Angus: The name matters..

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent 2012 IBM Power Tech University. As an IBM Champion, I was invited to speak, and presented three sessions – all repeated once, for a total of six. The attendees are a mix of Power Systems professionals, largely representing AIX, with a growing population of IBM i, and a new batch of Linux people. Getting used to a Power Systems audience took a step or two, but the results were that my sessions, primarily IBM i focused, were well received. In fact, I have never been asked for my handouts for any recent events, and Power TechU attendees were eager to take something away.

I presented a new session called “Promoting IBM i and its future to your business”, and it was quite an experience. The idea behind the session is to dispel some of the myths we continue to hear in our community, then give some ideas about how to move into the future with IBM i. I started the first session having a relaxed conversation with the attendees, and that backfired a little while they continued the conversation during the actual session. It calmed down, but a couple of people stood out. They objected to many things I was presenting, prior to actually hearing what I had to say. They vehemently blamed IBM as causing the (perceived) failure with the platform, and were very very stuck in their own opinion and own importance.

Of course, that accusation can be thrown at many people in our community. We seem to think the world revolves around us, our IT department, or our company, and we don’t often consider that to IBM, our platform is just one of the many products, solutions and services they offer. Even after I pointed out this discrepancy, there were still objections. I asked if any of those people knew how to run a business like IBM or knew how to run a marketing department for a company the size of IBM. I also asked if anyone had a marketing degree. The answer to all three questions was a resounding silence.

As the week progressed, I engaged in more conversations with Power Systems customers. At one point, there were two conversations at a breakfast table. From the IBM i customers, we heard all about speeds and feeds, SSDs, TR4 and TR5, and so on. The AIX people were discussing how fast they ran their last marathon. The IBM Power Champions roundtable was a great conversation with IBM i, AIX and Linux well represented. Overall, a positive experience and Power Systems brings together a formidable group of people. Yet the name game was still being played.

During the course of the event, I discovered three distinct groups of people in the IBM i community. One group represented companies who were leading the pack in adopting technology, modernizing applications, embracing new methodologies, and being true leaders in the future of their own business. A second group spent a huge amount of time wondering what to do, confused about their choices, and representing companies who don’t know which technology to adopt. The third group, who seemed quite out of place, were complaining bitterly about many things, arguing that everything has changed to their detriment, and generally offering a negative perspective.

A little more categorization of these groups, and it was very clear who belonged to each. Those who were complaining bitterly, referred to the platform as AS/400. Those who were confused about what to do, referred to the platform as iSeries. Those who knew where they were headed, referred to the platform as IBM i.

The surprise to me was that this distinction is normally not so clearly defined. Yet, at a conference for Power Systems, the borders between the groups are starting to be obvious. I had previously postulated that our community would be split into two groups – those who steadfastly refuse to call the platform anything but AS/400 and want to live in the AS/400 cave forever, and everyone else. That seems to be changing as we move into the Power Systems world, and I expect the three groups will become more distinct over the next couple of years. And, for clarification, this is not a generalization of the entire IBM i community, as I know people who use old vernacular while adopting modern technology and methodologies. However, I expect soon enough, adopting a modern vernacular will simply become the norm.

The lesson I learned from this experience, is that the name truly does matter. It is not that just simply calling the platform by the right name, all your woes will be fixed, or the community changed overnight. It is that those who see the platform as IBM i on Power, and therefore call it by that name, are the ones who are moving forward in this industry, both in their own careers and for their companies. Using an old branding identifies you as someone who is stuck in the past, or stuck in the present not knowing which direction is best.

So, how do you see the platform? Is it moving into the future? Are you moving into the future with it? If you want to be in that group, then you will need to learn about the platform – as it is TODAY and as it will be moving forward. Instead of spending time arguing about the name being changed, or the name being bad, or the name being wrong, get over it and adopt a new attitude. So far, those who have done that are leading the way – use them as your example.

