Viennese IBM i Anniversary and Birthday Celebrations

Vienna, Austria, June  2018

The 2018 COMMON Europe trip was divided up into two very distinct segments.

The first half occurred in Warsaw, you can read about it here.

The second half, which occurred immediately after Warsaw was an entirely different experience.   Larry Bolhuis (current President of COMMON U.S.)  and I were guests of Christoph Cuscoleca, who is the Technical Director of COMMON Europe and a member of COMMON Austria.  Christoph had booked two different speaking events for us.

From AS/400 to IBM i, Happy 30th Anniversary

As part of our first full day in Vienna we attended a 30th Anniversary party of IBM i.  It was held at the Restaurant Waldgrill Cobenzl,  just outside of Vienna.  Attending the event was the one and only Dr. Frank Soltis, the Father of the AS/400.  Frank, Larry and I were to speak at the event.   What made this day extra special is that our event took place on the actual 30th anniversary, June 21st.    My topic was my personal evolution with AS/400 into IBM i.

I remarked how, no matter where I go, clients tell me how they all say they received the “first” system ever shipped.  I then asked Frank to clarify this.  He jokingly replied that IBM told everyone that they received the first one 😊.

The cake(s) – At each event was a cake created in the likeness of AS/400 or IBM i.   At this event the cake was presented in the black box red-striped incarnation.   It was fun to see all the creativity and to re-live all of the different moments in the system evolution.

Meeting everyone – as always, the best part is moving from table to table and connecting with all of the attendees.  It’s striking how similar our technology and specifically IBM i stories are, regardless of where in the world we live.

One particular gentleman had a fascinating story to share, Mr. Arnulf Oplusstil.  He told me how he attended the COMMON conference in 1964!  Impressive indeed!

 

The IT Students

Christoph is an instructor at The Schule for IT.   At the COMMON Europe Congress there were several of Christoph’s students from Austria.    Some of these students attended my sessions.  I enjoyed chatting with them and discussing their futures in IT.   Since Larry and I booked the same return flights to Austria as them, we had additional opportunities to chat with them along the way.  They are all graduating next week with degrees in Systems Administration or Engineering. They are all set to enter the workforce.

Speaking at the High School

On Friday we had the opportunity to visit a high school BG/BRG Klosterneuburg and be part of the “IT – Live on Stage” event.  This was a special year as it was the event’s 10th anniversary.   The same as the night before, Frank, Larry and I offered presentations to the students.   Many of the students who were present had just graduated.  Joining them were Christoph’s students from the college.   Everyone gave us their rapt attention.  My topic was Passion and The IBM i Community, what it was and how I came to be part of it.

Passion in your career –  My story of how I first learned RPG in Manhattan is so intertwined with my living in New York City that these stories must be told together.   I explained how NYC is configured, the five boroughs and how it was to grow up there.   I discussed my love of The Twin Towers and how they affected my life.

Bi-directional inspiration – After my presentation two students raised their hands and asked very interesting questions.  Tizion B. asked, “How do you know when you finally find your passion?”  and Helene V. asked, “How does your family support your passion?”

To Tizion, it’s just one of those things.  When there is nothing that can be put in your way to stop you from doing what you really want to do.  You feel it in your heart and you feel it in your bones.  For me, it was computers.

To Helene, your question gave me pause.  How does a family support our passion?  After some reflection here is my response.  Families can support us by enabling, that is to say giving us opportunities that encourage us.  For example, letting us be around people who share our passions is an excellent start.   When you surround yourself with like-minded people, everyone grows.  You might even find a mentor who can provide real-world experience, unlike anything you will ever learn from a textbook.   Another example is to watch how your own parents engage in their own passions.  This is a good model to see how time can be set aside for what is truly important.   And finally, giving you time to search and learn what you are actually passionate about.

When the event was over, I had another discussion with two recent graduates, Ferdinand B. and Sebastian Z.  I was delighted that they told me how my little story had inspired them.  The topic of passion came up once again.  These young men were heading off to study technology at their newly selected universities.  Clearly they had found their own passions and were willing to vigorously pursue them.

Whenever I meet young people who are so sure of what they want, and equally as important, of what they don’t want, I take away such unexpected yet very welcome inspiration.  It is extremely important to be reminded that there are so many young people in the world who are grounded and will keep advancing us all in a positive direction.   I find it very disconcerting how many people maintain a dim view of the next generations.  Yes, there are those who are followers and not leaders, but there is always a need for these types of people as well.  Be it in Vienna, Europe in general, the United States or anywhere else, I am quite confident we are in very good hands with their upcoming stewardship.

