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The FinTech Future of IBM i

Buildings With fintech companies moving toward the creation of new transaction models for blockchain support of payment and lending transactions, IBM has launched new developer tools, software, and training programs targeted at financial services industry software developers. Version 7.3 of IBM i was released in April 2016. Requiring little to no onsite IT administration during standard operations, IBM i is making blockchain programming endeavors possible.

IBM BlueMix Garage developers are using the Bluemix PaaS (platform as a service) capabilities to test network solutions on the cloud designed to unlock the potential of blockchain. The Hyperledger Project set up to advance blockchain technology as a cross-industry, enterprise-level open standard for distributed ledgers, will be critical to development of the latest in fintech services IaaS (infrastructure application as service) technologies as they emerge.

The collaboration of software developers on blockchain framework and platform projects, stands to promote the transparency and interoperability of fintech IaaS. Providing the support required to bring blockchain technologies into adoption by mainstream commercial entities, BlueMix Garage developers are keen on IBM i database software programming as turn-key solution to operating systems on PowerSystems and PureSystems servers.

Recent release of fintech and blockchain courses by the IBM Learning Lab, offers training and use cases for financial operations analysts and developers. Offered in partnership with blockchain education programs and coding communities, IBM is engaged with the best in cognitive developer talent to capture ideas for the next generation of APIs, artificial intelligence apps, and business process solutions from the IBM i community.

Student Innovation Award – Recognizing “Innovation” in Information Systems and Technology

At the end of October in 2016, COMMON wrapped up its annual Fall Conference. It was there that we saw nearly 300 attendees, including 31 students and eight educators from eight different colleges getting top-notch education on a wide range of topics related to IBM i and Linux.

For the students and their educators, this experience allows them to get hands-on education and networking opportunities that they can’t get in a classroom.  But for the COMMON community, we recognize the great potential in the students as our future professionals. As such, we want our relationship with them to extend beyond the confines of the Conference through to the halls of their schools and continue throughout their education and well on into their careers.

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Last year’s Student Innovation Award winner Liam Allen with Michelle August from the COMMON Education Foundation.

One of the ways COMMON seeks to engage students, and ultimately help them succeed is by offering a Student Innovation Award each year. Now in its third year, the Student Innovation Award recognizes an academic-related information system project that is considered “Innovative”. Projects can include anything that improves a process, increases performance, improves productivity or even the development of a new tool or application.  Open to all students and recent graduates enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program focused on Information Systems, Enterprise Computing, Computer Science, Information Technology or a related concentration, the Grand Prize winner receives an expense paid trip to COMMON’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition. COMMON’s Annual Meeting and Exposition is a premier industry event, where students can have access to four full days of IT education from authorities in the industry.

The 2016 Student Innovation Award Winner was Liam Allen. At the time, Liam was a student at Fareham College in Hampshire, England. He built Project Alexis, a stack-based virtual machine that dynamically retrieves data from a physical file as a character without the need to declare any variables for functions. Liam’s project and subsequent exposure to key people and vendors resulted in him landing a full-time job within the industry. He can be seen regularly doing speaking engagements at numerous IBM i conferences.

The Student Innovation Award represents a unique opportunity for students to demonstrate their skillset and be recognized for their accomplishments. Winning can provide them with exposure to the key people that can launch their career in the right direction. If you are a student or a recent graduate with an innovation you’d like to share, consider submitting your project for the Student Innovation Award. More information on the award, its prizes and submission requirements can be found on our Student Innovation Award page.

IT Careers for 2017 – Calling All Cybersecurity Professionals

Cybersecurity

It should probably come as no surprise that 2017 forecasts as the year for cybersecurity professionals. It seems almost every week there is a report of another data breach from a company like Yahoo!, a major hospital or even some of the highest levels of government. Even technology companies such as Oracle and Cisco have reported security breaches in 2016.

According to Information Management, not only will cybersecurity positions be the most in demand IT Career of 2017, they will also garner the highest salaries of any position in information technology. Since the threat of an attack is becoming more commonplace, many companies are having to turn to third-party security services to manage an incident since it is so difficult to find in-house cybersecurity talent. For any new graduate looking for a new job, all this is very encouraging.