5 Comments

BuckNovember 19th, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Not one of the official names IBM gave to a midrange machine or the software that runs on it has been particularly mellifluous. To these old ears, ‘Pacific’ sounds so much better than ‘System/38′ and ‘Silverlake’ wins out over ‘AS/400′. The point is that I never really had an emotional connection to any of the names, and maybe I’m too Aspie, but I can’t imagine how anyone could. The name does indeed matter: will we as a community support IBM’s efforts to sell the midrange machines or will we undermine their efforts?

I have mixed emotions about people who have been programming a midrange machine since the AS/400 days. I can sort of understand how they have come to remember that funny old box as their first love. They perceive any attempt to change her image, her very name! as an assault on one of their dearest memories. And so, if they – out of fondness – call their beloved machine by the first name they heard, that’s OK with me. When I see someone with 30 years’ experience write in for help and say that he’s trying to ‘write an XML parser for the AS/400′ I will gently remind him that the current manuals will be found by searching on ‘IBM i” and that ‘AS/400′ searches will return possibly dated results.

But there is a different group of people for whom I feel the utmost sorrow: Newcomers. There is a large and growing population of programmers who are in the 18-20 year old demographic who have apparently attended ‘AS/400′ school, been taught ‘RPG/400′ (fixed form only) and have never heard of iSeries much less IBM i. What to do for these people? They are undoubtedly being taught ancient techniques which were outdated even for the mid-90s. And they are writing brand new code.

If the old guard are talking about ‘the AS/400,’ imagine the image the platform has when new graduates demonstrate the current state of the art: batch processes that are indistinguishable from those first set in place when the 029 was all the rage. We are being cut off at the knees by both the senior, experienced people and by the junior, up and coming people.

Yes, the name matters. But what matters even more is the mental flexibility of the programmers the midrange platform attracts and keeps.

Yvonne EnselmanNovember 27th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Both this post and Buck’s comment remind me of why I want to communicate within our community and translate outside it. It isn’t about the name per se as it is about pride – while I appreciate all sides of the argument I chose to embrace the “IBM i” moniker. I appreciate it is the only name my platform has had that tells people something important about me when asked what I do – I work on the IBM i is understood more easily as an enterprise business computer. AS/400 and iSeries – what is that? This puts my association with Big Blue out there first and foremost.

AND as someone who has seen IBM talent at education conferences for quite some time now, I want to ask naysayers how they feel the marketing now compares to the last 15 years? I see IBM responding to constructive comments and needs from the community. It is also a huge company and the i is a huge division and change in perception is going to be slow. Not to mention, as an IT professional and User Group advocate, there are a lot of things I want from IBM. Making me feel better about the platform I chose to base my career on isn’t something I think they are responsible for.

I also feel concern for the newbies and I hope to foster education opportunities for them that I was able to appreciate and grow from 15 years ago. While school based offerings vary wildly from OPM to Modernization there are enough champions in the blogosphere, publications, and user groups that young professionals can find excellent examples to emulate if they chose to make the effort.

Most disconcerting to me is the general unhappiness I see in the group of developers in the last 15 years of their careers. Especially those who have striven to keep their skills current just are burnt out and feel unappreciated by companies and organizations taking them for granted. They say IBM i, write innovative and modern RPG, embrace web services and associated technology but feel no one see the value in them as professionals like when they were writing RPG 3 on the AS/400.

AlanNovember 27th, 2012 at 11:29 pm

It seems a lot of our midrange developers are not as forward-compatible as our favorite family of systems…

Too bad they don’t understand the importance of branding. Almost none of us have ever heard of “Visual Age for Java”, but all of us know about Eclipse, except a few midrange developers…

[...] my recent blog entry, I discussed the differences between the three types of developers in our community. Now comes the [...]

[...] now I am still chuckling. From my last two posts here, I have discovered the name does matter. (The name matters.. and Where are you in your IBM i career?) IBM i is not just a name, but a brand that represents a [...]

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