In Search of Mozart

Ever since I’ve seen both the play and movie Amadeus I’ve been fascinated with his life and music.  He was a genius, no doubt.  But his life which ended in mystery at age 35 continues to fascinate scholars.

One of the best moments of my Vienna visit was when I was outside the Mozarthaus.    We only had about 30 minutes remaining for sightseeing before our next meeting, so clearly there was no time for a formal museum visit.  I did however go inside and asked one of the staff members about the significance of Mozart in this location.   He told me to stay for a visit. When I explained my time constraint, he grabbed my arm and said, “Come with me.”  He then brought me inside to the center of the lobby entrance and said, “Take some quick pictures.  Mozart lived and worked here.”  I quickly took the pictures, absorbed the moment for what it was, thanked him and left.

During my stay in Vienna I was determined to walk in his steps and maybe catch a glimpse of what inspired him.   Instead, I was thrilled to actually get to meet him, and not some guy in a costume!  😊

 

Happy Birthday Christoph – another day, another treat (and  another cake!)

On Saturday evening we attended Christoph’s birthday party at his apartment.   It was great meeting and spending time with his family and friends.   And of course, his lovely wife Vivienne.

After we took a group photo Christoph declared that I must take a selfie.  So I did 😊.

Another of my favorite parts of my trip was having the opportunity to meet Christoph’s mother, Yvonne.   We immediately connected and told each other lots of fun stories.  I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.  Christoph is indeed a very lucky person to have such a mom!

 

Heading home

As always, all good things must come to an end.  My week in both Warsaw and Vienna was amazing.   Seeing old friends and making so many new ones.  And, yes, of course, Larry even found his name written on an elevator wall when we returned to the airport.

 

 

 

 

Reflections of COMMON Europe 2018

Warsaw, Poland – June 2018

I’m off!

Leaving from JFK in New York and I’m full of optimism.  I know it’s going to be a long set of flights, with a three-hour layover in Amsterdam.   But I challenge myself to keep smiling, knowing that I will be seeing my good friends once I’ve arrived.

Mid-flight checkup

It’s always a strange concept to me of crossing six-time zones in such a short amount of time.  Trying to fall asleep when it is only 8 PM in your brain is difficult.   As a result, you keep waking up.   Obviously, your wear eye shades to simulate night.At one point I woke up and took a photo, just to see how ridiculous I looked and to prove to myself I could keep smiling.

 

Journeying on

Seven hours later we are in Amsterdam.   It was already 6 AM when I arrived, and very cloudy outside.   Another flight later I finally arrived in Warsaw.

Warsaw’s Old Town

Warsaw has an interesting history, with its citizens having to rebuild their entire city after World War II.  But rebuild they did, and what was created is nothing short of spectacular.  A true testament to the human spirit.

Old Town was easily walk-able from our hotel.  Some of my little tour included an outdoor park with gorgeous statues, a tomb of the unknown soldier, churches and of course unlimited European architecture.   You can learn more about Old Town’s history here.

 

The European Congress

Like other years, this conference included some of the most respected industry speakers with a very wide breadth of IBM i topics.   It was two and a half days long with over fifty high quality sessions.  Topics included application development, testing, database, IBM i future directions and system administration.    This organization is run entirely by very committed volunteers from all over Europe, and it shows.  If anything had gone awry it wasn’t obvious.   The common message was clear – this is a high-quality event that is worth attending, year after year.   To learn more about the COMMON European Congress click here.

 

Opening and closing events

Ranga Deshpande, the President of COMMON Europe offered the conference kickoff, followed by IBMers Alison Butterill, Ian Jarmin and Steve Will.   Their presentations focused on the vitality of the platform and how well it remains positioned to be the best application system for all different sized businesses.    Steve Will made an excellent point during his discussion –  very few technology companies provide the level of immediate access to their top executives that IBM does, fostering engaging business conversations.  Discussions where the executives are truly listening to the people who are in the trenches every day, using the technology to make their organizations prosper.  Alison, Ian and Steve shared customer stories from all over the globe.  To be sure, this was an exciting and fascinating opening session.

The closing event included a celebration to 30 years of innovation, from the birth of the AS/400 to today’s completely modern IBM i.  No closing celebration is complete without a celebratory cake, and IBM didn’t disappoint us.

Celebration dinner

On Tuesday evening we were treated to a wonderful celebration event at Warsaw’s Palace of Culture.  This building included an observation deck and a massive indoor marbled area.   It was a fun night and I was very happy to be there.   You can learn more about the Palace of Culture by clicking here.

