Young RPG Talent: It Exists If You Make an Investment

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The key to growth and innovation in an IT shop is regularly recruiting new talent with fresh ideas, and your IBM i shop can do it too!


I am extremely excited to start contributing regularly here at MC Press Online! I hope you will enjoy reading my articles as much as I enjoy writing them. In my 14 years in the RPG development space, I have made it a point to learn as much as possible. I have also tried to share the knowledge I have acquired by writing articles and speaking to user groups. RPG, in my opinion, is still the most well-suited language for writing business applications. I love IBM i and RPG, and I look forward to sharing that enthusiasm with you.


I decided to write my first entry to the RPG Development column here at MC Press on the question that I am asked the most by far. I felt this topic was also a good follow-on to David Shirey's "What's Wrong with the RPG World?" article. So what question am I talking about? "Why can't I find young RPG developers"? Let's walk through the most common complaint I hear and the mistake I see made by IBM i shops with regard to hiring RPG talent.


No Schools Teach RPG Anymore

This is not true. IBM's Academic Initiative works with universities all over the world to help them bring IBM i into the classroom. If you want a list of schools, it can be found here. Obviously, IBM is working with schools to have IBM i and RPG in the classroom.


So if you said schools don't teach RPG anymore, that must mean that no schools near you teach RPG. You could of course contact one of the schools above or even use the IBM Academic Initiative's job board to post your open positions. This is the easy option. If, however, you need a steady stream of young new developers who know RPG, contact your local college or university. Colleges teach what they feel the market demands. So you need to voice your needs to them. Better yet, get a few companies in the area that are IBM i shops to join you in voicing these needs. The reality is that IBM cannot force a school to teach anything. They will, however, give a school anything they need to teach a Power Systems curriculum. You just need to help get the ball rolling.


Another option that has been extremely successful for me personally is to hire interns. I cannot speak for all RPG developers, but I for one did not learn RPG or IBM i in school. I have a feeling that most of you, like me, learned RPG on the job. This actually works very well. RPG is not a difficult language to master if you already have programming skills. So work with your local colleges and universities to find interns. They can be part-time workers or full-time co-ops, but either way, they're inexpensive and a great way to build your staff. Ideally, hire several interns and give them simple tasks while they learn the ins and outs of RPG. As they progress, they will be able to handle more complex tasks and you will be able to monitor their progress and offer permanent positions to those who have the traits your company needs. Not all of them will become permanent employees, but you will get to pick the best of the candidates and the rest will at least go out into the world with IBM i knowledge, which is good for all of us.


Stop Looking for the Perfect Candidate

I am told at least 15 times at every conference I attend that companies cannot find RPG developers. Amazingly, I also hear from dozens of developers who say there are no jobs. Something is obviously awry here. There are actually many reasons for this disconnect, but I want to focus on one specifically as it applies more directly to younger developers.


I browse job listings regularly, not because I'm looking for a job (I love my job) but because I want to keep a finger on the pulse of the community. All too often, I see a job listing looking for an RPG developer with 10+ years of experience who knows the specific ERP, warehouse management, and reporting/business intelligence software that the company uses. The candidate must also know Java, HTML, PHP, and any number of other languages that the company uses. I want to let you in on a little secret. This candidate most likely does not exist, and if he or she does, you cannot afford him/her. What a job listing like this actually does is scare away the extremely talented developers who you should be hiring.


Start by removing unnecessary requirements from job postings. Don't list every "nice to have" skill in your job listing. Hit the most important need and add one or two "pluses." This will attract more talent and will focus the field more toward your needs. The other "nice to haves" can be learned once you have a competent developer in that position. This issue becomes even more exaggerated when your human resources department is involved in the process. If HR posts the job listings and filters the resumes received, they are likely eliminating really great candidates because those candidates don't check all of the boxes on the skills list.


Start hiring entry-level developers. I would estimate that 90 percent of the job listings I see at any given time are for experienced developers. Most listings are looking for at least five years of experience, with many wanting at least 10. If I were a student looking for a field of study, I wouldn't want to learn RPG because there are no job listings for entry-level developers. I understand that companies have deadlines to meet and the demands on IT are ever increasing, but if you do not hire entry-level developers, you will forever be trying to fill positions as your staff moves on or retires. Companies that hire young developers and invest in them have a much more stable staff over time. These are the companies whose IBM i staff thrives and innovates. Entry-level hires bring new life and new ideas to the department.


Here's another tip. When posting entry-level positions, don't post for an "RPG developer." Just post for an entry-level developer. You can list IBM i and RPG as a "plus," but don't put it in the requirements. There are thousands of great developers out there that have never heard of RPG. Does that make them less of a developer? Of course not! It just means they have yet to experience the best business application language around.


That's It

A few simple strategy changes can make worlds of difference in your recruiting. In fact, these are the same things I'm doing to staff the new office I'm opening for my company. After four years working from my home, I have leased office space from Mississippi State University and will be hiring both full-time developers and student interns. This is a strategic direction for us, not only to build our staff but also to increase awareness of IBM i among students. Now it's time to do your part. It's our job to develop the future of RPG development, so let's get to it.