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iSeries users lukewarm on new IBM J2EE cert exams

IBM is pushing its new WebSphere Portal version 5 certification for J2EE developers. But certification is not on the map for many iSeries programmers, and Java development is just coming onto their radar screen.

IBM is encouraging iSeries programmers to get trained and certified in Java technology, but many users say that, not only are they not interested in becoming certified, they're not in a hurry to move to Java.

The tide may change, however, as programmers increasingly are forced to learn new skills in order to stay employed. Career experts report an upswing in enrollment for Java classes. But the increased interest in learning new technologies does not necessarily correlate with interest in certification.

Still, in an effort to make it easier for developers to get certified, IBM offers a number of new programs, including two new certification exams it announced last month that will enable J2EE developers to update their skills and become certified on the latest version of WebSphere Portal, version 5.

The only time certification comes up is in some gathering of techies where someone is bragging about having certification. 
Joe Holliday
GFL Systems, Inc.

A sold-out class is unlikely. In a recent poll, 75% of respondents said they have no plans to get certified in WebSphere Portal v5. Bottom line: They haven't been given a compelling reason to do so -- yet.

"The only time certification comes up is in some gathering of techies where someone is bragging about having certification," said Joe Holliday of GFL Systems Inc. "I have found these guys are mostly [MSCEs] and do not have a clue about the real-world process of controlling a server environment correctly."

But there is a pressing need to learn Java. In another poll, 89% of the respondents said they will be using a different skill set within the next five years -- and that skill set is Java.

iSeries programmer Jon Ericson said that, as part of learning new technology, certification is necessary -- if for nothing else but focus. He said he plans to take the Sun certification exam for Java Developers soon, and it's been suggested to him that he work with Java for six months before taking the exam. "This is the foundation," he said. "Once that is accomplished, then I can look at the J2EE and WebSphere certifications."

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, software developer is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation between now and 2010. Other reports say there are only about 300,000 RPG programmers, a number that is expected to decline in the next five years. In contrast, there are currently 3 million Java programmers, and that number is expected to grow significantly.

Edward Chaltry, CTO of Brookfield, Wis.-based Centare Group Ltd., a software consulting group specializing in Java, said that in the past six months he has seen a significant increase in interest in Java programming.

"[We see] companies (and RPG programmers specifically) now moving past the debate and consideration phase of this topic," Chaltry said. "We had a lot of interest in our intro to Java class, as well as IBM's relatively new HATS technology that allows Web enabling of existing RPG applications."

For many iSeries programmers, it's not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition.

IT consultant Frank Harris, who works for Mueller Inc., a roofing and building supply company based in Texas, said he doesn't believe users have to embrace one technology over the other, and that users are likely to benefit from incorporating both. He said he's interested in incorporating iSeries Java with RPG for front-end applications.

"The combination of RPG or COBOL with Java could provide efficient and reliable applications while giving the users [the] GUI screens they demand," he said.

But there's something less tangible that is preventing Harris from moving to Java cold turkey.

"IBM has not told us the pitfalls that will be encountered on this road map," Harris said. "Many years of experience with IBM have warranted caution until we learn how to work around the pitfalls. Who has the time to be the guinea pig? Most iSeries programmers are busy meeting their companies' current demands. They do not have enough time to invest in the new concepts of Java. Customers don't care what language was used to get their results -- just get it done fast and accurate."

But Judy Lerch, a systems analyst with Krueger International, in Green Bay, Wis., said her company is making the transition to Java, and she's glad for it. "I hope we can continue to do so and other companies can do the same," she said. "A career is too short to spend the entire 40 years writing in -- yawn -- RPG."


Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, senior news editor.

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