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Java: Know it while it's hot

AS/400 users attending the Annual Northeast IBM User Group Conference in Framingham this week were force-fed WebSphere. While some users were eager to learn more about the e-commerce software, others were too involved in tightening up their RPG programming skills to attend seminars discussing a technology they have no intention of implementing--not for at least a year or so. The lack of professionals versed in Java within the realm of the AS/400 world was an apparent concern--although it was barely addressed.

Search400 News Editor, Kate Evans-Correia attended the show and had the opportunity to talk with Richard Evans, a veteran RPG programmer and a professor at Rhode Island College, one of the few schools remaining that teaches the programming language. Evans is owner of Evans Associates, a computer consulting company. Seemingly a man of few words, Evans was to the point about the future of programmers who limit themselves to knowing only RPG. His advice? Sure, you can ride out your career with it, but why would you?

Is RPG a lost art?
Look, RPG is not going to go away. Most schools don't teach RPG anymore. Mine is one of the few. Most are teaching Java. But somebody still has to support these legacy systems. There are things that RPG can do that no other language can do. How do they deal with the lack of RPG programmers?
They're training their own programmers--on-the-job training. What languages would you suggest AS/400 professionals know?
If you're coming out of school, it's important to learn as many programming languages as possible. If you're a solid programmer, you could finish out your career, but it would behoove you to learn another language. It's pretty clear that IBM is moving in that direction. Some of the reluctance could be that they're not convinced WebSphere will help their business, don't you think? Will it have a major impact or a minor one on AS/400 shops?
It's really hard to say since I'm not in the middle of it anymore. But, I would guess that it will be important in some shops and not so important in others. Is this why they're not moving? Because, maybe they won't have to?
If you don't have to move, why would you? Still, we all work to be up to the current level in technology. We all want to be on the front of technology and want to learn new things. I think most of them do, too. I'm sensing a lot of hesitation about implementing WebSphere here at the conference. Even vendors agree that one of their biggest struggles is convincing users that WebSphere is not that big of a deal. Why is there such reluctance?
I don't want to make general observations, but in my experience, historically, these people don't tend to be the ones that jump into something new. As a group, they tend to be reluctant to make changes. It means moving out of their comfort zone. And that's difficult for a lot of us. Is the real reluctance in the fact that they don't have the programming skills themselves, can't justify replacing their RPG programmers with Java programmers or don't have it in the budget to hire programmers with Java experience?
It's not just about that but, yes, Java skills come into play here. If everyone is telling them that if they want a future in programming they really need to learn other languages, why don't they?
They just don't have the time. You said that time is the problem. Is there a workaround?
The question is how much time do you have to learn? Programmers are so busy with RPG. What they need to do is get a hold of Java, and the next time they have to solve a problem, they solve it using Java instead of the program they know best. It's kind of like baptism by fire.

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