Reader feedback on the status of the IBM i base, IBM i salaries

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April 11, 2022

Timothy Prikett Morgan

Hello TPM:

I enjoyed your series on the state of the IBM i environment. These and other newer ones IT jungle Articles have helped me better understand some of the things I see as a training provider.

As you and I have discussed many times, the IBM i market has split into two groups: the approximately 30,000 active customers and 120,000 others. My company, Manta Technologies, has customers from both groups.

As a former mathematics professor, I think more in Venn diagrams. I had to fight the urge to pull out my crayons when I read about Jack Henry, an IBM i customer who is also a very successful IBM i vendor and a Manta customer since 1998. Like many successful companies, they take education seriously. Send employees to conferences and provide internal training through vendors like Manta. These organizations are confident in the future and are renewing their licenses as they plan to hire new staff each year to keep Manta training always available.

In contrast, the companies in the “Other” group treat training as a maintenance contract or a system upgrade. They will only consider it in an emergency. Often they hire a new employee who doesn’t know anything about IBM i. Ironically, many of these organizations have also been Manta customers since 1998 or earlier. The difference is that they may have used our courses four or five times in the last 28 years. Once a new person has been hired and trained we don’t hear from the customer until someone else retires and a replacement is needed asap.

A third group of Manta customers, who are considered neither “active” nor “other” IBM i customers, are IT professionals who were laid off when their employers switched to Linux or Windows-based systems. Some thought they would have an easy time finding employment in the active IBM i group. But few cutting-edge companies want someone whose only programming experience is RPG II. Manta is proud to help such people learn RPG IV, including freeform syntax.

Speaking of RPG II, I recently got a call from a gentleman whose company applications are all RPG II code running in the System/36 environment. He is the system administrator, while his boss, the company’s CFO, is the only one who still knows RPG II. She’s retiring soon, so they’re researching if it’s possible to migrate everything to RPG IV. If such a move was too much work, management is unlikely to let it stay with IBM i. I wonder what percentage of the 120,000 inactive IBM i shops are in this situation.

The migration target is theoretically possible as there was an IBM utility from the early 90’s to convert RPG II to RPG IV. Other tools are also available to go all the way to RPG IV freeform syntax, which is easy to learn from Manta courses. However, I’m not sure they understand the effort required to modernize the application by breaking down the monolithic applications into smaller procedures that make the best use of the ILE environment. And that’s before they even start thinking about SQL! If anyone reading this has gone through this process, I’m happy to pass on any advice you can offer.

This is where your article on IT salaries comes into play. When the boss retires, it’s unlikely the company will find a programmer (other than a bored RPG retiree) with the skills or desire to take on the challenge of spending a career working on 35-year-old code . You will also be shocked to learn the recent graduate award.

I learned this the hard way from my oldest grandson, Will, who is graduating with an MS in IT Engineering from UCLA. Last summer I had the pleasure of hiring him to test my current project and proofread the documentation. (This should already tell you that he’s not your average programmer.) I’m working on bringing EasyTutor (the eLearning software used to present Manta courses) to the public. EasyTutor is a J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) application whose server component runs on Tomcat. I did the overall design in 2002 and was smart enough to hire a Java programmer while writing HTML, JavaScript and CSS. When his mother asked how the project was going, Will said he really enjoyed seeing real examples of “legacy” JavaScript code. Apparently, my 2002 code reflects my Fortran skills more than the Java skills I later acquired.

I would have liked to hire Will full-time. Unfortunately (for me) he received offers from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Oracle. Each of the package deals was at a level that would have allowed me to buy my first four homes with leftover money for a new car. However, Will’s decision wasn’t based on money. The company he has chosen lets him decide where he will work and what project he will participate in. Given the opportunity to convert RPG II code or write new code that will impact the lives of people around the world, what would you choose? Me too, but at least I have EasyTutor.

Bye Bill

PS Our current family joke is that I asked Will if I could take the best offer, which he turned down. Depending on which grandchild is telling the story, the punch line is either “Grandpa doesn’t know I already have this job to keep me busy after school” or “Unfortunately nobody buys old contemporary code”. What they don’t know is that Blue Origin is opening an office in Denver and is looking for an experienced IT trainer. If only I could believe that my wife and grandchildren would ever stop laughing when a Blue Origin launch aired on TV.


Hello Bill:

I have really appreciated your insight and humor over these many years, which I believe began a long time ago midrange computing when I mathematically proved in a feature story that, based on the amount of learning content that could actually be obtained and the cost of that content, and much to the chagrin of our publisher and sales director at the time, the Manta courses offered the best value for money compared to On-Sight group training, conference attendance, and a bunch of other options I can’t remember. I had very logical arguments to back it up and managed to tick off quite a few advertisers as well as the company’s training staff.

I stand by that analysis two decades later and would now add that there are many good reasons to attend trade shows or on-sight training alongside Manta courses.

As for Blue Origin, why not? If Shatner can, why can’t you? And while I’m at it, tell Will I need my damn warp drive so I can be a starship captain. . . . Maybe my youngest, Mia, can do the job. Ellie, Henry and Chloe have other paths that don’t lead in this direction. The world has enough code, and what Earth needs is a new frontier so we can protect this precious blue marble floating in the Tennessee of the Milky Way galaxy. Getting off this planet and expanding the reach of humanity has always been the best—and surest—answer. As for Elon Musk, I’m all for sending him to Mars today and I’m volunteering to help him pack.

I would like to go back to a place where the citizens of the United States pay for a real space program and we all rejoice in its achievements. Some things we can only do together, and some things we should do only do together. When I was four I watched people land on the moon and I’ve never forgotten that and I studied aerospace engineering as an idealist because I thought I could design a space station. I’ve never forgotten how we were moving in the right direction before we kind of lost our way after 1970. I still believe in Starfleet – and to be perfectly honest, I wish for the Force too.

But seriously, it’s good to know that the market view I’ve put together doesn’t miss a beat. All the feedback I get says I got it more or less right. But what can we do about it? That’s the catch, isn’t it?

—TPM

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