COMMON European Congress 2019

The COMMON European Congress rotates its location each year and this year is no exception.   It was announced that next year’s Congress will be in Berlin, Germany.   This is being done in partnership with COMMON Germany.

Saving the best for last

Yes, the sights were beautiful, and the food was delicious.  But nothing compares to the friendly conversations with friends, old and new. Be it conference attendees,  flight attendants, taxi drivers or hotel staff, meeting and chatting with people is the best.   It takes so little effort to strike up a conversation and there is ALWAYS something we have in common (no pun intended), even though we are separated by thousands of miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelfware, Deadlines, Trials and the Pursuit of Better Coding – Part 2

 

My first blog on this topic (read it here), where a CIO wanted the team to use better tooling but received pushback,  generated some very spirited discussion.   Of course, what some people posted in public forums pales by comparison to some of the emails I received, but that’s a story for another day… Obviously there are developers who genuinely care and who want to upgrade their skills.  This I have always known and consider myself one of them.

This genesis is borne out of discussions I have had with some developers who have sat in an entire track of RDi training sessions. Upon conclusion they will come up to me and say, “Well, this is all great but my company won’t pay for the product.  That’s why we are still using the free version.”   And by that, of course, they’re referring to Websphere Development Studio Client, aka WDSC. The irony here is that I’m being told this at a conference;  the same place people are being sent to upgrade their skills!

WDSC – This, in my opinion, is a product that had it’s time, if it ever did, many years ago. It performed, to be kind, like a dog. In addition, it only validated RPG up to V5R4 – even worse than SEU! Today it is completely unsupported, as it should be (as is, BTW, V5R4 itself, along with 6.1 and 7.1).   Using WDSC means there is no possibility of code that is being maintained bearing any semblance to modern day RPG.  As for the being free part, as I understand it, it was never really ‘free’ at all. It was simply bundled into other licensed products, whereas today everything is a la carte.

Company not wanting to invest – The only one scenario I can possibly envision where this might occur is where there is a large number of developers and concern exists that the investment will fall flat.  Something like that shelfware thing… But, even in these situations, where an individual developer exhibits genuine initiative and wants to better both themselves and the company vis-à-vis increased productivity, this is a worthwhile investment.

Getting it done – If you’re a serious developer who wants to use modern tooling and keep hitting walls, here are some suggestions:

  • Download the trial version. It is the full featured product, not some dumbed down trial.  The only thing missing is a permanent license.  Use it for the entire trial period.  By the end you should have more than enough “ammunition” to demonstrate the ROI.  The price, incidentally, is a small fraction of your salary.  Yet productivity gains of 20, 30, even 40 or 50 percent are completely realistic and attainable.
  • As “radical” as this might sound, purchase the product yourself. You and you alone own your career.  Or negotiate a deal where your company will reimburse you over a certain period of months of continued use.

Full disclosure and summary – This blog took a lot of effort on my part to write since I don’t support the notion of suppressing appropriate tooling and modernization, particularly to those who wish to fully engage.  I believe as a manager that if someone seeks to improve their skills and makes a genuine effort then they should have full management support.  But, there also needs to be a legitimate ROI to the enterprise.   Even with a developer who is approaching retirement, having modern tools will still provide more productivity than ever before.   Of course, there is always the argument that if a developer is that close to retirement, perhaps a better use of their time is doing a “brain-dump” for the future staff.  That is how continuity is put in place and fire drills are (hopefully) prevented.

Finally, I tried really, really, really hard to see this issue through a developer’s eyes.  If you are working at a company that won’t support using new tools, then YOU need to advocate for yourself. For a company to dismiss the value of IT assets is a dim view indeed.  Having developers build and maintain huge complex systems and insisting they use only hammers and screwdrivers is a fool’s game.

I welcome your comments.

Shelfware, Deadlines, Trials and the Pursuit of Better Coding

“Why can’t my developers just download the trial RDi, learn it and use it during the evaluation period?”  This is a question I am often asked at conferences by IT managers.   I hear their frustration.  In the spirit of fair play, I have also listened to developers on this same topic.   Here is a fictitious yet very real conversation I imagine is going on in some shops.   I will weigh in with my own opinions in a future blog.

CIO – Why can’t you just download RDi already and test it during the evaluation period?  Surely you’re given ample time to understand how it will be useful in the shop.   If you can’t find time to commit to using it during the trial period then you will never find the time.  All of the other products we’ve trialed have been validated during the same amount of time with much confidence and success.

