Well, the COMMON conference for 2009 is behind us. I won’t bore you with a recount of the event as there are many folks out there who have done an admirable job summarizing “the” event in the IBM i realm. But as I was speaking at a couple of sessions I stumbled across a couple of phrases that seemed to resonate with the community. I wanted to share a few of these with you today.
The first is “Many hands make light work”. In the volunteer community this phrase couldn’t be more appropriate. It appears to hail from an English playwright, John Heywood from the 16th century. At COMMON, as is done in many local user groups, several of the activities that the attendee’s take for granted are planned and executed by volunteers. And truly, the more help the better. But volunteerism seems to be dropping off these days. Fewer and fewer of us have the free time to give to our communities, churches and user groups. We struggle with attracting volunteers to the IBM i community as well. So a great effort has been set forth by the YiPs (Young i Professionals) who do not necessarily need to be under 30 but are generally new to the IBM i. The YiPs have done some very cool things with a borrowed LPAR and a little open source software. Check them out and see for yourself.
As the 21st century moves on we are all living the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. I know I am. And at work we seem to be transitioning from the phrase “Many hands make light work” to “Do more with less”. Our CAAC (COMMON Americas Advisory Council) ring Leader, Guy Havelick, told me that the other day. He told me that “less” is his best friend! I thought that was a hoot and I can’t wait for “less” to start. Having a chance to meet old and new friends on the CAAC is always a special treat. It made me glad to know that we are attracting new members while some of the veterans are moving on. We are all finding that regardless of where we look doing more with less can be a very interesting challenge.
One of my new customers has recently decided to move toward PHP on IBM i. I won’t go into the details of the account or their decision making process as it was very similar to most shops and generally falls into these three categories: Make the IBM i relevant, leverage RPG investments, build a path to the future for both staff and applications. But what impressed me the most was how they are going about the training of the RPG contingent. Our online training is typically delivered by an interactive Webex presentation with a live instructor where the students log in for about 2 hours a day, every other day for three weeks. The management of this shop is insisting that his staff take not just the two hours out but the entire day to focus on learning PHP and web development. This represents a SIGNIFICANT investment on the part of the company and I applaud their efforts. Staffers need to realize that in these times there may not be a lot of money going around. When management decides to invest time there is still a financial component. And that investment is very valuable not only to the company but also to the developer.
But I have a special message to management. This one appears to be attributed to Benjamin Franklin by some and Albert Einstein by others. Regardless, the phrase represents the definition of Insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. I have seen in my travels many types of IBM i shops. And I am seeing some talented workers getting thrown out on the street. After a layoff, downsizing, rightsizing, or whatever you want to call it, the folks left behind have many challenges. The one thing they all must face is the challenge of “Doing more with less!” But what happens if your people are already working 50 hour weeks. Reducing staff and tossing more on the plate is somewhat akin to that definition of insanity. Now I am very aware of the creative juices flowing through the human soul and the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” rings true in this age we are all living through. But without giving the staff the opportunity or the tools to learn a new skill, doing more with less should not be a reasonable expectation. In fact, it may just blow up in your face as the economy turns around, the good folks may remember what was asked or expected and look for greener pastures.
I sincerely hope this isn’t the case in your shop. I have seen many approaches to downsizing and some work better than others. For any manager willing to invest in his/her staff like the one I highlighted above I salute you! For those of you who are expecting more productivity with the same or fewer resources, I hope you realize that you may need to shake things up a bit to get those different results! Things like exploring open source or offering training. Consider training each other, even if you are only exploring a new op-code or function in RPG. One last bumper sticker comment and this applies to both management and staff: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”