Welcome to "The AS/400 Observatory." In this biweekly column, I'll bring you news and commentary about what's going on in the AS/400 community and how it may affect your business and your career. Your suggestions and comments are always welcome. Please send them to me at email@example.com. If you like this column, click here to find more!
Recently I've been reading newspaper reports about shortages of technology professionals, particularly programmers. Apparently, young people today are not excited by the prospect of high-tech careers, despite the potential for lucrative income and rapid advancement. Perhaps this is because they see that technology is only a means to an end. Having been exposed to computers throughout their schooling, recent graduates don't perceive themselves as programmers, they perceive themselves as accountants, biologists, chemists, and engineers who use computers as casually as their predecessors used adding machines, microscopes, test tubes, and slide rules.
If we see a shortage of entry-level programmers, perhaps we're looking in the wrong place. Computer science graduates, even if you can afford them, have never heard of the AS/400. They may know how to write a compiler, but they probably don't have any inkling of how to write a payroll application. It's a given that the vast majority of AS/400s are used for business applications: manufacturing, distribution, accounts receivable, payroll, and so forth. We should be looking for AS/400 programmers in business schools, not computer science departments.
The shortage of experienced programmers and system administrators is a more serious problem — and one that's unlikely to be alleviated in the short term. There are always shortages of experienced people, but the shortages are being aggravated by two recent trends.
First, programming resources are being absorbed at a prodigious rate to deal with Y2K issues. Along with the stories about programmer shortages, the newspapers are filled with stories about the Y2K problem. Casual acquaintances ask my opinion. Is it real? What will happen? Is it safe to fly? The president established a White House council to coordinate government efforts dealing with Y2K. At last, the business community is taking Y2K seriously. This is good news for those of us who make our livings with computers. However, it's bad news for those of you trying to attract senior AS/400 talent. More than a year ago, I heard of consultants paying significantly more than the going rate for S/36 programmers to work on Y2K modifications. The closer we get to the immovable deadline, the more pressure it will put on programming resources.
The second trend that has affected the availability of experienced AS/400 programmers is the explosion of new technology. Over the past few years many senior technology professionals have been frustrated by their inability to access new technology on the AS/400; client/server, visual programming, the Internet, and Java all exert a lure on our most talented programmers. Now that the AS/400 is becoming more open to these technologies, I hope that we'll be able to reverse this trend. There was a time when the AS/400 had the best programming tools in the industry. As you venture into new technology, your budget picture should evolve to include new tools and training in new concepts such as object-oriented design. To avoid being a statistic in the programmer shortage, companies must invest in their programmers' growth and productivity.
Sharon Hoffman began working with IBM midrange systems in 1981. She is a senior technical editor for NEWS/400 and writes NEWS/400's "AS/400 Strategist" column. Her background includes extensive application development, as well as creating and delivering technical education. Sharon is a regular speaker at COMMON and other industry events.