You’ve hired a developer new to IBM i and RPG. Now what?
I recently returned from speaking at COMMON’s PowerUp18 conference. It’s always nice to see old friends, make new ones, interact with customers, share knowledge, and learn a few things. I also presented to the IT Executive Conference, which was one of the highlights of my conference as not only did I get to speak to a great group of executives, I also presented on one of my favorite subjects: recruiting.
While fielding questions at the ITEC session, I was asked, “How do we train these new RPG developers?” This is a question that I am asked regularly, so I thought it would make a great topic for an article.
These options do not require capital expenditure, but they still have a cost.
The option I most often see for teaching RPG to new developers is to have another developer teach the new one. This is, of course, the traditional way of learning. Many of us learned RPG “on the job” and are doing quite well. As with any methodology, there are pros and cons to consider.
The obvious advantage is that the shop has complete control of what is taught. The training can be customized to include your business and its processes. This type of training offers the most complete solution and teaches a new developer precisely what is needed and nothing that is not. The “not” may be what should worry you, though.
There are downsides to in-house training to consider. One of the biggest is that your training is limited by in-house knowledge. If the developer who is teaching the new hire is not up to date on the latest RPG features, then your new developer will not learn the full capability of the language. That’s not a great way to start. Another major issue with in-house training is the lost time. Often, training is done by senior-level developers for obvious reasons, but time spent training is time not spent developing. So, in this situation, you have both a senior-level and a junior-level developer tied up, which is not always a workable solution.
Sink or Swim
I have taken this approach with several of my student interns. It seems to work well with them. The idea is to just give them very basic instruction and let them research on their own to learn the specifics. Some developers prefer this method and thrive. The obvious benefit is that very little time is required for formal training. Trainees also become much more self-sufficient. They learn early where to look for answers.
This method does have a few drawbacks. The training period is much longer. Without a structured agenda, trainees will learn concepts as needed. Depending on what tasks they are given, some important concepts may go unlearned. The trainee will also need to learn which sources of information are credible. There’s a ton of bad code examples in the wild. This is true for all languages, though, not just RPG.
If you have the budget, there are some great options out there for training your new or even existing developers.
Numerous industry experts and companies offer in-person training on RPG, RDi, and any other IBM i topic you could want. The benefit is that your staff receives up-to-date training on the latest features of IBM i. The instructor is an expert in the subject matter and can handle questions off the cuff in most cases. Training can often be personalized based on the needs of your shop. The structure of onsite training ensures that relevant topics are covered in a short amount of time. If you have the means, this is in many cases the best option you can choose.
The only real con to this option is cost. It’s not cheap. While it’s certainly worth the price, along with travel expenses, the trainer simply must charge a fair price. This can sometimes put onsite training out of reach for some.
Online training options have been available for years. These options have many of the advantages of onsite training but with reduced cost. The online materials are created by industry experts. You sacrifice some of the personal attention and the ability to customize the training but gain flexibility in schedule and reduced cost. While not the same as in-person training, this solution is perfect for some shops. While there are several options for online RPG training available, I want to point out two newer offerings of which you may not be aware.
COMMON has introduced Boot Camps. The “Programming in ILE RPG” boot camp is currently available. The “IBM i Systems Administration” boot camp will be available soon. COMMON is the world’s largest professional association of IBM Power Systems users. They have offered conferences, webcasts, and certifications for some time now. With the introduction of the Boot Camp series, they now offer introductory training for technology professionals new to IBM i. All Boot Camps are developed by industry experts and IBM Champions. The RPG Boot Camp consists of 10 lessons containing video instruction and hands-on activities. Take a few minutes to look over the course content and instructors. It’s a great offering.
imPower Technologies offers online courses in RPG as well. imPower was created by Jim Buck, co-author of the Programming in ILE RPG textbook, which is widely used by colleges that teach RPG. The current course offering is “Programming in ILE RPG,” an eight-week, instructor-led class that uses the textbook mentioned. The course includes online group meetings and videos to use as resources during the class. Courses coming soon include “IBM i Concepts and Operations” and “Introduction to IBM i System Management.” You can read more about the courses here.
That sums up the options I most often see used for training new developers. As with most things IT-related, which choice is best depends on your situation and needs. I really wish there was a one-size-fits-all solution that I could lay out for you, but that simply isn’t reality. Hopefully, this synopsis of positives and negatives of various approaches will help you determine what your next step will be. Perhaps you have shied away from hiring developers unfamiliar with IBM i because you weren’t sure how to train them; if so, maybe this article has helped to overcome those concerns. Whatever the case may be, I hope your shop is looking to add talent to the roster and introduce IBM i to more developers.