Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, PHP and tek…

It is Memorial Day as I write this. For several years, our parish priest would print in the weekly bulletin a story about the song Taps. Whether you are familiar with the song or not, the lyrics and the story behind them are both sensitive and compelling. It speaks not about the politicians or the bureaucrats who try to make decisions on our behalf, but of the soldiers and the citizens they are sworn to protect.

But now on to more geeky fare. I got a chance to attend to the php|tek conference again. Last year I was on a different blog where all the pages were destroyed. So, for those of you who missed my summary I will restate a lot of the points again this year. And yes, I was once again the most overdressed person in attendance as I did have a collared shirt on.

Organized by Marco Tabini and Associates, php|tek is an event held twice a year. Spring in Chicago and fall in another location like Orlando or something. I am really not sure and Marco has not updated the site with the next conference yet. Last year I was new to a lot of things - New to Open Source, new to Zend and new to php|tek. I found the event last year to be VERY interesting as I met MANY friendly people. Some of which were Zend employee’s I met for the first time! Last year no one knew who I was. This year a couple of folks recognized me not because of my meager PHP skills but because I am the i5 guy.

So on behalf of SystemiNetwork and Zend, I had the chance to not only attend php|tek, but I also got to speak! This was a big deal for me as this event is all about the technical side of PHP and the community. I chose to speak on two topics and sandwiched between them was an IBM speaker named Erwin Earley. If you have never met Erwin, please seek him out at the next event. He is a hoot and know a TON about Open Source on IBM i. My first session was “PHP on IBM i:What the Heck is That?” This session focused on giving the folks in the LAMP community a perspective on what and IBM i really is. I expected no one to be interested or care about this topic and was pleasantly surprised to find a few folks actually coming to see it. I got a chance to meet some new friends and catch up with a couple of old friends.

If you r are even remotely interested in the fabric of the PHP community and how they think, operate and grow, this event is worth checking out. There is a ton of great content and really great people who make it up. I had the opportunity to meet with a developer from MySQL as I was killing time getting caught up on email and attending a conference call. She was very instrumental in helping me understand that this event is all about the community. So, as a relatively new member of the community, I asked her share some thoughts about the community. She immediately sent me to a web page that has the manual about how to ask a question.

You might think that asking a question is a fairly straight forward thing. But in the open source community time is time and energy is precious. So these folks, while helpful, do not like to waste time. This was very helpful to understand as the IBM i community tends to clash with the
Open Source community. It really has to do with self-reliance. The Open Source community prides itself of not needing anyone and asking for help only when every other avenue has been exhausted. Check out the directions on how to ask a question and they are both enlightening and hilarious!

Although one might think this is the only event that draws a PHP crowd, it isn’t. This fall you can expect the annual ZendCon – the premier PHP conference. This event will be wall to wall with great PHP content, tutorials and opportunities to meet and network with peers and members of the community. As I indicated, networking is my favorite part. This is where you lean the most about things you just can’t get out of a book or wiki. How and why people attack certain situations and the methods employed to help achieve the goal. This is where it’s at! Sometimes getting an education at an event like this is somewhat akin to getting a drink of water form a fire hose! So what I do is set my sights in a different direction. I come prepared to learn a thing or two. But I really am there for the networking. I want to know how people are using PHP in the enterprise to solve real life problems. This is what drives me as I am intensely curious about how PHP is making life better for everyone!

Most of you know my position on education. If you don’t just read up on a few of my older blog articles. I really do not care how you get it. I would hope that you come to Zend, but books, websites, and OPC (Other Peoples Code) don’t hurt. The point is that you MUST keep current in IT if you want to maintain your competitive advantage. An old boss of mine whom I respect a great deal used to say: “There will always be a shortage of GOOD programmers!”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Do more with less…When is Les starting?

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!”