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Getting the Most From Your Application Development Tools

This past summer I tackled the daunting project of rebuilding an outdoor deck. My collection of tools is hardly of beginner level, but surely not contractor grade either. There was one particularly onerous section that was too difficult for my carpentry pay grade and it was blatantly obvious a trained professional was in order.

When the professional deck builder arrived at the site, he plowed through the project with the greatest ease. It was not lost on me that when a properly trained professional uses the best tools available, complex tasks can be done most efficiently. However, had these same great tools been in my novice hands, I sincerely doubt the same results would have been rendered. That’s because the carpenter brought with him years of experience. Additionally, using great tools magnified his results with less effort being expended. Using this metaphor as my segue, let us delve into modern application development tools.

An application’s constraints can literally cripple a business into bankruptcy. Whether you consciously made the commitment or not, any IT professional worth their salt needs endless curiosity, education and awareness of new trends and technologies. It’s incumbent on us to deliver solutions that can withstand flexibility and maintainability for the long haul. Keeping these solutions humming requires our expertise in using great tools. Fortunately, products exist to satisfy these requirements. Some specific examples include:

Rational Developer for i (RDi): From content assist to advanced filtering, from the many shortcuts to built-in customizations, RDi obliterates old green screen tools. One of my favorite features is RPG source code refactoring. This includes the ability to rename variables, extract constants and extract procedures. This last feature is a game changer and step one to creating sub procedures, which can eventually be externalized into reusable modules and service programs. Another recent valuable enhancement is the ability to allow conditional entries for service entry points. This represents a paradigm shift for how we will effectively debug our programs.

IBM i Access Client Solutions (ACS): If ever there were a go-to IBM i tool, ACS is it. With its feature-rich repertoire of tools, it empowers by offering a multitude of methods to interact with the system. It is easy to get lost in any one of the available functions. Data transfer, IFS, database, system performance—it’s all in there. Developers will spend a lot of time using Run SQL scripts. Here you will find Insert from Examples, a process that quickly provides meaningful SQL statements. The source formatter is second to none, making the most complex SQL very readable and understandable, another valuable tenet of modernizing code. Add the stalwart Visual Explain and you have a one-two-three punch to implementing well-written and high-performing SQL.

SQL: IBM’s commitment to expanding SQL functions has resulted in more IBM i services being added with each technology refresh. Many of these services are not even related to traditional database roles. Indeed, admins will find them very useful when interrogating system activities.

Open source: Integrating these technologies brings in new developers, and with that new thinking of how applications are being written and deployed. If you have not looked at this space in a while, the time to learn more is now.

To be sure, I have glossed over this subset and have not given them their full due. And certainly, many other tools and languages exist; it is impossible to write about all of them. By no means does that suggest they can be dismissed.

Finally, rebuilding the deck was a summer project, without a real deadline other than the ability to enjoy it before the warm days were over. Actual business does not operate within these same parameters. Instead, we are confronted with aggressive delivery dates. Only with the proper handling of modern tools will we continue to meet and exceed these challenges. And with the satisfaction of a job well done, don’t forget to spend a little time on your finished deck, enjoying the fruits of your labor and watching a sunset or two.

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