Developer – There is a distinction between a product and a development tool.  A product, with its trial period, either works or it doesn’t.   Its functional utility becomes obvious, or not.

With RDi, it’s not just a source code editor but an entire paradigm shift.   And it’s not a product where one can “set it and forget it.”   The adoption of a new development tool takes time, and that “slows me down” when I have pressing issues to deal with.

CIO – That argument holds true only in the short term.   RDi is so much more than a simple editor.  With all of the other views that enhance productivity, you’ll be coding faster – and better – in short order.

Developer – I have everything I need in SEU et al.  There is nothing you can do in RDi that I can’t do in PDM and SEU.  If you are so sure that RDi is that much better then buy it so I can use it when I have time.

CIO – No you can’t.  How big of a list do I need to create to show you how using RDi is light years ahead?  For starters, there’s no way you’re using any of the new functionality in RPG since SEU is stable at 6.1.  This means no fully free form for starters.  So many new built-in functions.  On-exit processing for procedures.   And that’s only the start. This means you’re writing new programs using old techniques.   Techniques that will remain in our production systems for years to come and cost us more with increasing technical debt.   Also, I refuse to spend money on a software tool that’s going to simply collect dust sitting on a shelf somewhere.   Show me you’re using it and I will happily pay for it.

Developer – Then I need more time.  Don’t forget, I need to learn not only LPEX but how to navigate in a new Rational IDE.  This takes time.  Far more than what is being offered because there’s no way I’m going to use this full time each day. You would never allow me to do this because my productivity would drop, and I wouldn’t be able to put out all of the fires.   I can commit to no more than a couple of hours each day.

CIO– That may be true in the beginning, but I’ll bet after the first week of two you will be spending more and more time in RDi for everyday tasks.   RDi offers features like filtering the view of the source, code refactoring, headless code coverage for enhanced testing, wizards to create procedures and D specs, RPG code templates, content assist.  The list goes on and on.

Developer – Then give me four months.  Or better yet, six. Maybe even a year.  I need to slowly assimilate.  That’s the only way I can wrap my head around this entire tool.   And that’s also the only way I can still maintain my current workload and provide solutions to this company.

CIO AND Developer, both throwing their hands in the air – You’ll never understand.

Another Successful Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association Conference!

Getting to the event and enjoying local color

We all know how one gets discombobulated, having to remove many items from carry on bags, taking off shoes, belts and jackets and occasionally being randomly picked out for a complete body search.   Well, at least the TSA folks in Milwaukee have a great sense of humor.  At the end of the security process you have the opportunity to recombobulate.

Before heading to the conference center in Delavan, we try to take in some local Milwaukee color.  This year was no exception, but there was an added bonus.  We walked along the Riverwalk and got to meet a real Milwaukee legend – The Bronze Fonz! 

 

After an incredible dinner at a local Chinese restaurant (and oh, yes, a quick selfie with our waiter) we were off to Delavan.

There’s nothing better than cramming into the back seat with good friends.  For a one hour drive.   It’s a good thing we all like each other!

 

Tuesday Night Expert Panel

In 2014, I was fortunate to be a panelist in my first year attending WMCPA.

Since then, for the last four years, I’ve had the privilege to moderate the expert panel – what a thrill. The topics have been Application and Database Modernization, Security and Open Source.

 

The list of panelists reads like a Who’s who in the IBM i community.

Current and former IBMers Robert Andrews, Alison Butterill, Rob Bestgen, Dr. Stephanie Chiras, Erwin Early, Jesse Gorzinski, Tom McKinley, Tim Rowe,  Debbie Saugen,  Dr. Frank Soltis and Steve Will.

Non IBMers included Tommy Atkins, Aaron Bartell,  Larry Bolhuis,  David Brault, Birgitta Hauser, Brian May, Mike Pavlak,  Jim Ritchhart,  Alan Seiden, Robin Tatam and Paul Tuohy.

2015

2016

2017

2018

The students

What amazes me the most about this conference is the amount of students and recent graduates that attend each year.   Proportionally speaking,  the percentage of students is probably higher here than any other conference I attend each year.    Of course, the word “student” can be misleading.  While you might think of someone who is fresh out of high school that has gone directly into college, the age range of these students is very wide.  This really impresses me, particularly for the older students who have had prior careers in a vast amount of industries and have decided to seek education in IT.

