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Open Source for IBM i Helps Organizations Onboard New Developers

IBMer Jesse Gorzinski describes how open-source innovations can make IBM i more accessible.

photograph of a woman working on a laptop.

Image by JGalione/getty

When asked to catalog their IT assets, most systems administrators will rattle off a list of servers and storage devices in their data centers. But in doing so, they overlook one of their most critical assets: their employees. 

“To be successful in today’s world, businesses must either keep hiring for relevant skills or investing in employees to grow fresh skills so you can build with relevant technologies,” says Jesse Gorzinski, business architect of open-source technologies for IBM i.  

Due to the rapid pace of innovation, the gap will continue to grow. It’s increasingly challenging for developers to stay apprised of emerging technologies while keeping up with their day-to-day tasks. 

Gorzinski recommends companies start by asking about the right technology for positioning the company for the future instead of starting with current skill sets. By thinking about technologies most used throughout the industry and the platforms that have significant investment, organizations are more likely to choose a technology that’s still viable 10 years in the future. Companies are increasingly turning to open-source technology to best position their systems for the future while also overcoming the limitations of the skills gap. 

“All around the globe, all around the clock, people are innovating with open-source technologies. By embracing open source, your company taps into the mindshare with open source through these technologies you can leverage today.”
Jesse Gorzinski, business architect of open-source technologies for IBM i

How Open Source Helps Close the Skills Gap 

Because companies of all sizes, from government entities to small retail entities are investing in open-source technology, it is quickly becoming industry standard, especially in terms of security protocols and encryption. According to an IBM i survey, 26% of IBM i companies currently use Node.js, an open-source JavaScript® runtime. While that number may seem small, a 2020 Red Hat® survey of 1,000 enterprise IT leaders found that 95% of respondents felt that open source is strategically important to their organizations.

Gorzinski says that when working with clients, he has seen a significant increase in the number now exploring open source as well as deploying new solutions in a production capacity. 

Open source bridges the skills gap in three main ways:

  1. Ability to leverage already created libraries: Because developers worldwide contribute the technologies, using open source means your company essentially now has millions of developers on your team. Instead of selecting a technology based on the current skills available on their team, businesses look at the real-life business problems solved by open-source code and use one of the libraries that have already been created. This prevents organizations from reinventing the wheel for common problems. 
  2. Large applicant pool: The widespread adoption of open source gives companies extra flexibility when hiring because it’s much easier to find developers than recruit for specific languages. Because the pool of applicants is dramatically larger when looking for open-source skills, companies have more candidates to choose from. For example, a company can hire a PHP developer who contributes value on Day 1 by writing useful code. Within a few weeks, the new hire can maintain and extend existing RPG applications. 
  3.  Easily available training: With millions of people using the same technologies, developers that want to learn a new open-source technology or grow their skills have many resources, such as forums and chats. For example, a developer learning Python can look on Stack Overflow for code snippets to learn how to accomplish specific tasks. Additionally, because all of the tools are open source, you can find examples (including large enterprise applications such as WordPress) of complete applications using the language. Many communities hold virtual meetings using video tools such as WebEx and Zoom to collaborate and learn from each other. Open-source communities collaborate extensively and they’re typically welcoming of new members. Volunteering with groups such as the Eclipse Software Foundation or Apache Software Foundation often helps members make connections needed to grow their skills.

When focusing on which open-source languages to consider in terms of increasing available developer talent, Gorzinski recommends looking at languages with the biggest impact and ecosystem, such as JavaScript or Python. Developers with experience working in these languages easily pick up other related languages, such as React or Angular. He also encourages organizations to consider using the ODBC driver because it increases developer ergonomics and has the ability to test and then deploy code. 

Hiring for Open-Source Skills

Turning to open source to help overcome the skills gap requires a company to shift from hiring for specific technologies to hiring applicants with significant open-source experience. Gorzinski says you can train an experienced open-source developer very easily on a new language, but teaching a programmer open-source skills from scratch requires much more time. By being lenient on platform experience requirements, companies can tap into many experienced open-source developers whose skills easily transfer.

Gorzinski offers the following additional tips when looking for open-source developers:

  • Be open to remote developers: Because of today’s technology, developers can create systems from anywhere in the world. Companies significantly limit their options by focusing on a single geographic area. 
  • Remove platform experience from job ads: One of the top React developers in the country may not apply to a job ad mentioning IBM i because they lack the specific experience. However, they would quickly learn the platform because using these technologies on IBM i is not overly different from their past experience. 
  • Prioritize candidates with GitHub accounts noted on their resume: Applicants willing to share their GitHub ID with potential employers show that they’re active contributors to the open-source community and confident enough in their skills to put their code on display. While other venues exist for sharing code, GitHub remains an internationally recognized repository. Additionally, spending personal time on coding shows motivation and commitment to technology. Developers who contribute to public open-source projects undergo code reviews, which shows a willingness to collaborate and accept criticism. 

Creating a Culture of Innovation Through Open Source

In addition to hiring developers with open-source experience, organizations must continue to create a culture of learning and flexibility for the organization and developers to move forward. The open-source approach prevents organizations from tying their development options only to their currently available skill sets. Companies limited in their new development by their employees’ current skills are going to stagnate in an industry where innovation is happening right now.

“All around the globe, all around the clock, people are innovating with open-source technologies. By embracing open source, your company taps into the mindshare with open source through these technologies you can leverage today,” says Gorzinski. “If your team (in a broader sense) includes these millions of people, then both the concept and reality of the skills gap are much less daunting to your business.”


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