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Fresh Faces in IBM i Development

August 14, 2018

Last week I wrote the blog I had to write.  This week, I get to write the blog I’ve been wanting to write for most of the summer.
Last week was important, for sure: an announcement about Technology Refreshes and the big POWER9 systems. It’s part of our communication strategy that I write a blog for announce day. 
This week, the story is more strategically important—plus, it’s just fun!


Last year, saw the introduction of the “Fresh Faces of IBM i” campaign from marketing. It’s been very successful because it allows the whole IBM i community to meet people—usually fairly young people—who are new to IBM i and the Power Systems platform. This year, we’ve introduced another “class” of Fresh Faces in the IBM i community, and it’s been exciting and inspiring to hear from them. We learn from them, we use their stories as examples of how to bring new people to the platform, and we get a bit excited by seeing another wave of developers, architects and administrators filling the ranks.
After I returned to Rochester in June from my long string of conferences, user group meetings and client visits, I mentioned to our IBM i management that I’d like to meet the “Fresh Faces”—recent hires in our Rochester IBM i development team. I knew we’d done some hiring in the past couple years and were doing so again this year, and I thought maybe I’d hold a roundtable with the new developers.  So we started setting it up.
Little did I know when I started organizing that a single roundtable wouldn’t work—there are simply too many Fresh Faces for that! 
So, what started as a roundtable became a session in which I had the chance to speak in front of most of the IBM i development Fresh Faces and give them some key messages about our client and partner base, how we interact with you, and what the future would hold for them as they advance in careers and learn more about IBM i.  
Then, we gathered for a photo. That’s the photo at the top of the blog. Isn’t that a great looking group of young developers (and one “less than young” architect)?
I had a great time meeting them. I knew Sarah Mackenzie from our time together in Warsaw for the COMMON Europe Congress, but this was my first chance to meet most of the rest. (And there were several Fresh Faces who couldn’t attend; the meeting was held on a beautiful summer day, and no one can be blamed for doing something other than work on such a day in Minnesota!)
I wanted to share this story for a couple reasons that I think ought to be obvious, but rather than just assume you can all draw the right conclusions, I’ll talk about them.  And then I’ll talk about one more reason I want to tell the story.
The Future Depends on Fresh Faces
First, just as with our client and partner base, we need new developers to join the IBM i development team so that we can help them grow into the next generation of leaders and technology owners for the operating system. The future of the platform depends on it.
Having such a large group is fantastic. Some of these people will want to learn a component deeply and never leave it. Some will want to learn many things, and become key to carrying the architecture forward, whatever we do in IBM i in the future. A group this large will allow each person to follow his or her own type of path.
And, for your awareness, there are a couple other “waves” of developers who joined the company before these folks did, in addition to the group of us who’ve been around since the AS/400 came out (more or less.)  
This means that when we’re thinking about the future of IBM i, we can all be confident we have people in place who are learning to pick up the reins.
Fresh Faces Mean Commitment
Second, this sort of hiring does not happen unless IBM as a company is certain it wants to invest in the IBM i business.  Clearly, it does.  
I get asked frequently about the strength of IBM’s commitment to IBM i. I point people to our IBM i Strategy & Roadmap whitepaper, with its opening letter that talks about IBM’s commitment. I tell people about the growth we’re experiencing—our executives talked about that growth at COMMON’s POWERUp18 event, at which point we had had two quarters of strong growth.  
Stefanie Chiras, then vice president of IBM Power Systems offering management said, “We didn’t release POWER9 until the 22nd of March, so we grew 7 percent in first quarter on the back of POWER8, which had been in the market since 2014.  That’s not driven by a new processor—that’s value in the platform that’s being recognized.”
Now we’ve had some POWER9 systems in the market, and we keep doing well. We’ve extended that string of growth quarters to three. These results help justify that the support given to IBM i by executives is being rewarded.
The point, of course, is that a strong group of Fresh Faces in IBM i development is also a strong indicator of the importance IBM places in the future of IBM i.  
A Fresh Faces Strategy
Finally, one more point—and you’d have had no way to know this part.
I recently celebrated my 11th year as Chief Architect of IBM i. I began this position in the summer of 2007; less than a year before the convergence into Power Systems and the GA of 6.1, which would be the first release named “IBM i.”
Once I took the position and gathered a team around me, we did some initial strategic planning.  What were the biggest goals we needed to attain in the short, medium and long term?  What resources did we have at our disposal, or available to us if we worked for them? (These are two of the “Big Questions” you need to ask when building a strategy.)
Well, one of the long-term strategic goals we knew we needed to achieve was generating an influx of talent in our community. All long-lived platforms were going to face this issue within the next decade. How were we going to address it for IBM i?
Since then, many of the enhancements we’ve made to IBM i, and most of the involvement we’ve had in the community, have had “Fresh Faces” as part of their justification.  Some clear examples should pop to your mind when you think about it.  
RPG had to be modernized. It had to be able to “talk to” the rest of the world so it could be used in a world populated by Fresh Faces, and it had to be able to be learned by new developers. Open Access; web service capability; free format RPG; the related advancements in RDi. When these requirements came up, it was easy to see they would be needed to head in the Fresh Faces strategic direction. (We didn’t call it Fresh Faces then, but now we have a name for it!)
Open-source languages would be required.  We knew that no matter how hard we worked to get RPG into college curricula, and no matter how much the industry was still pushing Java (the support of which we were still improving), a large majority of future Fresh Face developers were going to know PHP and other open-source languages.
And there are more. But let’s move on. You get the idea.

IBM i Open Source developers Jesse Gorzinski, Mark Irish, Kevin Adler and Abdirahim Musse.
I’m the only IBM i Business Architect still in IBM i development from 11 years ago, when I became Chief Architect. But our strategic initiatives, internally, have been partially driven by this core goal—enabling young developers to come to IBM i.  
And internally, I’ve tried to help support my management team as they’ve carried a similar message through IBM. We not only need Fresh Faces in the client/partner community; we also need them in IBM i development.
Now, seeing the group of Fresh Faces I met this summer, I’m filled with satisfaction and hope. I wanted to write this blog, to tell this story, so you can share in the feeling.

Posted August 14, 2018| Permalink