Sat, Sep
0 New Articles

IMHO: Where Have All the Jobs Gone?

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times
Anyone remember the 1990s? That 10-year period should have been called the "Decade of the AS/400 Programmer" as it was the only time in the history of computer programming that the programmer was truly in the driver's seat in terms of when, where, and for how much they would work. The AS/400 was a new, exciting system that small, medium, and large businesses were frantically investing in, and the RPG and COBOL programmers could pretty much write their own ticket. Anyone with a little bit of S/38 experience became a programming god, and companies were willing to pay out huge salary increases and enormous sign-on bonuses to attract the best and the brightest in the industry. With the impending doom to our economy of Y2K, forecast by everyone from Time magazine to President Clinton, a sense of urgency permeated our entire global culture and, again, the AS/400 programmer was the wizard who held the secrets to the magic spells that would see the corporate world through the coming storm.

Then what happened? Y2K passed with a whimper instead of a bang, a country was torn apart by a presidential election that wouldn't stop, and our hearts were broken by the numbing horror of 911. This was followed by recession, a war in Afghanistan, rising fuel costs, and an economy that had decided it was time to sleep. AS/400 programmers found that they were no longer in demand as much as they used to be, and the jobs began to disappear. Added to that was the insane rampage to jump on the Java bandwagon and, in the process, dump anything perceived as legacy, as if becoming platform-agnostic and getting rid of systems that had been working fine for years for the dubious benefit of being able to use a Web browser would make up for corporate America's years and years of poor business decisions. Things began to look bad for the AS/400 programmer.

Then what happened? Wall Street discovered that Enron and WorldCom execs were overstating profits while racing to their multi-million dollar mansions built on the retirement funds and salaries of their employees and the investments of their stockholders. At the same time, Arthur Andersen, whose business it was to keep the corporate giants honest, was too busy to stay honest themselves because they were seeing how much they too could steal from the working man. America took another shot to the chin, and our faith in our economy stumbled again.

On the IT front, Java was still riding the crest of maniacal popularity, even though only about a quarter of the entire programming population could program effectively in it, and the AS/400 began an identity crisis that has not yet ended, starting with IBM changing the name of the system to iSeries. IBM, taking the shotgun approach to marketing, said, "You want Java? We can give you Java! You like Linux? We can do Linux on the iSeries. You want WebSphere? We have 30 different flavors of it on our iSeries! You want browser-based access to your apps? We can give you that too! Domino? We have it! Microsoft? Run it inside our iSeries! We are insane! We will do anything! AH HA HA HA!" Corporate America's response was a resounding, "Nah. The AS/400 is dead. We're going to keep reading our management journals and do whatever they say instead."

Then what happened? America took on a new war in Iraq, and suddenly our best and brightest were being sent into battle instead of into college. The rising cost of fuel began to have a direct effect on the failing American economy, and businesses were forced to consolidate, downsizing and instituting layoffs by the tens of thousands. Corporate America looked around for ways to cut costs, and a third-world nation raised its head and said, "Send us your jobs! Let our people write your code for pennies on the dollar!" And corporate America listened and sent those RPG, COBOL, and Java programming jobs to India. Meanwhile, the AS/400 professional, who had been doing a terrific job as a programmer, now found herself greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, IBM felt pressured to lose the AS/400's "legacy" image, so they enabled it to do so much at the same time that the AS/400 began to get the reputation as the Swiss Army knife of computing platforms. Interesting on an intellectual level maybe, but who has the time or money to keep changing their business culture every few months to run on an increasingly expensive and schizophrenic system? At the same time, the Wintel world was gleefully pointing out that a PC server cost only a few thousand dollars while the iSeries was several orders of magnitude more expensive, so why in the world would your business want to throw money away when our economy was so bad? Added to that was the knowledge that third-graders were being taught to program in Visual Basic, and suddenly seasoned programming professionals found themselves competing for their jobs against pimple-faced kids not yet old enough to buy beer.

Then what happened? Our nightly news told horror stories of our heroes in Iraq being killed, not by a dedicated enemy fighting for an ideal, but by anonymous and uncaring roadside bombs, and our nation wept. The President told us it was all over, but the dying kept on. Mother Nature decided that she'd had enough and threw several tantrums at our southern shores to try to shake us out of our lethargy, but that only served to highlight our incredible ineptness at responding to domestic disasters, and it shined a light on our inability to look beyond class or skin color, and again, our economy took a shot to the eye. And IBM, feeling that this time they had the solution that would turn it all around, renamed the system once again, this time from iSeries to i5.

But then a funny thing happened. Despite everything—despite the wars and the rising cost of fuel, despite the worst that nature could throw at us, and despite an idiotic and useless name change to the AS/400 platform—the American economy began to rebound. Slowly, profits started to climb, and slowly, jobs began to reappear. As business started to regain its footing, a need for programmers began to grow, and the AS/400 programmer began to believe that maybe things were finally turning around.

Then what happened? What happened is that everything that has happened during the last six years to our economy and our industry has come back to haunt the AS/400 programmer. By this time, there are so many dedicated AS/400 programmers out of work that a single job listing on Dice or Monster nets hundreds of resumes. Suddenly, it is no longer a buyer's market. It is now a seller's. Headhunters can pick and choose, and if you don't know Java or .NET or have not worked on J.D. Edwards or Synon for the last five years, you don't have a chance in hell of finding a job that will pay you enough to keep that house you bought when times were good. And the cost of fuel continues to rise, while at the same time programmers are forced to search farther and farther away for gainful employment.

So where have all the jobs gone? For the AS/400 RPG and COBOL programmer, the answer is to that question is simple: Your jobs have gone to India, or they've turned into Visual Basic and Java programming positions, or those that remain are held by AS/400 programmers who understand that they have to fight tooth and nail to hang on to what they currently have. And that leaves the rest of us out in the cold, living on retirement funds, giving serious consideration to those late-night truck-driver-training-school commercials, and wondering if IBM will ever spend any time, money, and effort to promote RPG and COBOL, the backbone languages of the AS/400 system—and incidentally, corporate America—and hoping that corporate America will wake up in time to realize that if it keeps sending all of our jobs overseas, soon there won't be anyone left in this country able buy their products and keep them in business. And the AS/400 programmers sit and stare and shake their heads.

And now what will happen?

Shannon O’Donnell is a freelance writer who specializes on the iSeries. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Shannon O'Donnell has held a variety of positions, most of them as a consultant, in dozens of industries. This breadth of experience gives him insight into multiple aspects of how the AS/400 is used in the real world. Shannon continues to work as a consultant. He is an IBM Certified Professional--AS/400 RPG Programmer and the author of an industry-leading certification test for RPG IV programmers available from ReviewNet.net.


Support MC Press Online

$0.00 Raised:

Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 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. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) 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:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. 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:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot 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:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic 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.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: