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A Basic AS/400 Skills Checklist

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As an IS manager, you want the best people in the business working for you. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to find someone with all the right skills; other times, you need to do a little training. Regardless of the way you go about it, entry-level programmers have to meet a certain level of competence to make your business successful.

To get your entry-level programmers up to speed in a hurry, you need to make sure that they have core knowledge. Regardless of the business you run, every new programmer should be familiar with—better yet, competent in—the skills I’ve outlined in this article. This list may become part of the performance reviews for your staff. You may even use it to direct the questions you ask during hiring interviews.

By providing an educational path, you will challenge your programmers to keep learning new skills. Plain old on-the-job training usually just results in employees learning an incomplete set of skills and fearing unlearned techniques. You want to provide a guide for them to become well-rounded programmers with an enthusiasm for learning.

Because the AS/400 is a powerful and evolving system, programmers new to this environment may feel overwhelmed when mapping an educational path. This is because new features such as TCP/IP, HTTP Server, Domino Server, FTP, Mail Server, and Java appear with every new release of OS/400. Where do you start? Figure 1 contains a list of 28 essential AS/400 skills grouped into seven categories. A programmer who can master these skills will be able to understand and maintain most typical AS/400 systems and will be able to develop new programs and troubleshoot old ones. This list isn’t meant to be a Cliffs Notes to the AS/400; it is intended to guide your staff on a journey of discovery. Indeed, one of the most important skills your staff will learn is how to uncover solutions to these tasks.

Of course, this list is neither comprehensive nor absolute; each company has its own needs. For example, some may wish to emphasize a third-party development tool that their shops use. Others may want to focus on core programming languages such as RPG. Use the list in Figure 1 as a starting point for your own list. Think of it as an inventory of desired skills that everyone working on an AS/400 should have.


User Environment Skills

1. Display and understand your library list. You should be able to display your library list, change it, and change your current library. In addition, learn how your library list is established and how it affects submitted jobs. There are two system values that define your library list. You should also understand how your library list can be changed both by you and with certain applications and commands.

2. Add and change user profiles. You need to know how to create and change user profiles, how to enable and disable profiles, and how to change passwords. You should also understand how the user profile sets up a user’s environment with an initial menu, an initial program, special authorities, and the job description.

Database Skills

3. Create a physical file with and without key fields. Use DDS to create a database physical file.

4. Create two different logical files over a physical file. Use DDS to build two different logical files over the physical file you created in item 3. Have at least one of these logical files select only certain records using the Select or Omit keyword.

5. Add a field to a physical file that has logical files attached to it. The old way to add a field to an existing physical file was to delete all logical files attached to it, change the existing physical file, create the new file definition with the added field, copy the old file to the new one, and then rebuild the logical files. Learn the easy way to do this by using the Change Physical File (CHGPF) command.

6. Understand how to see relationships between physical and logical files. Use the Display Database Relations (DSPDBR) command to see and understand which logical files depend on which physical files. This will also teach you how to troubleshoot confusing situations where the logical file is not using the physical file you thought it was using.

7. Understand the difference between packed decimal fields and zoned (signed) decimal fields. This is especially important when you need to move data to and from PCs. Packed decimal fields are peculiar to midrange and mainframe systems and completely foreign to most PC and UNIX programmers, although some VAX systems using COBOL compilers support them.

General RPG Programming Skills

8. Understand how parameters are passed to and from RPG programs. Learn about the entry parameter list that RPG uses when it starts a program.

9. Write a print program to list a file. Write a simple report with headings and totals. Do it once using OUTPUT specs in an RPG program. Then, do it again using DDS to create a print file layout. Use RLU to view the print layout.

10. Write an RPG program to allow the user to enter a selection para-meter for the print program. Use the Submit Job (SBMJOB) command to run the job as a batch program. For example, print orders for customers only in Texas. This is messier than it looks. You will probably have to write a display file, an RPG program, and one or more CL programs to accomplish this, but at least it will give you experience passing parameters between programs.


11. Write an RPG program to read values from a data area and display and change them.

12. Use the Convert RPG Source (CVTRPGSRC) command to convert a program from RPG III to RPG IV. CVTRPGSRC is used to convert legacy RPG III programs into state- of-the-art RPG IV programs. Converting an RPG III program can help you learn RPG IV syntax by using a program you are already familiar with.

Interactive RPG Programming Skills

13. Write an Add/Change/Delete/Inquire maintenance program. If you can write a good, well-designed, functional program to maintain records in a database file, you’re doing a lot. And, if you do it right the first time, you’ll have a model that you can use for future programming projects.

14. Add a subfile search by a different key for item 13. This is a more advanced technique. Add a function key selection to accept a search key. For example, add the ability to list names that begin with M. Use a subfile display for your user to select the desired search value and the desired name. You will have to know how to use the Set Lower Limit (SETLL) and Read Equal (READE) op codes to dynamically navigate through an indexed database.

15. Change the subfile search in item 14 to load only one screen at a time. This is the most advanced programming technique on this list. It is usually called a “page-at-a-time” subfile. It builds one screen at a time and grows each time the user pages down.

16. Add to the maintenance program an edit that requires chaining to another database. Add an edit to check for valid state codes or part numbers. This isn’t hard, but it is an essential step in building complex data entry programs.

CL Programming Skills

17. Understand how parameters are passed to and from CL programs. You can pass parameters using the local data area (LDA), but here you should learn about using parameters in the PGM statement at the beginning of the program.

