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IBM i (AS/400 and iSeries) How I Miss Thee!

My entry to the world of Information Technology was via IBM Mid-Range Systems, starting with the IBM System 34 (S/34). A relative asked me to help him "computerize" his import/export business. A friend of his had recommended the S/34, so that's what I ended up working with. I picked up RPG pretty quickly, and when that project was done I landed a programming job with the software vendor we have chosen.

That job exposed me to the System 36 (S/36), which was essentially a hardware update of the S/34. The next job also gave me exposure to the System 38 (S/38), which was a completely different beast. I didn't really get to know the S/38 very well, since the project I worked on was a proprietary menu system that worked across all three midrange platforms. That meant even though I was technically programming on the S/38 in RPGIII, as much as possible the code had to be compatible with the S/34, meaning it was really "dumbed down" code.

It was during my first business venture as an IBM Business Partner (in the MAP, or Marketing Assistance Program) that I got my first real exposure the S/38. Rumors were abounding about IBM's Silverlake Project, the new midrange system that was to somehow merge the S/36 and S/38. IBM started dropping strong hints that my partner and should get S/38 training, which we did. When the Advanced System 400 (AS/400) was announced the reasoning behind their suggestions was immediately clear; the AS/400 was what the S/38 was intended to be all along, and the merging of the S/36 and S/38 was accomplished by providing an environment on the AS/400 that would run S/36 code.

Being IBM Business Partners, we were among the first companies in Atlanta to take delivery of an AS/400, a lowly "B" model about the size of a two drawer file cabinet. It was slow, as is typical when new operating systems first come out; OS/400 was an extremely powerful OS, and the hardware had some catching up to do.

This was still when manuals were all printed, and we must have had twenty or thirty 3 and 4 inch binders for the AS/400. The binders actually occupied more space then the machine itself! But what fun I had. I spent nights reading manuals and days trying what I had learned. One of the more fun things was the newest implementation of RPG. While not a Structured Programming Language (in the parlance of the day), the new operating codes enabled it convincingly imitate a Structured Programming Language. I banned the "Goto" op code from our shop, which led one employee to accuse me of forcing him to write Structured COBOL disguised as RPG.

I lived, breathed, and yes, even dreamed in RPG (I would have dreams where I was trying to "debug" my life, which was in the form of a huge RPG program). And IBM kept extending and improving OS/400; it seemed there was no end to what it would eventually be able to do. The Integrated Language Environment (ILE) let you write programs in any AS/400 supported language that would integrate seamlessly into one application. Multiple operating systems could run on the AS/400 and use a common database (if you know the difference between ASCII and EBCDIC you know what a feat that was).

Sadly for me, I was between contracts when the 9/11 terror attacks occurred, and the ensuing economic downturn combined with family health issues took me out of the AS/400 world for a few years. By the time I was in a position to pursue AS/400 jobs again, I had no "current" experience, and with every job posting drawing hundreds if not thousands of applicants, I was not able to find AS/400 RPG work. I moved on to other worlds, which means my recent experience is primarily Microsoft Access, VBA, and SQL work.