So what are some of the things an individual can do to prepare themselves for a career in cybersecurity? According to Burning Glass, 84% of their cybersecurity postings require at least a bachelor’s degree.  About one-third of their positions also call for industry certification. Of course, practical IT skills are essential as well. In other words, individuals need real, hands-on experience working with technology on a daily basis in order to know how to properly protect a system and resolve any security threats. Specifically, expertise in areas such as cloud computing/virtualization, database management, coding, auditing and compliance, firewalls, analytics and intelligence, SIEM management, access/identity management, advanced malware prevention and administering and configuring networks are all highly desirable skills for those interested in pursuing cybersecurity positions.

For those individuals still in school or for anyone working in another area of IT who thinks cybersecurity might be of interest, sign up for local security groups in your city or at your college or university. You can also get involved in industry competitions such as CTFtime.org to challenge yourself and see how well your cybersecurity talents hold up against others.

For anyone deciding to pursue further education or skills in cybersecurity, 2017 promises to be a banner year.

Don’t forget that COMMON can help you with your cybersecurity training. View all security-related sessions available at the 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The Lifelong Benefits of Continuing Education

Why Continuing Education?

Many college grads initially consider their bachelor’s degree as a means to an end.  A degree they needed before they start their “real life”. With time, many come to realize that education is actually a lifelong pursuit. Continuing one’s education is not just a way to potentially have a career advantage, but can actually be a source of great personal enrichment.

IT is Dynamic

The field of information technology will never be a static field. Anyone who has worked in the field for just a relatively short time knows that it is incredibly dynamic. In truth, it can be difficult to even keep abreast of the constant evolution of ideas and concepts and their practical application in both the software and hardware arenas. By continuing one’s education, it shows your employer that you understand how critical it is for professionals to constantly engage in their field, even outside the workplace. One can learn a great deal about technology while on the job.  However, without participating in learning opportunities independent of your particular company, over time, the tendency for your knowledge and skills to become company-specific increases.

Personal Growth

On a more personal level, those working in IT are typically goal-oriented individuals. They actually perform better, both personally and professionally, when they are pursuing and achieving goals. Continuing education offers these types of individuals a natural outlet for their innate need for advancement and progress. From a financial perspective, since many companies offer as part of their benefit package, at least partial or perhaps even full reimbursement for tuition costs, it is a very wise move to take advantage of free educational opportunities.

Other Benefits

Lastly, the more obvious advantage of pursuing additional education comes into play when employees are bargaining for a higher salary and/or benefits. Employers typically will recognize the accomplishments of those with additional degrees and pay accordingly.

Swift and Kitura

SwiftMost developers think of Swift as Apple’s latest open source language for macOS and iOS. However, IBM is also putting a lot of effort behind it. The open-source Swift language is suited for many kinds of work, and IBM is promoting it as a language for Web and cloud applications.

KituraIBM’s Kitura Web framework, written in Swift, includes its own HTTP server. It aims at the development of full-stack applications using Bluemix and an OS X or Linux server.

IBM Cloud Tools for Swift simplify the job of developing applications using Swift on both the client and server sides. Currently the emphasis is on mobile applications, but Apple is energetically moving to Swift for macOS (formerly OS X) development, so Mac-native clients will be feasible.

Swift includes many modern features, compiling to very efficient code while providing a higher level of code safety than the C-based languages which have traditionally been used for low-level code. The features contributing to code safety include:

  • Almost no use of raw memory pointers. They’re available when it’s necessary to address memory directly, but otherwise aren’t needed.
  • Restricted use of null values. A common software bug is the failure to handle unexpected null (called nil in Swift) values. Normal variables in Swift never have nil values. A variable has to be declared optional in Swift to allow nil, calling attention to the need for checking. An optional can be assigned to a normal value after excluding the nil case.
  • Safer switch statements. A switch statement must exhaustively cover all cases, and cases don’t fall through to the next one by default.

Developers can join the Kitura community by submitting a Contributor License Agreement. There are a lot of opportunities for developers to contribute to Swift and Kitura projects.

