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The Path to an IBM i Career: Lessons from TechChannel’s Rising Stars

imPower Technologies’ founders Jim Buck and Michelle Lyons were delighted to see several of their past students on TechChannel’s list of 2022 Power Systems Rising Stars. It was less about their courses being mentioned and more about seeing young developers taking lead roles in the community at large.

“We are so proud of these talented professionals and honored to be part of their IBM i story,” says Jim Buck, cofounder and CEO of imPower Technologies. “It’s refreshing to see young developers enter the community and embrace all it has to offer.”

We recently interviewed three of imPower’s students to learn more about their careers and experiences in online programming classes and glean insights to share with other new developers. Here are some of the key takeaways from those conversations:

1. Getting into IBM i is never a straight line.

A trend we noticed when interviewing the Rising Stars—Jean Boris Konan, Trae Livingston and Nilofur Khan—was that none of them set out to become IBM i developers. Each have their own unique story of how they landed on the platform.

As many know, this is primarily due to the fact that colleges and universities don’t offer IBM i education like they used to. Many young developers don’t even know that Power Systems exists. This fact has made it challenging for the industry to recruit new talent. Even with the challenges, there is hope for attracting skilled professionals like these three.

Livingston, an IT project manager, began his career with his information systems management degree, which taught him an equal share of business skills and IT management skills. He had little to no experience in programming and zero in IBM i. After beginning his role at Group Beneteau, he soon found himself working as the “liaison between the end users and developers,” quickly realizing he needed to understand the IBM i platform to succeed. He took imPower’s IBM i Concepts and Operations course and later took their RPG programming course to learn how to review and edit programs on Group Beneteau’s system.

Konan, a developer at Great Lakes Rubber, always thought he’d be an accountant like his father. But after working as a web engineer for several years, he decided he needed a change and landed his current role in IBM i.

Khan says, “Earning a current role as a developer on the i has been a very curvy path for me and is still an ongoing process.” Khan first heard about IBM i and RPG programming during a session at COMMON, where she questioned what RPG stood for: “We started doing what [programmers] do best and googled it. Rocket-propelled grenade? Role-playing game? It just didn’t make sense how that tied into programming.” Now, she’s a sales and marketing development specialist at iTech Solutions, where she hopes to gain experience and knowledge about both software and hardware.

For IBM i shops looking to hire, the first place to look for young professionals is within your own company. There are many talented people looking for career advancement and development opportunities. Also, check out recent IT graduates who have experience in coding or web development. Once you find the best fit for your team, enroll them in an online programming course to get your new developer trained on IBM i and RPG programming. Within a few short months, they will be up to speed.

We’ve even had IT managers take courses, which gives them the ability to support and mentor new employees. Konan mentions, “My manager had also taken Jim’s courses as a refresher, so while I was going through mine, I was able to ask him questions directly.”

2. Online education played a key role in their success.

Were the students familiar with IBM i before taking on their current jobs? Konan notes, “Not at all.” Khan says, “Not the slightest bit!” So, what allowed them to become IBM i Rising Stars?

Konan, as well as the other two Rising Stars, Livingston and Khan, took online programming courses from imPower Technologies: IBM i Concepts and Operations and Programming in ILE RPG. These two courses are self-paced and graded with weekly meetups with Jim to ask questions and gather insight.

“Oh boy. To say that I love Jim’s courses and his way of teaching would be an understatement. Jim made it easier for any newcomer. It was a game changer, as it’s always daunting to start something new in the tech world,” states Konan.

Livingston also had a great experience taking imPower’s courses. He says, “The self-paced courses were ideal for me. I was able to manage day-to-day project management operations while I learned the IBM i. I took one day a week and did a few hours of work on the course—and I attended the weekly group meetings with Jim. This pace worked great!”

From not knowing what RPG stood for to being able to “navigate around the IBM i system and put together modules, procedures and service programs on RDi like [she’s] been doing it for years,” Khan was able to go from her role as a practice manager at an internal medicine office to her current role in the IBM i community.

3. Every IBM i shop is different, and that’s the beauty of it.

We noticed that each Rising Star had a different role in IBM i and their teams operated very differently. Livingston, for example, has a team of 10-15 developers in France who do most of the development while he runs project management in the United States. He needs to know how to use the IBM i platform and code in RPG so he can communicate with and support his team. Konan, on the other hand, works for a smaller shop with two developers, himself and his manager. They do all the work on their own—coding, supporting operations, etc.

Further, Khan’s team looks very different from Livingston’s and Konan’s. At iTech, now Service Express, they have numerous Power systems. Though she doesn’t work directly with their developers, she can “pick their brains and absorb their teachings.”

4. Modernization is on everyone’s mind.

From version control and web programs to new code and RDi, every IBM i shop is looking for ways to modernize their systems. Companies are looking to improve efficiency and end-user satisfaction.
As the larger IT industry continues to develop and advance, the IBM i community is working to stay relevant and keep up with the change. All three developers we spoke with said they were working on modernization in one form or another.

5. There’s a future career in IBM i.

The best advice we heard was, “Do not hesitate to jump in. There are a lot of opportunities out there and people want to help you succeed.” Konan found that the IBM i community was welcoming and willing to help young developers in their careers and with current projects.

“Everyone I have met in this community has something to teach, and if you just take some time and understand what they are saying, you can learn so much from them,” says Khan. She also shared that conferences, local user groups, public speaking events and networking all helped her learn more and “contributed to where [she is] today.”

Would Khan recommend IBM i as a career path for others? She says, “In a heartbeat. Yes! Of course.” Though IBM i can be intimidating when you start, there’s so much to learn and many opportunities for young developers.

A general consensus among the Rising Stars is that IBM i is here to stay and there’s a long career available to young developers. Though some young people think the “green screen is old school, the IBM i technology is actually being used by some of the biggest tech companies out there,” Konan says.

For young IT professionals seeking successful careers both in happiness and salary, IBM i is the perfect choice. With a competitive talent pool and a welcoming community, any young developer can find their place in IBM i with a little education and training.