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AS/400 by day, Java by night

It's not unusual these days to see an iSeries 400 professional with a textbook underarm or plugging away at an online tutorial or taking off to attend a training session. Most users of the recently renamed AS/400 are brushing up on their skills, both within and outside the platform, a recent Search400 poll found.

About 82% of the 453 respondents to the poll said they were working on their technical skills. Not surprisingly, 38% said they were learning skills outside the iSeries 400 industry because they were concerned about the industry's future. Yet 44% said they were keeping their skills marketable but aren't really concerned about the future of the industry.

Only 4% said they were getting out of the industry. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 14% said they were very secure in their jobs and skill sets.

Just a month ago, IBM rebranded its whole family of servers under the eServer umbrella. The venerable Application System 400 has become the iSeries 400. The radical shift is Big Blue's bid for the hot e-business market.

Whether they agree with IBM's strategy or not, AS/400 professionals are consciously learning skills that bring them not only outside the realm of the iSeries, but into cutting edge technology as well. Two of the hottest skills for iSeries professionals to learn are Java and WebSphere, said Jim Mason of Cape Cod Bay Systems. By far, Java is the top skill with its capacity to run on any platform. "Having Java on your resume is one of the best things you could have," Mason said.

Java is also perceived as the "language of the Internet" which comes in handy as more iSeries400 applications have a Web component. In fact, Mason predicts WebSphere will likely unseat Windows as the second hottest app within nine months. As proof of its growing popularity, Mason pointed to the extra sessions on WebSphere that were added at DevCon in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Learning iSeries-specific skills probably won't add a lot to your resume, Mason said. "Someone can pledge to be a RPG programmer until the day they die but when it comes to something like Web serving, XML and Java are what they will have to use," he said.

Longterm iSeries user Mike Kissinger echoes those sentiments to the extreme. "I have pretty much rejected pursuing anything that is AS/400 specific (RPG visual, RPG ILE, RPG CGI) because I don't want to be tied to IBM's marketing whims. In my area of the world, Phoenix, Ariz., AS/400 contracts have just about completely dried up, so the worries about working on the AS/400 platform are very real."

"I think most AS/400 people have trouble putting aside their religious fervor towards the 400 and can't see the glowing, neon handwriting on the wall."

Al Barsa Jr. of Barsa Consulting Group agrees learning Java and other technologies are important for iSeries professionals. However, those skills will be profitable in the iSeries arena. "You can learn other platforms but you'll likely have to take a pay cut (if you move out of the AS/400 field)," he said.

ISeries professionals find themselves in an advantageous position as the number of machines is going up while few new people are learning the necessary skills, Barsa says. "It's IBM's fault that the skills are not being taught in the large schools. It isn't putting the money into marketing the machine," he said.

For more information on:

The Java market

Java development

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Ed Hurley, assistant news editor

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