Lake Lawn Resort

One of the reasons I hear from many speakers why this is one of their favorite places to speak is the location itself.   Lake Lawn is a large, rustic facility.  While I’m sure the lawn is outstanding in the summer it’s almost always covered in snow while we’re there.  The lake, however, is a different story.  I’m sure in the summer it provides hours and hours of enjoyment each year to its guests.  However,  since the conference is held in  in March the lake is always frozen.  It’s still a delight to enjoy breakfast in the restaurant with a stunning view of the lake.

Speakers dinner

On the last night of the event, the speakers are treated to a wonderful dinner.        I enjoy this time, it gives us all a chance to wind down, recap the conference and have one last chance to connect as friends.   We sit in a private room at a very large table, reminisce about the last few days and discuss the highlights of the conference.  This is one of my favorite parts of the conference, having a chance to reconnect with old friends.

 

Saying Goodbye

I don’t always create a farewell video specifically from each conference.  However, in 2017, from the Milwaukee airport Birgitta and I did manage to do just that.  Thank you so much to the people of WMCPA, you make the event fun for both the attendees and speakers each year.

 

Reflections of London, Brussels and COMMON Europe Congress 2017

All work and no play?

With the wonderful opportunity of speaking again at COMMON Europe  (www.comeur.org), Larry Bolhuis, Richard Dolewski, his wife Maria and I decided to include a two-day pre-conference stop in London.  Larry and I timed our flights to land at London Heathrow within ninety minutes of each other but with his delays and my flight arriving early our touchdowns were apparently only minutes apart. Once we both got through the customs queue we took a few minutes for a quick COMMON Europe promotion video:

While visiting London we were fortunate to meet up with Liam Allan and his girlfriend Emily-Mai Brown.  Liam is one of the Fresh Faces of IBM i.   You can learn more about that by clicking here.

We all enjoyed having lunch together in The Nags Head Pub.

 

While also in London I was able to fulfill a bucket list item, that is to take a photograph with one of the lions in Trafalgar Square.  Fortunately Larry was able to assist with me climbing the statue, otherwise this would have never been possible.   Thanks Larry!

Meeting up with “Strangers”

I say this every conference and it continues to hold true.  The events are always great, as are the locales.   But surely, I believe the best part is meeting everyone. Particularly in Europe, where so many cultures and languages intersect.   In addition to meeting IBM i minded folks, I find great pleasure in random encounters and chatting with “ordinary” people while being out and about.  Many of them even let me take a selfie with them.

 

COMMON Europe Congress 2017

Each year the Congress (www.comeur.org) is held in a different city, with this year being in Brussels.   Nearly 100 sessions in 2 and 1/2 days.  This trip provided me with a little free time for exploring, meeting the local residents and sampling some of the restaurants.  Two of the signature foods are frites and mussels.   We took the EuroRail to Brussels and met up with Robin Tatam and his family.  It was very cool going through the Chunnel, going through France and then Belgium.


Congress networking

From opening reception to the dinner at the Comic Art Museum (www.comicscenter.net), there were several opportunities to visit with peers from over 20 countries.  Throughout the event I was able to take some photos with board members and attendees.  Here are a few:

RDi sessions

It was decided to present a track of RDi sessions which showcased a broad spectrum of RDi’s vast features.  The three selected sessions were “From STRPDM to RDi,” “From STRDBG to RDi” and “RDi FAQs.”   I was very pleased at the attendance and interest in this topic and fully enjoyed presenting the content.  At the end of my last presentation I created a short video thanking everyone who attended.

Beautiful music in the air

One need not spend too much time in Brussels before you encounter music of all genres. It’s everywhere, searing through the throngs. This first video is of a street musician playing an incredible rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s Nessun Dorma.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Hearing street musicians is something we encounter all the time in NYC, but this music, combined with the surrounding architecture made it extra special.

As an added bonus, at the COMMON Tuesday dinner, COMMON Europe board member Igor Novotny’s two amazing daughters Zora and Nora Novotna provided classical piano overtures that astounded the senses. Nothing had prepared me for this. Whether you listen for just a few moments or the entire length, I’m sure you will agree their rendition of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is masterful.

Saying goodbye

On the very last day Liam and I took the train to Brussels airport and began my journey back to New York.

After the long flight, here is one final video from the baggage claim area at JFK airport.   Thank to you everyone I met during this last week, this is yet another trip I won’t ever forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An all-day hands-on RDi workshop at QUSER

Twin Cities, MN, May 2017

www.quser.org 

For this workshop, we supply a sample source library for each attendee, which is used during the activities.  The event was promoted with a short video that was tweeted out to the QUSER membership.

One of my favorite things to do is to create are the promotion videos.

