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The Evolution of N2i

Richie Palma, Marina Schwenk and Anna Marrah highlight the COMMON N2i group—from how it started to where it’s going

“What makes IBM i unique is the community,” says Richie Palma, account executive at iTech Solutions and New to IBM i (N2i) committee member. Since 2018, Palma has worked with Marina Schwenk, senior programmer/analyst at Everbrite, LLC; and Anna Marrah, originally COMMON’s marketing manager and now a marketing consultant in the IBM i space; spearheading the COMMON N2i program.

Originally known as Young IBM i Professionals (YiPs), N2i works to help new IBM i professionals learn the platform through advocacy, community and education.

Getting Started: Providing Education for New IT Professionals

When Marrah attended her first COMMON conference as the association’s marketing manager, she quickly realized that two things were lacking: young people and educational content for beginners. After the conference, she rounded up Schwenk and Palma—along with Shelly Petty and Nicole Wilmoth—and got to work, identifying key education opportunities for conferences.

“There were a lot of things that people who were just entering their career on IBM i needed that were very different than what a more seasoned professional would need three or four years down the line … They were very simple things,” notes Palma. Sometimes newcomers simply need to find the right resources, learn acronyms or get the answers to simple questions such as, “What’s RPG?” or “How do I write a simple SQL statement?”

At COMMON Indianapolis in 2019, the group hosted its first networking event. It was a success and set the stage for what would become N2i. Plans were formed for 2020, but the team was forced to pivot early on in the midst of the pandemic. “We shifted gears from focusing on what we could do at conferences to what we could provide the community throughout the year virtually,” says Marrah.

Going into its third year, N2i now meets twice a month. The first meeting is the “Getting Started” series, which includes a guest speaker presenting on a specific topic, and the second meeting is an open-floor networking event.

The Growth of N2i

Initially, the N2i group started slowly, but it has grown exponentially since 2020. “We went from having one or two people per month to 85 attendees at the last meeting,” mentions Marrah.

Although N2i has grown rapidly in the past few years, its leaders don’t focus on the numbers. “Even if we just make a difference to one person, then all the work for that particular event or session matters,” says Schwenk.

As the group has grown, so have its offerings. Schwenk notes, “Anything that we’ve done has come from the input that we’ve received from N2i members.” The latest development is a mentorship program, where members are matched with a mentor based on specialty and experience.

The Value of Mentorship

Moving forward, mentorship will be an important component of N2i as it will not only develop individual members but also benefit the community as a whole. For example: When Petty joined the N2i committee, she was mentored by Schwenk—sometimes during committee meetings. “They were going through the process. They can tell that story well and they know how mentoring is done—it can be done successfully,” notes Palma.

The N2i committee members hope that prioritizing mentorship, especially for those coming out of college, will continue to propel the group forward and bring in fresh perspectives. “We’ve all gone through that process … figuring out how painful it is when you’re trying to do something and the folks that you’re looking to as resources aren’t speaking the same language,” adds Palma. Having younger—or less experienced—people deliver messaging is key for N2i members, helping them articulate ideas more clearly and relate to one another.

Now, N2i is looking for ways to help professionals who are further along in their career transition out of the N2i group, continue to engage, and get the education they need. “We’re just one stop in the journey,” says Marrah.

N2i Leadership

Another key ingredient to N2i’s success is its leaders. Committee members come from a variety of backgrounds—from sales to marketing to the technical side. Schwenk says, “We each have our own specialties and we depend on each other. That’s what I love about N2i—there’s a lot of synergy.” Every job is a group effort and each member brings a unique perspective to the group, helping N2i branch out and continually evolve.

What’s more, the N2i committee is made up of mostly women. “It crushes some paradigms that have been built up in the tech community,” notes Palma.

What’s Next for N2i?

As the committee looks ahead, its main priorities are growing the team and the N2i community, and in turn, growing awareness of what the community needs. The committee is looking for more members who are truly new to i to keep bringing in fresh perspectives—and eventually pass N2i onto the next group of young IBM i leaders. “It’s just going to get more and more exciting as we grow and see this thing blossom,” says Marrah.

The committee is looking forward to its regular programming in 2023, in addition to several events and extra educational content, including:

  • Loopback Hackathon: This event will take place virtually on January 17–19, 2023
  • N2i Bootcamp: Bootcamps are a COMMON member benefit that feature hours of valuable content. Other bootcamps cover RPG, SQL, system administration and security.
  • POWERUp Conference: N2i will be at POWERUp 2023 with more educational programming and networking opportunities.

Palma reflects, “The IBM i community is like a river—you jump in and it will take you downstream. You might have to paddle a bit and connect with the right people, but once you jump in, they carry you and it’s a ton of fun along the way.” Moving forward, the N2i committee has a clear focus: Continue to help N2i members navigate the IBM i community and keep it healthy through advocacy and education.