Angus: What are you doing about the future of IBM i?
Over the last 12 months, I have had six trips to South Africa for various consulting and speaking assignments. During a visit in November 2009, I was introduced to quite a large group of Young i Professionals at the COMMON Africa inaugural event. Their passion and enthusiasm for RPG and the IBM i platform was an amazing sight to behold.
The short history of the YiPs in South Africa began with the IBM Academic Initiative approaching a Johannesburg college – Vaal University of Technology (VUT) – to start an RPG developer class. They found a retired RPG developer named Ernst Coetzee, and asked if he would teach the curriculum. The first class was very well subscribed, and the fourth semester of RPG developer classes is currently underway. It is these students who have discovered a passion for RPG and IBM i, and both past, current and future students were in attendance at the COMMON event.
These students come from all over South Africa, and are primarily from an impoverished background. For most of them, the class registration fee is difficult to raise, and some of the students have been known to forgo food, in order to attend the RPG classes.Many of them cannot afford the books for the classes, and that has come to the attention of the local and global IBM i community, who have done something about getting a stockpile of books for use during the classes.
From the pool of students who graduate from the RPG class, local companies have begun engaging them as interns so they can gain real experience, and in several cases, the graduates have been employed by local companies in full time jobs. There is also a local effort to provide projects that unemployed graduates can be engaged with, as a means of continuing to hone their skills. And, the graduates are becoming more in demand as local companies realize they have some significant RPG and programming skills, and they can help in extending the life of their current IBM i applications, while contributing to new and interesting projects.
Ernst’s wife Janine is engaged in assisting with the logistics of the class, and has become a defacto mother to many of the students. She works with the students to help them understand how to be a true IT professional, how to become employable, how to conduct themselves in interviews, and even dress code tips. Janine has a passion for working with these students that is infectious, and just one conversation with her can change your own world outlook.
The IBM Academic Initiative is working to expand this program beyond VUT and into other colleges and universities across South Africa, and, from what I understand, into the rest of Africa. There is a community effort underway to assist further in the endeavors to raise money for textbooks for VUT. In fact, there is a push to raise money to cover some $US2000 for the most recent set of textbooks – the one company – Tembo Technology Lab – that paid for all of the books has had commitments to help cover some of the costs, and several of us are working towards raising more money towards this goal. In doing so, we can support more local efforts by Tembo and their peer companies in South Africa.
I have approached the COMMON Education Foundation to set up a scholarship to support books for YiPs. If that is established, it can certainly grow beyond VUT, beyond Africa, and across the planet. If you have a local college that may benefit from such an effort, or you wish to contribute in some manner, email me and I will put you on a list and keep you posted with the results of our efforts.
I will be speaking with representatives of the Long Island Systems User Group (LISUG) in the next few days, and it is our intent to create a plan to engage local colleges in teaching Power Systems, IBM i and RPG classes. When we put something together, I am sure there will be sharing of that ‘template’ program to repeat it across the planet. We know we have support from the IBM Academic Initiative program, and they have a large pool of resources available with which to teach these classes.
I am feeling humble and honored that I have the ability to assist in this process. The end result is an investment in the future of the platform, an investment the future of a bunch of passionate young minds – the next generation of IT developers, and a pay-it-forward effect as those YiPs go out and motivate their peers and subsequent classmates.
The best part of this will be to see Richard smile. Richard Ogbechie is one of Ernst and Janine’s success stories. He graduated from the RPG class with such a passion for the platform and the language. Richard is now working as an intern on a combined project with Tembo and a local Johannesburg company – Hyphen. As an example of his passion and commitment, Ernst was recently taking a class which took him out of VUT for a week. During that week, Richard went to VUT as often as he could to be the defacto teacher for the current class. Even graduation could not keep him away!
A group of community members have arranged for Richard to attend the COMMON 2010 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Orlando in May. To assist his visit, we have found sponsors for his airfare, hotel and incidentals for the week. We worked hard to arrange his trip, and the final seal of approval came when his US visa was approved. And his week is already full of events! Quote from the site with the information about the trip: “He will meet many people on his visit – IBMers responsible for the Academic Initiative, several IBM executives,COMMON North America board members, board members from sister user groups around the world,COMMON Education Foundation board members, fellowYiPs from around the globe, not to mention all the COMMON conference attendees. He will also have an opportunity to attendconference sessions, and add to his RPG skills.”
If you are attending the COMMON 2010 Annual conference, please find Richard and talk with him. You will find him personable, pleasant, passionate and he can talk about his role in the YiPs South Africa, his role on the board of COMMON Africa, and the opportunities opening up to the graduate students.
I ask you, what are YOU doing for the future of IBM i?What can you contribute? Who will you talk with tomorrow about the IBM i and the RPG developers of the future?