Getting There

As always, the best part for me is meeting everyone, reacquainting with old friends and catching up.   When my plane first left JFK we were told to look out our windows for an incredible aerial view of New York City.  You can really appreciate exactly how large Central Park is, plus a grand view of midtown and downtown on the southern end.

Hello from MSP!

 A quick video as soon as I landed provided one last tweet to the members of QUSER to make sure they know the event is being held the next day.   I was hopeful we would have a good turnout.   

QUSER hospitality

Robin and Angela Tatam are such great hosts.   We were able to catch up over dinner the night before the event where I had the featured dish of Minnesota, the famous walleye.  In fact, I’ve had so much walleye during this trip that I swear I was starting to grow gills.  

The hands-on RDi workshop

I wasn’t prepared for the turnout, more than 30 people showed up.  What a great sign that developers want to modernize the tools in their toolkit.   Everyone had RDi pre-loaded on their laptops.  Most people were new to RDi but there were some who are advanced RDi users and evangelists.   For those who weren’t current users they were able to download a 60-day trial directly from the RDi Developer Hub.   In this workshop, we focused on source code maintenance and the various views, demonstrating how RDi far exceeds SEU and PDM.   There were also many requests for a crash course on using the RDi debugger so we also covered that.    All in all, with an entire day we covered a lot of ground.   These corporate workshops are typically two days long and which allows us to dig deeper into LPEX.  Many times, we will work with the client’s own source code or debug their own programs.

Back in New York

So many thanks to the hosts and all of the attendees of QUSER.   When I arrived back in New York there was a nice package waiting for me.    In it was a T-shirt from Help Systems plus a QUSER coffee mug, filled with chocolates.    The gifts were surely appreciated and I hope to return some day, for both another day of exploring the cities and to meet those who are as passionate about application development as much as I am.

 

 

A Celebration of the COMMON Man (and Women)

I’m so fortunate for the privilege to present at many conferences each year. No question though who the granddaddy is – COMMON U.S.  Over 1000 people attend so there are LOTS of conversations to be had.  This is a celebration of seeing them and enjoying their company.   If you’ve never attended COMMON or at the very least an event with lots of like-minded people you are missing a huge piece of networking, both personal and professional.

Arrival!

Whenever I arrive for a conference, particularly one where I’ll be presenting many sessions, I’m always filled with enthusiasm and anticipation of what’s to come. Especially being able to reunite with so many friends. Immediately upon landing in Orlando’s MCO airport, I recorded a video while walking in the corridor.  You can see in my expressions how happy I am to be there.  In the video I also a mention the COMMON RPG pin, one of four promotional Harry Potter pins featuring some of the different aspects of IBM i.

 

Off to the hotel

Taking a shared shuttle can be a lousy or exhilarating experience, it all depends on where your hotel falls in the drop off chain.  The shuttle was already packed when I paid for my ride and was told I would have to sit up front in the passenger seat.  It didn’t take very long to learn that the driver, Leslie, was from The Bronx and still has family there.  We chatted about New York City history the entire time, and I secretly wondered if he put my hotel as the last stop just to keep our NY conversation going.  I wasn’t in any real rush and was honestly enjoying the conversation.  Turns out Leslie is a treasure trove of NYC history and actually stumped me on a couple of his hard questions.   When we finally arrived at my hotel we both got out of the shuttle, hugged each other (using the “secret” NYC technique) and he went on his way.

 

The Lowes Sapphire Falls Hotel

The conference location was opened in late 2016 and was absolutely stunning.   The City Walk is where all the restaurants are located and it’s a short boat shuttle ride or about a 15-minute walk.   I used both modes but definitely prefer the walk.  Each morning I would look out the window overlooking the pool and watch the ducks taking their morning swim.

RDi Debugging Pre-Conference Workshop

Each conference COMMON offers workshops, which provide attendees to participate in a deep dive of several topics, ranging from programming to system administration.  My debugging workshop was selected and it was a lot of fun to step through lines of code with many developers.  Since the lab was located right near the entrance of the conference I saw many friends walk by, each of them waving as they went past.   At the end one of COMMON’s newest members, Liam Allan joined me in the lab for a photo.

Dinner and hanging out with friends

Surely one of the absolute best parts is being able to spend real quality time with the people of COMMON.  And since COMMON draws from all over the world, the conversations are spectacular.   For instance, one night I shared dinner with Torbjörn Appehl and Mats Lindstrom of COMMON Sweden.  Another night a much larger group of us had dinner together at Margaritaville.  It’s times like this where friendships that span the globe are born and fostered.  These are people who can call upon each other on virtually any topic should the need ever arise.

