Angus: Calling all IBM i industry ‘experts’

20i3 is the 5th year for the IBM i branding. Our community seems to be still struggling with the concept of an OS running on separate hardware. Our platform is no longer the fabulous AS/400, where the server, OS and applications do everything for our business, and are all called by the same name.

In 2010, Apple released the iPad. This game changing tablet has had a profound impact on the world, and is pervading IT departments faster than any other user interface device in the history of computing. Users are now demanding their applications be accessible via mobile – phone and tablet, desktop and laptop devices, all of which require attention from IT to understanding user experience, graphical design, service enablement, modern development methodologies, modern IDE and tooling, and so on and so on. This is modernization of the IT department and the IT developer community.

I see many industry pundits or experts preaching the same modernization strategy to the IBM i developer community. This is an ongoing effort, and is slowly converting the community of traditional RPG programmers to learn new skills and new tools, adopt new development methodologies, implement change management and team software, and move into the present. This prepares them for the future of IBM i running on Power Systems, and with that knowledge, they can start to promote the platform the way it is, and they way it will be, rather than how it was in those ‘glory days’ of the AS/400.

Unfortunately, reaching them is difficult. Many RPG programmers I work with on modernization projects don’t know what IBM i really is. Nor do they understand basic 21st century coding tools and languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript. Few of them belong to social media groups an online forums. Fewer of them contribute to forums, twitter or LinkedIn. Fewer of them attend industry conferences or user group events.

So how do we educate those community members?

The first step, of course, is to drive them to online forums, to social media, and the goal would be – participation, rather than trolling. This is not an easy step, but it seems like there are two groups in our community who can facilitate that – vendors and recruiters. Unfortunately, few of them take responsibility to educate their customers and potential recruits, falling back on the tired old excuse of “it is what our customers want”. The simple response to that ignorance is to explain to them that if they want a future in this industry, they cannot be promoting the glorious past – they must look forward, to maintain the industry, support the community, and extend the life of the platform.

The second step is to attract our community to online forums, blogs, industry magazines, and encourage them to engage in some research. This would help to spread the word about the developments to our platform – the separation of the hardware and OS being key to changing our perspective. They would learn about the latest IBM i releases, how the Technology Refresh approach from IBM helps reduce the effort of OS version upgrades while introducing reasonably major enhancements. They would learn about the architecture of service enabling and the modern tooling from IBM. They would see the intense discussions about mobile and web development. Regardless of their level of expertise, a small amount of effort could have positive results, engaging them in their own future and restoring their passion for their platform and their career.

The third step is to engage the developers of the future. This step is difficult, as we have to overcome many of the myths surrounding the view that “there are no RPG programmers to replace the ones I have when they retire”. When talking to local schools, they all claim there is no demand for teaching RPG. When talking to local companies, they all claim there is no supply of RPG programmers. Surely this disconnect is SO obvious, that all it would take is a user group to step up and have their members converge on local schools and colleges expressing their demand for students? There is still hope!

And no, these three steps are not the FINAL answer, but with these efforts, we can go a long way to preserving the future of IBM i, our own future, and our own legacy.

However, the one struggle to overcome in all these efforts is the perception that still exists in the industry that the platform is not IBM i. The old branding of AS/400 is now 13 years dead, but still popular. The old branding of iSeries is dead 7 years, and still popular. System i never quite stuck, but there are a lot of people who use the i5 vernacular. All this does is add to the confusion about the branding, and this is the one place we need to pay attention.

I have, in the recent past, advocated that people unsubscribe from all forums related to AS/400 and iSeries, and subscribe to forums that relate to IBM i. I encourage people to stop tweeting AS/400, stop advocating SEU, and generally stop treating the platform as though it is still the glorious machine of the 20th century. Certainly, there have been some converts to this approach, and at the same time, some really loud pushback. Personal insults from those who cannot move forward show their reluctance to change, and their fear of that change. I do believe I have an approach that would reduce this fear, and subtly encourage the stalwarts to move into the present, at the least.

First, we must stop carrying on about the name of the platform. Just use IBM i or IBM i on Power in our conversations and in our communications. The more we type those words online, in blogs, forums, comments, tweets, articles, etc, the more google will be able to learn about our amazing platform. If we encounter those who do not understand the current branding or stubbornly repeat the old branding like a mantra, simply educate them with “what you call an AS/400, I will refer to as IBM i – the current branding”, and argue no more.

Second, while much of our audience belongs to AS/400 or iSeries related forums – a comfort zone of sorts, it is difficult to unsubscribe from those forums when you wish to reach or engage in the community conversations. Obviously, all NEW conversations that we begin should be posted on IBM i related forums. If you wish to reach the rest of the audience, post a link in the ‘comfortable’ forums that sends the community to the new home of the conversation – one that supports the future of our platform. And, the challenge is to NOT respond to questions on those forums. Quite easily, the same approach could help turn this around – write a new comment or response on forums supporting the current branding, then post a comment on the original conversation to link them to the new forum.

For a short time, this may be a little disjointed, but that shall soon pass. This approach shows our commitment to the future of the platform, not the glorious past. Responding to a comment on an AS/400 forum simply means you support their fear of change, you support their commitment to the OLD branding and the past, and you support their resistance to modernization of skill sets that is needed in the 21st century.

To all IBM i ‘industry experts – it is now FIVE years of IBM i. Quite simply, isn’t it time you stepped up your game?

2 Comments

victor floresJanuary 8th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

one reason why “IBM I” is not a good idea:
it is not a unique name- it is made up of two parts:
IBM (one of the biggest companies in the world)
and ‘I’ (one of the most popular standalone letters in the english language???)
(there is an internet out there, and people do searches on it)
I would settle for IBMi just fine, without the space.

AngusJanuary 8th, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Victor,

It is very obvious you do not read all my blog entries.

Regardless of whether or not any of us in the community consider the name to be good, bad, or otherwise, it is far beyond the time to put that argument to bed.

IBM is NOT going to change the name any time soon. And, now that we have had it for five years, it really is time for us to stop the complaints about the name, and get on with the job of using it like a modern business server and promoting it that way. Until we stop living in the past with grievances at IBM for not meeting our own personal preferences, we will continue to hold our future in check.

Trevor

Leave a comment

Your comment