Application modernisation on the IBM i: Developers, Developers, Developers!

RPG, the programming language that remains very popular on the IBM i platform is often criticised for being a bit… venerable. It is certainly true that the language goes all the way back to 1959 and is one of the very few languages developed for punched card processing that is still in common use today.

However, in its current incarnation the language is a very different beast to its precursors. ILE RPG is every bit as modern, functional and flexible as its more recent rivals and, when it comes to encapsulating business rules, ILE RPG on an IBM i remains an unbeatable combination.

This is only true, however, if programmers take advantage of the features provided and, in far too many cases, they don’t.

When people talk about modernising RPG or about modernising i applications it is worth keeping in mind that the perceived datedness does not stem from either the languages or the tools. The real problem lies in the army of semi-competent, under-resourced developers scattered across isolated offices and churning out code that would have been embarrassing twenty years ago.

The backward compatibility that the IBM i retains is a hugely important part of the box’s appeal. Knowing that you can simply apply any upgrade that comes along without any downtime or breakages is a significant part of the i’s stability and provides a great deal of peace of mind to those administering it. The downside of this, however, is that it also makes it very easy for developers to settle into their comfort zones and quietly watch the rest of the industry pass them by.

These are the people that IBM needs to reach out to. IBM needs to convince these people that it is in their interest to understand how to make the most of the available languages and tools. I suspect that IBM will also need to convince IT managers that the productivity gains to be made from moving forward far outweigh the cost of training, but this is what marketing folks are for.

The IBM i is a secure, stable, reliable and powerful platform and RPG is a powerful, functional and flexible language that enables very small teams to develop and maintain very large systems. I am increasingly of the view that what undermines the platform more than anything else is the large number of developers who are unwilling to keep up with the technology.

This rant was provoked by the goto statement I found in a three year old program.

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