This PowerUp blog post was written by Laura Ubelhor, who owns and operates Consultech Services, Inc., a Rochester, Mich.-based consulting company established in 1992. Laura has extensive hands-on experience specializing in IBM i application technologies and working with a long list of clients in a variety of businesses.
When pondering how to encourage and help local i colleagues enhance and broaden skills and how to enthuse local i colleagues to participate in user group activities, the thought came to mind to use a hands-on activity to provide LUG members an opportunity to learn new and current skills. It was an idea that I knew would require time commitment and funding to put into action. I was pleased to see a grant offered by the Maxava iFoundation and filled out the application. My local user group, SEMIUG, received the grant and the plan was put into action.
The objectives included providing a means for LUG members to learn new skills through a hands-on experience, working on a live project, to encourage LUG organizations to use new technology and to drum up enthusiasm to participate within LUG activities. The starting point was aligning a box to complete the hands-on activity. Fortunately Larry Bolhuis (iDevcloud) was kind enough to provide a reduced rate. I decided to use a PHP project–knowing it is a current and hot technology, the cost would be minimal and it’s a skill that I am comfortable with.
The plan was to use a LUG member organization project for the learning experience and to enlist local user group members as participants. Once the concept of having a project coded for free was understood it was not difficult to find organizations willing to provide a project for the activity. The only requirement for an organization or individual to participate was they had to be a current LUG member.
It was easy to round up a group of 20 participants with varying degrees of skills and exposure to Web development. We split into teams, not to compete but to allow all participants an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and actively work on the project. The chosen project was quite robust including add, change, delete, inquiry, internal user application, external user application, email notification with attachments, creation of PDF and excel documents, call to an RPG program, and security requirements. Detail specifications were provided for the project.
The first meeting kicked off with an overview of PHP and a review of the project plan. Participants were given homework to start the learning process. It was interesting to see how each team took a different approach to creating applications, how quickly teams were able to begin coding and also to see how the teams bonded during the learning process. Participants had varying skills and did a great job working with and helping each throughout the activity. The meetings/sessions were completed with participants joining in remotely using GoToMeeting. We had on-site interaction before and after regularly scheduled user group meetings. Most participants were from SEMIUG and a couple from WMSUG. The activity was completed over a three-month period. We used Zend studio for coding and everyone was set up with the capability to sign on to the box remotely. Part of the project requirement was to code and test the applications and also to create user documentation.
At the end of the set timeline we scheduled a big reveal. The activity was a fun gathering held as a regularly scheduled user group meeting. Zend's Mike Pavlak was onsite for the big reveal of the completed projects. Each team showed its completed applications followed by a panel critique of the finished projects. Zend provided support throughout the project and also furnished prizes for meeting attendees and project participants including t-shirts, pins and copies of Kevin Schroeder’s book “You Want to do What with PHP?” After the finished applications were reviewed closely, a project was chosen and feedback was provided. Based on the system users’ feedback, all participants pitched in and did a final round of enhancements on the chosen application.
The outcome of the activity was beyond what we set out to accomplish. Forming teams and completing a project from start to finish also included developing and using project management and team interaction skills. Participants walked away with new skills. Several participants have already put their new skills into action, a member organization has a PHP application running in production (a new technology for their environment), and user group attendance and enthusiasm took a boost.
It was exciting to see how much effort participants put into the activity encouraged by their desire to learn new skills. I would like to see the hands-on LUG activity grow to include other user groups and provide an opportunity for more LUG members to learn/expand skills. Discussion and plans are already in motion to expand the activity to include other user groups. We are hoping to have another activity later this year. The first round proved the idea works with participants joining in remotely. The long-term success of the activity is dependent upon resource and funding. By including other user groups it is more likely the hands-on LUG activity will continue and will reach more i colleagues. We likely will do more PHP activities, but it is also a great fit for the development of other skills, such as RPG Free, ILE, SQL, WebQuery, iSeries Access for Web, RDp, RPG Open Access, mobile applications, etc. What are your thoughts on hands-on LUG activity?