Conference sessions

I’ve said it so many times before and will continue saying it.  There is nothing quite like being in front of a room speaking with peers on tech topics.  And when the room is really full it’s even more fun.  Chatting with the attendees and watching them speak with each other, share and solve common problems is amazing.  The networking value is off the charts.  Here’s a quick video from a session on debugging.

 

Vendor Expo

There are several times to interact with product and service vendors at the conference.  Because we were hosted by Universal the Harry Potter theme was everywhere.  IBMers walked around in wizard costumes and cast spells on us.  Here’s Steve Will with Scott Klement and I doing just that.  Even IBM Watson go into the act with a sorting hat, where you would speak into a microphone saying something about yourself.  This was transmitted to Watson and it would determine which house you belonged to.  I was sorted into Ravenclaw.

COMMON Board of Directors

COMMON, like all conferences, doesn’t just happen by itself.  There is a board of directors as well as staff that plan these huge events. Quite often they work behind the scenes and for the average attendee their roles aren’t quite so obvious.   If you’ve ever wanted an opportunity to influence the direction of the organization, here it is.  I decided last year that even though I’ve been a speaker since 2005 I wanted to participate in other ways as well.  After speaking with the nominating committee and being selected to run in the election, I was one of three people voted in.  Larry Bolhuis was re-elected to his second term and John Valance and I began our first.  It’s a time commitment but one I feel strongly about.  Here’s John and I immediately after our first meeting.

 

It’s not all about work

Each conference has several opportunities to spend with friends and to make new ones.  Every morning I visited The Dutch Trading Company in the hotel to purchase breakfast.  And with each visit these young women would greet me with incredible smiles and our brief but great interactions really started my day in a big way.   On my very last day I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.  Here’s me with Ronitha, Wideline, Fior and Cherely.  If you’re ever in this place, tell them hello from me.

I had two opportunities to visit the parks.  COMMON rented out The Island of Adventure for its closing event, which was cool.   Seeing the Harry Potter ride with only a 10-minute wait is not you see every day.  The next day before heading to the airport I was able to visit Universal Studios.  At every turn, there were times to chat with people literally from all over the world.

Heading home

Headed back to Orlando International MCO. Even here the people are so nice.  As I was checking in my luggage the two women at the kiosk started up a conversation with me about New York.  Neither one has ever been there so I gave them a short list of things to do when they eventually do get there.  Right before I turned to head to security they came out from behind the counter and we hugged.   The flight was uneventful and got me back safely home to JFK.    What a week it was.  Getting to reunite with friends, giving each of them a hug is one of the best things to do.

Are you ready for the new year? I am, and you can quote me.

It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.” – Niccolo Machiavelli

This was a quote posted on the wall by the IT Director in 1998, where I was part of a team migrating from a non-Y2K compliant ERP to one that was.  Forget the fact that the quote is attributed to an Italian political philosopher who died in 1527.   Forget the fact that these words have been revered by thousands upon thousands, maybe millions, who have surely received validation from them so many times before me.   It wasn’t necessarily obvious to me at the time but since then I’ve learned how true these words are.  For me, in my role as a striving initiator of new technology, I’m often faced with the “enmity” of those who wish to preserve the status quo.

I recognize that a business cannot and should not adopt every new technology just for technology’s sake.   But using the same systems and methodologies for years, with refusal to at least examine the processes with an eye towards what’s new is foolhardy as best.  It really is incumbent on us, as people who master and embrace technology to foster sustainable and disruptive technology in the enterprise.  It is through our education and experiences that each company receives the broad spectrum of benefits afforded to them via innovation.

“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way!’ “ – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Hopper was correct; the status quo is dangerous.  Why?  Because on many levels technology is a living and breathing entity.  Clearly not in the literal sense, but one that continues to grow each day, using both successful and failed experiences as a roadmap to advancement.   Sticking to what’s always been in place stifles innovation, undercuts employee morale and cheats the business of cost cutting techniques.   Need some examples?  Ok, here are two:

Back to coding basics – get rid of the spaghetti and monolithic code.  Modularize.  Eliminate dead code.   Hard coding.  Use meaningful field and table names.   It almost seems silly to mention this but it’s true.  I still encounter new – new! – systems being developed with these old techniques.  Eventually these programs are shunned by the team of developers and new “temporary” programs are put in place to work around and “fix” the results of these programs without addressing the original code.  And the maintenance costs get higher and higher for the same results.

