five-day Advanced Topics for RPG IV Programmers class, which costs $2,115 and gives students the remainder of the knowledge they need to pass the IBM Certified RPG Programmer exam, Test 260. All told, the IBM courses cost $7,180 and take about 30 days (assuming you allot five hours a day for the computer-based training part).
For companies located outside the metropolitan areas where these IBM courses are typically given, travel and lodging expenses for the courses could easily run another $2,500, bringing the cost of an AS/400 programming education from IBM to just under $10,000. In the future, IBM will offer Internet-based AS/400 courses, but these are not available yet, so travel is the only option for rural AS/400 RPG newbies to get an education from Big Blue.
Of course, in many areas, local colleges are working with IBM’s Partners in Education organization (another AS/400 University member) to offer AS/400-related courses. A local college may be the best (and in rural regions, only) institution from which to get appropriate AS/400 skills. Through its Partners in Education program, the AS/400
Division is fostering the development of Business Partner-sponsored courses at various universities and technical colleges around the world. (For a complete list of institutions that offer AS/400-related courses, go to www.as400. ibm.com/educ/college.htm.) Many of the educational institutions on the Partners in Education list are just now bringing their courses to market, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t find them available on their respective Web sites.
The State University of New York is the closest organization to me that offers AS/400 courses. At its Farmingdale campus, just north of New York City, students can take a number of AS/400 courses. SUNY Farmingdale offers the following courses: AS/400 Operating System (three credits), Programming in RPG, and Programming (three credits) surveying COBOL and assembly languages as well as Fortran, PL/I, RPG, and BASIC (three credits). The AS/400 Operating System course has a prerequisite of a basic introduction-to-computers course, and the RPG class has a prerequisite of a COBOL or assembly language class (which can be waived with the approval of the computer science department). When you do the math, the local college in this case requires 15 credit hours of work (on a part-time basis, this means two or three semesters of study) and costs $2,055 for tuition and probably another $1,000 for books, computer access, and other fees. While this is less expensive than IBM courses, it is also less targeted at getting a thorough RPG education and passing the IBM certification test.
Training for a Larger Programming Shop
With individual RPG training costs running conservatively between $3,000 and $10,000 per student, MIS managers have a tough sell to make to management, and it is no surprise that they want to spend less wherever possible. The costs of an IBM Learning Services RPG curriculum or courses taken at the local college can’t be spread across many employees. But that is not true of computer-based training, and it certainly doesn’t hold true for on-site classroom instruction.
ATS and Manta, for example, offer significant discounts to companies that lease multiple licenses for their educational software. ATS offers a special course bundle called Club/400 that is designed specifically for developing RPG talent from within an organization. Club/400 costs $999 per year per student for the first course and $250 for each additional course. The basic Club/400 bundle includes three RPG courses (the introductory course plus the ones covering basic interactive and subfile programming) plus four additional courses that go through AS/400 system operations, program development concepts, CL programming, and database administration and costs under $2,500 per student per year; it takes about 104 hours to go through the whole shebang. Not every employee would use every module, obviously, but $2,500 per employee per year is far better than the almost $4,000 per student that ATS charges for a single user set of RPG training courses.
Manta also offers IT managers discounts on training for their entire staff. Manta leases its entire AS/400 training library for $2,494 for a single user for six months or for $4,588 for a year. That’s about half of the list purchase price for the library. A five-user license for Manta’s training library costs $7,188 for one year ($1,437 per user per year), and a 10-user license costs $10,188 ($1,019 per user per year). The cost of a five-user license for the Manta library is only slightly higher than the single-user purchase price for the RPG courses outlined above, and the 10-user lease is much less expensive. The point is, AS/400 shops that make a commitment to training can get serious discounts.