18. Repeat item 10 but use CL to display the selection screen. For simple selection entry, you can do this without RPG. Define the display file using a Declare File (DCLF) statement in the CL program and displaying it with Send/Receive File (SNDRCVF) .

19. Change the print program in item 9 to list the file in a different sequence by using Open Query File (OPNQRYF). This is another advanced technique peculiar to the AS/400.

20. Understand the use of the Monitor Message (MONMSG) command in CL programs. Learn about the “catch all” CPF0000 message ID and how to look for specific conditions such as missing files or other “trapped” errors.

21. Write a CL program to read values from a data area and display and change them. This is like item 11. Use a CL program to retrieve values from a data area, show a display screen with these values, read the display screen, and update the data area.


Programming Tools Skills

22. Use selection 25 in PDM to search through source code. For example, list all programs that use database CUST. This is an essential skill for diagnosing and understanding someone else’s system.

23. Use DFU to change data in a database. If you have other third-party database file utilities, learn them also.

24. Write a Query/400 program to display a file. Query/400 is an extremely powerful tool that is simple to learn.

25. Write a Query/400 program to print a file. Have fun with this one. Query/400 is so easy that you’ll want to sort records, summarize amounts, and use break totals, but this is possible only if you have the Query/400 licensed program.

26. Use SDA to create a simple menu. Create a menu that a user could use to call the programs in items 9, 11, 13, and 21.

27. Use SDA to create a help screen for the simple menu. This will show your users a help screen that describes selections in the menu.

File Transfer Skills

28. Use your company’s method to transfer data to and from a PC. There are various ways to transfer data between a PC and an AS/400. Your shop may use the Copy to PC Document (CPYTOPCD) and Copy from PC Document (CPYFRMPCD) commands to move data to and from Client Access folders, or you may use FTP or other third-party transfer software. This skill becomes more important every day as your users expect you to accept data from their PCs.

Research Is Key

The most important skill for your programmers to acquire is the ability to research AS/400 techniques. They should start by looking in your library of Midrange Computing magazines. My favorite resource is Midrange Computing’s ResourceCD; it has over eight years of back issues and is searchable. Every skill I’ve listed in this article has been discussed at least once in a Midrange Computing article.

Use Midrange Computing’s Web site at www.

midrangecomputing.com/forums to access its online Discussion Forums. In these forums, anyone can post questions that will be answered by other AS/400 professionals who enjoy helping out. You can learn a lot without even posting questions; just read everyone else’s questions and answers. While you’re on the Web site, also check out the Company Store. In it, you will find useful books, videos, CD-ROMs, and seminar schedules. Most of the books are packed with tips and examples of code; reading each one is like taking a private college course.

Join the Mainstream!

The skills I have discussed are mainstream skills required in most AS/400 environments. With these skills, your programmers can create and maintain complete, integrated systems. Once they have mastered this list, they will be ready for newer, more exotic areas. Once the foundation has been established, they will be able to build on their basic skills until they become master programmers.


References and Related Materials

• AS/400 Basic System Operation, Administration, and Problem Handling V4R4 (SC41- 5206-03, CD-ROM QB3AGO03)

• DDS Reference (SC41-5712-02, CD-ROM QB3AUI02)

• ILE RPG for AS/400 Programmer’s Guide (SC09-2507-02, CD-ROM QB3AGY03)

• Open Query File Magic!—Second Edition. Ted Holt. Carlsbad, California: MC Publishing Co., 1998

• OS/400 CL Programming V4R4 (SC41-5721-02, CD-ROM QB3AUO02)

• Subfiles for RPG Programmers. Michael Catalani. Carlsbad, California: MC Publishing Co., 1994

• The AS/400 Programmer’s Handbook. Mark McCall. Carlsbad, California: MC Publishing Co., 1998


User Environment Skills

r 1. Display and understand your library list.

r 2. Add and change user profiles.

Database Skills

r 3. Create a physical file with and without key fields.

r 4. Create two different logical files over a physical file.

r 5. Add a field to a physical file that has logical files attached to it.

r 6. Understand how to see relationships between physical and logical files.

r 7. Understand the difference between packed decimal fields and zoned

(signed) decimal fields.

General RPG Programming Skills

r 8. Understand how parameters are passed to and from RPG programs.

r 9. Write a print program to list a file.

r 10. Write an RPG program to allow the user to enter a selection parameter for the print program.

r 11. Write an RPG program to read values from a data area and display and change them.

r 12. Use CVTRPGSRC to convert a program from RPG III to RPG IV.

Interactive RPG Programming Skills

r 13. Write an Add/Change/Delete/Inquire maintenance program.

r 14. Add a subfile search by a different key for item 13.

r 15. Change the subfile search to load only one screen at a time.

r 16. Add to the maintenance program an edit that requires chaining to another database.

CL Programming Skills

r 17. Understand how parameters are passed to and from CL programs.

r 18. Repeat item 10 but use CL to display the selection screen.

r 19. Change the print program in item 9 to list the file in a different sequence by using OPNQRYF.

r 20. Understand the use of MONMSG in CL programs.

r 21. Write a CL program to read values from a data area and display and change them.

Programming Tools Skills

r 22. Use selection 25 in PDM to search through source code.

r 23. Use DFU to change data in a database.

r 24. Write a Query/400 program to display a file.

r 25. Write a Query/400 program to print a file.

r 26. Use SDA to create a simple menu.

r 27. Use SDA to create a help screen for the simple menu.

File Transfer Skills

r 28. Transfer data to and from a PC.

Figure 1: Here is a summary of basic AS/400 skills for quick reference.


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    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.