RPG – I know, I know, some programs are completely stable and written in old code.  Is this reason enough to convert it?  Probably not.   But to clone of these programs and use that as a jumping off point for new development?  Um, not so much.  And that IBM has invested tons of money in updating the language is also not reason enough to use the latest incarnation.  The real reason is the same of above, and that is the overall cost of software development is driven down.

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

A perfect quote for learning and working with RDi. Invest some time reading articles, watching training videos, attending a conference or have onsite private corporate training and you will quickly be as convinced as I am:  in my first scenario, if you work on code using PDM and SEU for five hours you’ll have five hours of productivity.    Spend two months using the same old tooling and you’ll have two months’ worth of productivity, however you measure that.   In the second scenario, spend some time each week learning and using RDi and LPEX.  There is absolutely nobody saying you need to learn the entire tool to become productive.   After two months, you will have accomplished probably two and a half months’ worth of productivity, using the same metrics as before.  Why?  Because of all the additional native functionality, wizards and advancements in RDi over tried and true SEU.  It’s true because it’s science – better coding through leveraging newer technology.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” – Walt Disney

The secret of getting ahead is getting started” – Mark Twain

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”  – Ben Franklin

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

When I’m motivated to do something, and particularly once I get started, I almost always wonder why I didn’t start any sooner.  It’s the getting started part that’s hard. Pick a topic, any topic, that’s a technology hot button today.   Study it.  Learn it.   Apply and integrate it. Sometimes I’ll just visit an informational website and start clicking.  You’d be amazed at what you can learn.  Here is a great example of an IBM website which contains tons of IBM I 7.3 information –  https://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/ssw_ibm_i_73/rzahg/welcome.htm   It’s not too difficult to spend several hours on these sites.  And this is where you will learn that you don’t know what you don’t know.

The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart

Veni, vidi, vici” – Julius Caesar

What new technology, whether it be a development topic or industry-specific are you going to learn next year?  We’re in technology, there will *always* be something to new to know.   Pick something meaningful, something with incremental and meaningful results.  This is how you stay motivated.  There’s so much out there, so always remember –  Get there, see it and conquer!

 

New IBM i User Group in Virginia Beach

It’s always great to hear that a NEW user group has been created.  And not only did this Virginia Beach area group get started, but they chose to go big and begin with a two-day conference.  I knew it was a reality when I first pulled up to the conference hotel and saw this sign and was then handed the welcome package.

ibm-sign schedule

The October 6th and 7th conference included keynote speakers and a complete vendor expo.   The hope is to attract those who are passionate about IBM i from as far as one hundred miles away.   I am proud to have been asked to be one of their speakers, along with Richard Dolewski of Denovo, Eric Herzog of IBM, Trevor Perry of Fresche Legacy and many others.
charlie-presenting richard-keynote
ibmtrevor-presentingGiving credit where credit is due

I have served as a board member for my own local user group The Long Island Systems Users Group (LISUG) for many years.  During this tenure I have learned the amount of hours, effort, patience and responsibility required to sustain an organization with monthly meetings and an annual one-day conference.   The driving force behind this new group is Laura Hamway of Hamway Software Solutions www.hamwayss.com.   Surely Laura has had some assistance with the conference planning but there is no doubt who the architect is.   Here’s Laura working with some of the attendees during one of the vendor expo breaks.

laura-with-attendees

Attendee tenacity

While keeping a watchful eye on Hurricane Matthew in the south, the conference went on.   While the attendance was not optimal, it was very good for a first meeting.  And for those determined attendees who did attend, they had two incredible days of networking and education.   Everywhere you went you could just feel it.   Everyone I spoke with kept saying, “This is great, I hope it continues.”   The interest was very high from vendors and attendees alike and I expect the enthusiasm to carry over into a much larger conference next year.

screenhunter_451-oct-10-21-47

 

Post conference thoughts

After two full days of education and networking, it seemed appropriate to celebrate the success at a brand new restaurant in town.   OBS, aka Oyster Bar and Steaks, was also celebrating their first week in business.  It’s always good to wind down an event over dinner and kick back and enjoy the company.

fullsizerender

I am really rooting for this group and hope it grows and prospers.   Why?  Because perhaps this will inspire new groups to spawn in other areas where IBM i lives.   Don’t listen to the naysayers.  Deliver a good conference and people will respond.  I met attendees who drove several hours to participate.  People are willing to commit their resources.   Some people who feel isolated in their shops need to realize they’re part of something much bigger, in fact an entire community.   As for me, this trip was special in many ways, for example expanding my professional network.  And of course, never to be forgotten, it allowed me to add to my refrigerator magnet collection.

magnets