The concept of “computing” and computers have evolved rapidly over the last two decades, thanks to advances in technologies like cloud.
Access to powerful computing resources became more mainstream, and many legacy systems became obsolete.
Just like horse and buggy manufacturers became obsolete when cars came, the jobs and career opportunities associated with fading technologies started becoming obsolete.
However, you would be wrong to put IBM i in this category.
The current line of IBM Power Systems (the successors of the classic AS400 line) is still the server of choice for many businesses with hybrid cloud needs.
Power 10, the latest in line with the IBM Power series, supports IBM i, IBM AIX, and IBM Linux. IBM's distributed infrastructure business segment (which includes IBM Power) experienced an increase of 6.6% in revenue, and the Power 10 systems contributed to this growth.
The resilience, scalability, and constant innovation, which are augmented by IBM's strong position in the AI market, is one of the key drivers of this consistent growth, which in turn will fuel the demand for professionals with IBM i expertise.
IBM i Careers
At the time of writing this, there are hundreds of IBM i jobs available around the globe. The US is arguably the largest market for people with expertise in IBM i but there are several jobs in Europe as well, particularly in Germany and France.
Many of these jobs require familiarity with legacy AS/400 systems, but considering the still thriving market for newer systems like the Power 10 series, there is ample opportunity for growth in this segment. Many of the IBM i jobs currently available fall into certain broad categories.
This includes systems engineers and administrators who can develop, maintain, and modify AS/400 or newer servers and ensure seamless integration of various software systems with IBM native operating systems, including IBM i.
Many of these jobs are in data centres that use IBM i AS/400 and Power servers and need professionals to maintain these systems for their customers.
This reflects the presence of a strong niche market with a healthy demand for professionals. Like all roles, this may evolve in the coming years, but it will still take several years to even a decade for legacy systems like AS/400 to completely phase out and for the hybrid cloud market to change so radically that the skills associated with classic AS/400 series or new Power servers are no longer transferable.
For professionals who have these skills, there may still be a healthy number of opportunities with good compensation since these niche sets of skills are in high demand.
For professionals that possess similar skill sets and wish to acquire/build IBM i expertise to enter this market, it’s imperative to look into the longevity of this market, the number of jobs available, and prospects in their specific area of expertise.
IBM i Programming: Language Skills, Careers, and Growth Opportunities
A significant number of jobs are associated with IBM i programming, and the trend may continue well into 2024.
However, there is a strong demand for developers with expertise in one of the native languages for IBM i and other IBM systems – RPG or Report Programming Generator.
RPG was developed by IBM in 1959 and has gone through multiple changes over the decades. It's one of the few programming languages natively supported by IBM i. The others include C, C++, and COBOL.
The current version of RPG that is still in use is RPG IV or ILE RPG. Since it's native to IBM systems, particularly the ones associated with the AS/400 series, and has limited to no applications elsewhere, it's a relatively niche and, in many cases, highly coveted skill.
Many of the IBM i jobs currently available are for RPG developers and project managers that can oversee the entire lifecycle of the projects built on this programming language, deployed across IBM servers running on IBM i operating systems, and integrating them with other applications (including cloud deployment).
Career Growth and Growth Drivers
It's important to understand that breaking into a specific ecosystem, like the one built around IBM i, is different from specializing in modern application ecosystems like Apple and Android.
IBM systems are mostly deployed at an enterprise level and may require more than entry-level skills. However, the careers are quite robust, with ample growth opportunities, especially if you keep up to date with the evolution of the ecosystem and its integrations.
One of the key growth drivers for IBM i would be AI. IBM is emerging as a major force in the AI marketplace, and since the Power 10 series (the successors of AS/400) are “AI-ready,” they may play a major role in the demand for professionals who can build AI applications and facilitate AI integrations on top of these systems.
The jobs for professionals who are already part of the IBM i ecosystem, upcoming professionals aspiring to join it, or professionals in other domains planning to switch to it, may remain in adequate supply for years to come. IBM AS/400 is relevant in the shape of a newer, more competitive IBM Power series, and their growth will sustain and grow the demand for professionals and expertise associated with them.