In late February, Analysts International Corporation (www.analysts.com), an IT consulting firm looking to bolster its presence in the AS/400 market, acquired Real World Training Systems (www.real2000.com), a provider of classroom training for AS/400 system operators, programmers, and DP managers. (Real World is now referred to as Analysts International’s Applications Management Group, but its Web pages are still at www. real2000.com.) Unlike the self-paced tutorial book, audiocassette, and CBT courses outlined above, Analysts International offers intense courses that take a firehose approach
to teaching classes of anywhere from three to eight prospective RPG programmers the basic skills they will need to get started. The company’s level 1 AS/400 RPG Programmer curriculum includes an introduction to the AS/400, database concepts, beginning and intermediate RPG programming, and beginning CL. The level 1 courses take about 40 hours to complete and cost $2,500 per student (with a 20 percent discount for full eight- student classes).
For higher-level RPG programming skills, Analysts International also teaches two more levels. The level 2 curriculum, which is aimed at RPG programmers with three to six months of experience, teaches programmers how to write applications with multiple screens, more sophisticated RPG and CL routines, basic subfile handling, array processing, and program analysis. The level 3 course, aimed at coders with one to two years of experience, turns students into “real coders,” giving them the skills they will need to write applications with multiple databases and multiple subfiles as well as the ability to totally spec a program based on user requirements. Both the level 2 and level 3 courses cost the same as the level 1 course. Analysts International will also come to your site to teach your programmers for the same price plus travel and lodging expenses for its instructors. Analysts International tests its students at the end of each level and says that 90 percent of its students who have some prior computer skills pass its courses, and 75 percent of newbie programmers pass as well.
The full Analysts International RPG regimen takes about two years to complete (including work experience) and costs $3,200 to $3,750 per student per year (for about 120 hours of instruction and instructor travel and lodging expenses), depending on class size. Travel and lodging, by the way, represents only between about $200 and $500 per student per year in those numbers. The point is, on-site instruction is not all that much more expensive than computer-based training.
Conferences and Seminars
People don’t usually go to conferences and seminars to become RPG programmers. They go to become better, more informed RPG programmers, and this can be accomplished by attending the numerous courses and seminars that explain the finer points of IBM software technology and also give programmers a higher- altitude view of what IBM is up to in the AS/400 market.
One of the biggest shortcomings of RPG programmers and, indeed, any highly technical and specialized profession is getting people to think outside of their vertical expertise on more horizontal matters. Conferences and seminars fulfill this vital function. As is the case with various AS/400 technical courses, attending conferences and seminars isn’t cheap, but it is usually well worth the money.
The COMMON Users Group that is held twice a year is the biggest and perhaps the most important of the AS/400-related educational conferences. (COMMON took place in San Francisco in March and will be in San Antonio in early October, in San Diego next March, and in Baltimore next October.) It cost $895 to register for the six-day COMMON conference in San Francisco. COMMON estimated that the average attendee paid $298 for transportation, $950 for lodging, and $200 for meals, bringing the total cost to attend to $2,343. In exchange for that money, companies sending people to COMMON had access to high-level managers from the AS/400 Division as well as its Business Partners, not to mention access to on-site courses that ran the gamut of AS/400 topics.
In the RPG programming area, COMMON has courses of study in basic RPG programming, advanced RPG programming, generic application development methods, and RPG certification training. COMMON also had labs in RPG III, RPG IV for RPG III programmers, ILE RPG, RPG IV for OS/400 V4R2, Java for the RPG Programmer, RPG “Free Stuff,” Advanced ILE, RPG IV Using Procedures, CODE/400 Advanced Topics, and VisualAge for RPG Advanced Topics.
COMMON is by no means the only place to attend seminars. Once a year, IBM holds the AS/400 Advanced Technical Conference—this year, it is in La Hulpe, Belgium, in September—as well as the regular AS/400
Technical Conferences, which will be held in late June in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in late October in Nashville, Tennessee. Admission rates for the conference in Belgium haven’t been set yet, but the Las Vegas conference will cost $1,395. The curricula for these three conferences are not up yet, but they offer the same kinds of seminars and labs as are held at COMMON.
Similarly, Midrange Computing (another AS/400 University member) offers seminars to AS/400 shops looking to beef up their programmers’ RPG skills. MC is offering its Introduction to RPG IV seminar in five
U.S. cities this year for $495. Hotel room rates in the cities where the seminars are held range from $99 to $190. If companies combine this RPG IV seminar with the Advanced RPG IV with ILE seminar, the price for the two seminars combined drops to $795.