The Move to Cloud Storage is Gathering Steam

Both large enterprises and smaller companies are well into a process of transitioning their data storage from on-premises data centers to the cloud. The advantages of cloud-based IT storage are compelling.

Advantages

First, cloud storage relieves a company of the necessity of up-front capital spending to purchase storage hardware. Cloud storage vendors store the data in their own remote data centers and charge a monthly fee for just the amount of storage a customer actually uses in that billing period.

Another advantage is that good cloud storage providers are experts in data management, data security, backups and disaster recovery. This takes a tremendous load off a customer’s in-house IT staff, which can then devote its attention to issues that are more focused on the company’s core businesses.

Concerns

One of the major concerns many IT managers have about moving to the cloud is the security of their data when it resides in someone else’s facilities. But that concern is being alleviated by two factors.

The first is that due to the nature of their business, cloud storage providers are necessarily extremely competent at protecting their clients’ data, and can usually do a better job of it than all but the largest companies can do on their own.

The second factor that mitigates concern about using cloud storage is that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Many companies have settled on a hybrid solution that keeps their most business-critical data at home in their own data centers, while farming out less sensitive data to a cloud storage provider. Many times a cloud storage vendor actually implements and manages a private cloud on the customer’s premises. A survey by 451 Research indicates that by the end of 2014, 39 percent of enterprises had already moved to a hybrid solution.

Outlook

In 2015 spending by hardware manufacturers such as IBM on equipment destined for use in cloud data centers grew by 22 percent to almost $29 billion. According to IDC, spending on cloud infrastructure is expected to reach $37.5 billion by 2020.

As they become more familiar with the advantages of cloud computing, companies big and small are deciding that the cloud should be an integral part of their data storage infrastructure.

Cloud

Early Exposure Makes All the Difference

This week, December 5th – 11th, marks the 8th annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek). Originally launched in 2009 by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), CSEdWeek is an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science. From students in the classroom to their teachers and administrators, all the way to corporate professionals in any industry, CSEdWeek is designed to spark an interest and engage people both from within and outside of the computing community. In 2013, CSEdWeek launched the Hour of Code initiative. A success out of the gate, the Hour of Code introduces people to their first hour of computer science. Aimed specifically at students, the Hour of Code is now a global movement that reaches students in mchildren-593313_1920ore than 180 countries, but truthfully anyone can do it. Hour of Code tutorials include content featuring the latest trends. From using Javascript to code in Minecraft to using Scratch to form a glitch in the Amazing World of Gumball, tutorials, offered in 45 languages, are a perfect introduction to coding for any age, young or old.

Initiatives like the Hour of Code expose today’s youth to computer science at an early age, generating an initial interest that could turn into a lifelong career. And since technology drives everything from medicine to agriculture, it’s vital to attract and engage the next generation of professionals to keep the overall industry flourishing. For places like the COMMON Education Foundation (CEF), where fostering the development and growth of future IT professionals is their mission, general industry recognition programs like CSEdWeek are incredibly beneficial in attracting the demographic they’ll potentially serve in the future. This year, to mark CSEdWeek and the development of future IT professionals, the COMMON Education Foundation would like to ask for your help. We have year-round initiatives that provide financial assistance to both students and educators in the Information Technology field. Financial assistance comes in the form of tuition scholarships for students as well as financial assistance for both students and faculty members to attend COMMON Conferences. As millions this week will be exposed to computer science through the Hour of Code, we’d like to ask for your support in donating to one of the CEF’s many initiatives. You can help in one of two ways, you can donate through the COMMON Education Foundation’s site or you can participate by donating through Amazon Smile.  Your donation, no matter the size, can help provide a solid foundation for the future of computer science.

 

Considerations for Selecting the Right IT Vendor

As always, the field of information technology is growing exponentially. Along with ever-expanding growth comes a plethora of players, all seeming to offer the perfect IT solution for your company. Here are a few tips to consider when determining how to select the best IT vendor in order to meet both current and future technology needs.

Does the vendor believe in the product?

One of the most telling signs as to whether an IT vendor really believes in their products, is if they actually use what they are selling. If they do, it certainly speaks volumes as to the confidence level in their own products. If they don’t, it certainly is a tough sell to tout their products to others. Most vendors promote their products based upon the promises of reduced costs and increased productivity. If you want to determine whether or not that is actually the case, take a look at their financial reports. Their promises should show up for the vendor company or any other company they might mention as a reference.

