IBM paid a lot of lip service to the iSeries academic initiative at the Common user group conference last month. But people like Jim Buck, an instructor at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha ,Wis., do the heavy lifting to bring new iSeries professionals into the workforce.
Buck is president of the Wisconsin Midrange Computing Professional Organization (WMCPA) and he's worked on the AS400 platform since 1990. This is his first journey into teaching and he's in his fourth year at Gateway. His biggest challenge is struggling with the outdated perception -- as well as the outdated reality -- of the iSeries education.
Gateway has had an IBM midrange curriculum since the punch card days. When Buck came to Gateway, the school had had a Model 400 (circa mid-1990s) running OS/400 V4R1.
"We couldn't teach any of IBM's new software on it. At that point in time, I got a hold of Linda Grigoleit, [program manager, System i5 Academic Initiative] and got a model 800," Buck said. "In the last two years we've completely revamped the program. We now have Java and VB.net as core classes. I have an advanced technology certificate that includes Linux Administration, WebSphere and advanced Java. We teach RPG ILE, CL and have an iSeries Administration class. We have a Model 800 V5R3 and we use all of IBM's latest tools."
Gateway is part of IBM's System i5 academic initiative and Big Blue has done a good job taking the school under its wing. IBM is a phone call away, and it sends Gateway any software that will run on an iSeries -- for free.
But while updating the school's resources has been relatively easy, shaking the outdated perception has not. IT educators are fighting the legacy status of the AS/400, in addition getting students interested in IT at all.
"Getting students into IT -- it's terrible," Buck said. "We have a nursing program at Gateway with a two year waiting list. But all of the IT classes, whether it's programming, networking or computer specialist, the enrollment is just dismal."
Buck, like many others, blames the media for convincing the younger generation that IT jobs are all going overseas.
"I think the whole IT market is turning around. Sitting between Milwaukee and Chicago -- an iSeries hotbed -- there's no reason not to get an IT job," Buck said. "It takes a while to get out into the business community that we have students that know the latest software."
Students will follow the money, and Buck had four Gateway students at the conference doing just that. Michael Bastianelli, a fifth year student working on his second degree is an IS technician for Kenosha County, Wis. The county just bought a System i 520, but Bastianelli spends most of his time on the PCs. He knows some of the old timers are getting ready to retire, but said he can't wait that long so he's been job searching.
Second-year student Nick Arndt has been looking as well, but said general sites like Monster.com are mostly jumbled wastes of time. And the posts on Careerbuilder.com ask for all the experience and certifications under the sun. "There's a lot of garbage in there." Arndt said.
Bastianelli and the other students don't assume they're going to find great jobs on the search sites, so they've got other routes -- for example, attending conferences like Common and the WMCPA meetings.
Chandra Krieg, a second-year student, said she looks at MilwaukeeJobs.com and doesn't see much for entry level --but she's found more job opportunities at the conferences. "It's the personal contacts," Krieg said.
Students also get in front of potential employers using their Gateway projects as virtual resumes.
In the Advanced RPG class, Buck came up with a project for the students to build and airport reservation system, generating cities, planes and flight schedules. The students also coded a program for purchasing tickets and reservations. The next step will be in the iSeries Web Integration class. This will allow browser based online reservations using WebFacing and WAS 6, allowing students to show potential employers their work on the Web.
"We all do a great job at Gateway," Buck said, referring to his students. "I work them very hard and they work me very hard."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor