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Job skills: What does the future hold for iSeries pros?

The iSeries job market is poised to turn around, and when it does projects on hold will start up. You can take steps now to ensure you have the right skills when that happens.

We in the IT recruiting industry are frequently asked what job skills are in demand and what should be added to a candidate's portfolio to offer a more marketable and desirable repertoire to the IT job market. This has turned out to be a very challenging question to answer.

The job market today has changed from "if you can spell RPG, you have the job" to one that is much more demanding, with successful candidates being those who have a very specific skill set in narrow applications and industry experience. The requirements are so narrow that any recommendation for skill set enhancements based upon those criteria would be at best a disservice and at worst ill-advised.

In a much used and always misquoted aphorism, Benjamin Franklin stated that a person should be, "Jack of all trades, master of ONE." He felt that a cultured person should be able to understand and discuss all topics but should also be an expert in one. In this statement he has accurately described the job market that we're dealing with today. To be a sought-after professional, we in the IT industry should have a thorough knowledge of and ability to work in a variety of technical venues and be an expert in at least one.

The good news is that most companies are replete with projects that have been on hold for the past three years. Those projects (enhancements, new applications, upgrades, et al) will start up once the confidence in the economy justifies the investment. The bad news is that companies have not divulged the nature, nor the scale, of these projects to any but their closest confidants. Ergo, the skills that will be required for these projects is nebulous at best.

There are, not to leave the question unanswered, trends in the industry in which we can place confidence and that can be used to provide a general recommendation for what you can do to enhance your skills and subsequent marketability.

The almost universal direction being taken by IT shops is into Web-enablement and multiplatform venues. With that in mind, the "doing more with less" mentality is demanding that IT professionals have abilities outside of traditional iSeries (AS/400) environments. This direction places new requirements in the data center that affect programmers, analysts, administrators and operations staff.

Programmers and analysts should develop skills that will allow them to work comfortably and effectively with tools that are used to move the iSeries well off of the "green-screen" environment. This is well beyond Client Access implementations. We see an increased demand for Java, J2EE, Struts, HTML, WebSphere, Lotus Notes as well as Oracle, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards OneWorld and other MRP/ERP applications. You should not ignore your core proficiencies (master of one), but you should invest in these other architectures to present a wider and more diverse skill set to a prospective employer.

Operations and administration professionals should also add to their core proficiencies by developing abilities in non-homogeneous iSeries data centers. In other words, being proficient in the operations of Web servers, PC networking, hubs, routers, switches, Unix-based platforms and the tools therein will increase your marketability.

As we all will agree, the iSeries is probably the best system to come down the pipe in a long time. It will continue to be a dominant force in data centers that seek reliable, scalable and robust systems to run their businesses. The need for competent iSeries professionals will continue for a long time, and those who can cross over into other platforms and environments without abandoning their core iSeries skills will be in the highest demand as valued professionals.

About the author: Ronald L. Zetterberg, Ph.D., is vice president of recruiting services at AS/400 Personnel Agency LLC in San Diego. In a 30-year career in information technology, he has been a design engineer, a senior programmer, a director of field service, a senior account executive, and a vice president of Sales and marketing. During the last 10 years, Ron has been involved with the AS400 in hardware, software, management and technical recruiting.


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