Does the product “play nice” with others?

Another important consideration is interoperability. Do the products an IT vendor offers play well with others? Although there is the advantage of initial simplicity when choosing homogeneous products, potentially it does narrow one’s future and reduces the opportunity for diverse expansion and growth. Many companies these days see the value of solutions with built-in flexibility and are shying away from getting locked into homogeneous solutions.

Will the vendor be there for you?

Of course, service after the sale is important as well. When problems crop up, it’s important to know your IT vendor provides the stability and continuity in their workforce so you have a solid relationship upon which you can rely. For honest reviews of a particular company, you can check out sites like Glassdoor. If the employee turnover rate for a particular IT vendor is high, then chances are you will spend a fair amount of time re-making initial connections with reps instead of interacting with someone who knows you and your company very well.

Conclusion: Do Your Research

In essence, selecting a good IT vendor is not only about listening to sales presentations and then selecting the one with the most appeal. It also involves conducting further research to verify sales material and understanding the relationship with the vendor after the sale is just as important as the product itself.

IBM Expects Flash Memory Technology to Take Off

The term “flash” refers to semiconductor memory that retains data even after it is powered down. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are arrays of flash memory that interface to a using system just as if they were hard disk drives (HHDs).

FlashThe great advantage of flash/SSDs for IT storage is their extremely fast performance relative to equivalent HDDs. A hard drive consists of rotating platters on which data is laid down in tracks. A read/write head must be physically moved to the proper track in order to transfer data. Once in position, the head must wait for the rotation of the platter to bring the desired data block into position where it can be read or written. All this physical movement takes time (a combination of seek time and latency).

But SSDs have no moving parts. They are random access devices that can address a memory location almost instantly. Clearly, from a performance standpoint, flash memory is superior in almost every way to hard disk technology. But there’s a price to pay for all that speed. Compared to HDDs, flash technology has been very expensive. Until recently cost has been the major factor inhibiting widespread use of SSDs for high-capacity storage.

But the cost ratio between SSDs and equivalent HDDs is changing fast. As flash technology matures, SSD prices are coming down rapidly. IBM projected that in 2016, flash memory would reach a price point where its utility for what’s called Tier 1 storage (data that requires the fastest access times) would accelerate its momentum in the marketplace. And by 2019, IBM estimates, flash will become the dominant storage technology, displacing HDDs from that position. Many customers are already rushing to flash because not only is it fast, but it’s also easier to manage than HDD-based storage.

For years now the elevation of flash-based drives past HDDs in the market has been predicted. According to IBM, that time has now arrived.

Reasons to Program in Python

For those who operate Linux operating systems, Python is a staple. Many programmers find Python easier to use than its counterparts, C++ and Java. Here are 5 reasons why Python is preferable when you code on the command line.

Why Python?

  1. Python uses a more streamlined set of commands
  2. The syntax of Python is much easier to read
  3. Most operating systems recognize the Python programming language
  4. In true open-source fashion, Python is free and utilizes community based technical support
  5. Python is useful in solving issues pertaining to Internet protocols, software engineering, operating system interfaces, etc.

Philosophy

On Python’s website, the organization outlines its philosophy. It’s summarized in a list they call PEP 20 – The Zen of Python. Such examples of their coding manifesto include mantras such as (just to name a few):

  • Beautiful is better than ugly
  • Simple is better than complex
  • Sparse is better than dense

Getting Started

Tutorials on coding with Python exist throughout the Internet. From the novice programmer to the expert programmer, the coding is simple to master. As previously mentioned, technical support is community based. This is especially useful when submitting bug reports. Programmers work extra hard to provide patches for any disturbances in the language. Forums are always available for any questions you have. Experts try to answer user questions clearly and concisely.

What’s in a Name?

pythonWhy is the name Python? The answer is simple. The name comes from the British cult comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Unlike the Spanish Inquisition, you can expect to have good results while navigating through this user-friendly open source programming language.

Discuss Python by joining the Open Source Community within Cosmo.