Among the comments was one from Torbjörn Appehl who mentioned that in Sweden a company named Tieto had recently undertaken a program to train young recruits in the joys of RPG. We mentioned this story last year in our blog, but at the time didn't know the name of the company, etc. Now, thanks to Torbjörn, we have been able to look at the company's website and we highly recommend you to pay a visit too. This is a company to be watched. If you don't live in one of the countries Tieto serves, you're forgiven for going off and weeping quietly in a corner as you bemoan the state of IT companies in North America and probably elsewhere.
So many companies seem content to simply deal with resource shortages by outsourcing, which is not only a short-term solution, but also one that in our opinion is also shortsighted. Do we really want our children to be the hewers of wood and and drawers of water for the rest of the world because we were not willing to invest in them? On the Tieto website pay attention to the mention of mentoring programs and other similar investments the company makes. Do you know of anyone in North America doing that? Or are most, as we suspect, simply bemoaning the skills shortage, which is not just an IBM i and RPG issue, and doing nothing about it.
This issue is fresh in our minds as it came up during the roundtable discussion that opened the annual WMPCA Spring Conference, which we are attending this week. Present at the meeting were a number of present and former students of our friend Jim Buck, who we mentioned in the earlier blog entry. Some of them described the importance of mentoring and internship programs to their success and how hard such opportunities were to come by. Jim is currently working on ways of extending the reach of his programs and we hope to work with him on that. Something needs to happen.
Another comment on the blog came from Christian in France who works for a French training company that runs introductory IBM i and RPG training two or three times a year for clients whose companies have recruited young programmers. We were particularly pleased to see Christian's comments regarding modern programming practices and tooling.
In part he said: "Of course, we use SQL and free RPG, even if we have to talk about DDS and fixed form RPG. Our tools are system i Navigator and RDP, no choice!..."
"As you can see, it is possible to teach 'IBM i', it's a wonderful system with many advantages that can be interesting for young people, but we have to show them the 'sunny side'."
The "sunny side" indeed Christian! No young programmer in their right mind is going to be interested in RPG II style fixed-format coding and SEU. You'll be lucky if you keep them for a month, even if they are an unpaid intern! Show them modern RPG and RDP and you'll find a very different response.
Thanks also to the others who commented on the blog. We really appreciate your feedback.
Another point that came up during this evening's discussion was that most IBM i programmers aren't just programmers. They're really business analysts that implement the results of their analysis in RPG. This in some ways reinforces the point we made about retraining experienced business people and teaching them how to program. It was the way Jon's father broke into programming and we know many other people whose entry into the world of computing took a similar path. Now if only we could work out a way to make that happen on a large enough scale to make a dent in unemployment levels and the RPG programmer shortage that would be progress!