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Become a self-taught System i guru

If you want to shore up your AS/400 knowledge and career, there are many resources to turn to, including the Common user group, iSeries classes and IBM manuals.

When I talk about professional development, I feel the need to talk about my System i life experiences. I am a self-taught administrator. It has not been an easy road, but it has been fun. Over the years, I have worked with some great teams and have learned a great deal. But for many System i admins, the question is, "Where do I go for professional development and to learn more?"

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Seek expert advice at Common
I am a big fan of the Common user group and try to attend as many sessions as I can. Common is a great resource in which to find your "inner System i" -- that is, to cultivate your "geek status" From my standpoint, you have to want to be a geek, but it's not required.

Common also enables you to choose the education you want, and if you plan properly, you can ask experts questions about problems you have confronted. They're always happy to help, and while most are consultants, they know that if they give you a few pointers, you may seek out their services in the future.

Set up a System i training cave
My wife often calls me a geek in front of company. If she gets a skeptical look, she explains that "being a geek pays pretty well, so it's not a bad thing."

And you have to admit, we computer professionals are doing mostly OK, and if we look hard enough, we can find good work.

But every geek needs a cave to work in. My cave is a gardening shed behind my house that holds my workstations and servers. While I may sometimes confuse the neighbors with the rack of servers, I make the other geeks who come to the house proud. In my spare time, I like to create problems that I have to solve, and these projects often bear on my IT workload.

Why would anyone spend eight hours a day working and then go home and work another five on more computers? It's how I learn. Without formal training, I knew I would have to work harder than some, and this is my way of getting in the extra workout session before the workout, if you will.

Take IBM training courses
It's been a while since I've been to an IBM class, and they sometimes don't live up to what you would expect from a five-day class. I have had great classes. But I've also attended some duds. Most of the time, the duds were not the instructor's fault, but a function of the attendees.

For example, I attended a Domino administration class in which a small company sent the front-desk secretary in order to save the consulting fee for setting up the Domino server. She led the class down every direction but administration, and we all suffered. Still, IBM classes are a great way to learn if you already have a background in the technology.

Find iSeries classes at community colleges
Local community colleges offer some System i-based classes. If your area college doesn't, ask the CIS department head why it doesn't. Two local colleges in Denver offer RPG, CL and System i operations classes. IBM and other IT vendors should press universities to provide more well-rounded CIS education, and one offering should include System i. More companies might explore System i if college graduates had greater exposure to it.

Read IBM manuals and books to enhance iSeries learning
Finally, there is nothing like a good book or tech manual; and I love to work through these resources at my own pace. You can find books online for any of your System i needs. While they can be expensive, they're a great source of information.

No matter how you expand your System i knowledge, there is a way. Hard work always pays off, and staying up to date on the technology is a plus.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Vasta is the Lotus Notes Administration Team Lead over North America at Atlas Copco. He has 17 years of data center and iSeries experience working in companies such as IBM, REAL and Cingular.

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