Text: Torbjörn Appehl
** THIS ARCITLE CAN ALSO BE FOUND IN SWEDISH HERE: https://www.commonsweden.org/?p=6040 **
Earlier this year, two students at the Swedish bank “Handelsbanken” were asked to do an investigation about IBM i and the future of the platform. The two students, Veronica Randleff och Victor produced among other things the following article.
Article IBM i
When the two of us (students at KTH, Royal Institute of Technology) heard “Would you like to do a pre-study about IBM i …” we felt a bit lost. On behalf of Handelsbanken they wanted us, two students on the second year of the program Computer Science and engineering, to conduct a pre-study about one of the oldest platforms at the bank. We had barely heard about System i, RPG or Power. Possibly had we glimpsed an “old-fashioned” green and black screen somewhere, but that was also the only “experience” that we had. Why would we be appropriate for this? But after some research, discussions with people who were very familiar with the platform and especially after interviews with very devoted people, we gained a totally different perspective. You could say that our lack of experience, when it comes to the platform, together with our experience at the university has contributed to a unique analyse and pre-study. Not only do we now realise that IBM i can be very modern, but also that we who are young and (hopefully) soon to be graduates, have a lot to contribute to the platform.
Who are we?
Almost two years ago did we, Victor Wiklund and Veronica Randleff, start at Handelsbanken and their new initiative Studentprogrammet. This means that beside our studies at KTH we also work at one of Handelsbanken’s IT-departments as a trainee program throughout our engineering education. We have during our two years at KTH studied a lot of mathematics, programming and technology. But none of us has during this period heard anything about IBM i or RPG. So when we started to work at Handelsbanken’s department for card transactions, in the beginning of February, and was offered to start a pre-study about this, we accepted with some reservation and respect.
The pre-study was based on a number of purposes and questions to be answered. These were primarily:
- Map how big IBM i is in Sweden and internationally
- What future is there for the platform?
- Which companies, except from Handelsbanken, is investing in IBM i?
- How can Handelsbanken attract new employees directly from university to System i?
Trying to answer these questions and explore different problem areas for the platform therefore became our focus during spring 2015. In order to do this we conducted a number of interviews with people both from Handelsbanken and other companies. These interviews were conducted with developers, technicians, IT-architects and people with manager roles. They were also structured with some questions which all were aiming to provide a picture that was as nuanced and wide as possible. The questions were e.g. ”What is your background to the platform?”, “How do you look at the future for IBM i?” and “In what ways can staffing be a problem?”. We also looked at different forms of RPG (fixed format, free format and full free format) and compared this to programming languages that we have been taught at KTH, e.g. Java and C. Maybe the most exciting part of the pre-study was the visit to Handelsbanken’s IT-department in London, with purpose on investigating the international differences when it comes to how the platform is used and seen.
People we met
During this spring we have interviewed nearly 20 people from different departments at Handelsbanken and from other companies that in some way work with IBM i, and has because of this got an idea of the platform. We met Mats Lidström from ICE Services who showed there prize winning and modern database and web application. Torbjörn Appehl talked about his background at IBM and showed how it is constantly modernised and upgraded even though it is not advertised. We talked to Thomas Lindqvist about how he is involved in staffing and skills development on the platform. And from all these exciting meetings have we then tried to find the consensus in order to put together this in the pre-study. We have, based on the interviews and our insight in university today, tried to give our opinion about advantages, disadvantages, modernization and recruitment for IBM i.
What we came up with
What we mainly heard on our interviews where how many advantages the platform has. Reliability, stability and handling a very large amount of data were some of these, which most whom work with the platform seems to agree about.
But IBM has not totally left the rumours behind about being “old” and antiquated. There is a general notion that the platform belongs to the past and that it is not a platform to invest in. This is something we heard from a majority of the companies and people we talked to. But that is not necessarily true. As we see it, the platform has become more and more modern and the new format of RPG is easy to learn for graduates. IBM themselves are investing a lot on the platform and has therefore a good belief in the future. These rumours about the platform being old are only slowing down the progress, both for companies and young programmers.
We have understood that there is a need for more young people at the platform, there is no doubt about it. After this pre-study we believe that it is highly possible to both attract them and to quickly benefit from them. The first thing we have to realise is that you can hire young programmers without long experience. They will be productive and important at work without 20 years of experience of RPG and IBM i. We saw several example of this. It is also important to talk about the platform and its future to attract younger employees. We need to leave the rumours about IBM i as finished.
We who are students often got the question during the pre-study: “Would you work with IBM i, is it something that you could see yourselves work with?” In the beginning of the pre-study our answer would have been: “Well, we do not know so much about the platform isn’t it quite old?” Now, afterwards, when we have seen that working on the platform could be modern, that there is a huge demand for new employees, many international possibilities and great believes in the future, we can confidently say: “absolutely!” Spread this understanding and we believe that many new and motivated employees will gather to work with IBM i.