Monday, March 11, 2013

Who have you Mentored lately?

I’ve had a chance to visit customers literally around the world and they all similarly ask the same question as to how to get more people aware of the solutions available on IBM i.  In a phrase, educating the great unwashed.  Yes, the IBM i is a special animal in the world of computing.  High uptime, resilient object and file systems, integrated database and incredible native language for business in RPG is just the beginning of a radically different OS than Linux or Windows.  There is a lot to misunderstand about this platform and therefore education is essential. One customer who had been on the platform for over 20 years actually did not know what COMMON was!  Ouch!!!  By the way, we’ll be at the Annual Conference and Expo at the beginning of April with a booth and sessions and more!

Education of the team is the manager’s responsibility.  Another customer asked me about the kids today learning RPG and why there aren’t that many.  I mentioned Jim Buck’s program at Gateway and also we kicked around a number of anecdotal concepts.  So when we settled in to discuss what projects they were using for PHP they pointed to a very young member of the team who was primarily responsible for the PHP development.  He is a great guy with a good head on his shoulders for business, more on that in a minute.  But what struck me was that they were investing in his education of PHP and this makes perfect sense until I asked the question: “When do you start training him on RPG?”  You see, I thought after the previous discussion about bringing younger folks into the fold of RPG that this customer would have discovered this opportunity themselves.  They were a little shocked when I mentioned that having a younger person learn RPG until I reminded them of the previous discussion.  Once they considered what I had to say they acknowledged that it would make sense to help this young man learn RPG and that it could even make him more valuable as a resource in today’s economy.  

This brings up the primary position of my blog for the month.  What have you done to mentor someone today?  I remember when I was a budding RPG developer and I had two mentors who were essential in my success as an RPG programmer.  Sure I might have learned the same things over time, but not nearly as quickly or effectively.  In this day of “instant gratification” everyone is too busy to stop and help someone along the way like we used to in the 80’s and 90’s.  And certainly the Internet has come along way to make information much more available and easier to absorb.  But to hold someone by the hand and explain exactly why *INZSR is a useful subroutine or the different between packed decimal and an integer data type can effect storage is something I simply do not see that much of these days.  I challenge everyone out there who is responsible for the development team, in any role.  Go find an intern and teach them RPG.  

OK, so it will take time for them to learn RPG.  They may not like RPG once they’ve learned it (silly thought).  It’s not sexy like .Net or Java (so what!).  Then fuel the discussion with some other points like CASH, MOOLAH, DeNiro, COIN, Money, Geidis, scratch, and a myriad of other terms.  Folks, with nearly 8% unemployment (and higher when you consider those who quit looking) I gotta believe there is someone out there who is wiling to learn RPG in today’s shops.  But just as important, they must appreciate business.  Interns at local community colleges can come along with referrals from their college advisers.  Get in touch with the local college adviser and look for an intern who appreciates BUSINESS!  I have, somewhat provocatively, stated at several presentations that RPG programmers are not programmers at all.  They are business analysts who code RPG.  Therefore, it is essential that anyone you interview for a position to learn or work on IBM i that they understand and appreciate business.  That is not to say young developers who want to do cool, sexy things cannot help an IBM i shop.  But they will tend to get frustrated when you ask them the difference between a PO, a payable and a payment!  We are a VERY special breed as RPG developers because of the business influence and therefore we should be looking at this for future IBM i developers.  

One of the anticipated questions I run into is “well why would a younger person be interested in learning RPG?”  The obvious answer is they want a JOB!!!   But do you want to throw them into the deep end of RPG with no hope of leveraging any other technologies?  I think the reality is to get someone on deck who is will to learn RPG, but also leverage what they’ve learned in the college setting like HTML, JavaScript,  Ajax, PHP, etc.  Modernize your applications and leverage the more modern tools available in IBM i at the same time! 

See you soon!   

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