Q&A with TVMUG's Don Rima
Published: August 17, 2009
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
In last week's issue of The Four Hundred, I told you that Don Rima had started up a new midrange user group, the Tennessee Valley Midrange User Group, or TVMUG for short. We couldn't get ahold of each other because of our crazy schedules, but chatted over email about user groups, the i platform, and Chattanooga.
Timothy Prickett Morgan: What on earth are you doing in Chattanooga, Don? Nothing against the place--I was raised a country boy myself--but you have been in the Washington, D.C., metro area for a long time.
Don Rima: Well, have you ever visited here? I used to live here in the 1970s and frankly it was a mess. The city and region have done one incredibly good job over the last 30 years of transitioning this city and area into one that's both great for business and a good place for family oriented stuff. I've lived about half my life at one time or another on one side of D.C. or there and really like D.C. metro, but the commutes were killing me. And companies like Volkswagen are bringing in a new expansion and this region is really expected to grow.
TPM: With the trend of midrange user group closings in the past decade, you're bucking the trend by starting a new one here. What makes you think user groups can start up and grow?
DR: There's no denying that the IBM midrange product line is being allowed to decline and with that, there has been a decreasing interest in user groups. Nor is it a secret that IBM appears to be pushing AIX over i/OS as a preferred operating system. As founder and past chairman of the COMMON Local User Group Committee, I'm very well aware of that. Neither is there any doubt that with NAFTA and legislature of similar ilk, that the manufacturing base is a pittance compared to what it used to be. I say this because we all know that the midrange product line was very heavily used in manufacturing, amongst other industries and with manufacturing being NAFTA'd to other countries, that means a lot of IT jobs are disappearing as well as a lot of midrange systems.
I've studied the Chattanooga radius for a while, ever since I first got involved with user groups back around 15 years ago. And I think that there is enough businesses in the target market to support the critical mass needed for a LUG. We've identified about 7,000 contact points in our extended radius and we're sending out a letter of introduction and welcome in the next week or so. However the format of TVMUG can't be the same as traditional LUGs have been in the past.
TPM: What can you do that is different?
DR: The traditional user group model was, generally, a monthly evening meeting with some technical topic, a round table, etc. And that was it. Many LUGs, including us at Washington Area Midrange (WAM) group, looked at this model over the years and have made any of several enhancements to it. The traditional evening meeting concept clearly doesn't work as well as it did at one time. What we found at WAM was that if we brought in a speaker for a full day, offered topic-specific seminars, and then perhaps had them talk in the evening on a different i/OS topic, people not only wanted this format, but they actually would come for the whole day. And we served a light buffet for dinner as well, which kept people around. If we had only an evening meeting, very few would show up.
Each city has its own quirks and dynamics as to what will draw an audience. In Washington, D.C., it's called "tunnels and bridges." In other cities, it's called something else.
TPM: I thought WAM stopped having evening meetings?
DR: This is true. Demand changed and we had to adjust our model accordingly, adding more education and information on i/OS related topics. WAM now only does seminars since that's what the users in the D.C. area want. We'll go back to including evening meetings in a New York second if demand grows for it.
TPM: So with a 7,000-piece mailing, you're not expecting that many members?
DR: Oh, heck no. The whole intent with that is to just say hello and let folks know we exist. We did this kind of thing at WAM before we had our technical conference, The JAM.
TPM: So, what's your format for Chattanooga going to be?
DR: Initially, I'm going to try the day seminars with an evening topic and see how the marketplace responds. We're finding that there's still a huge need for people to know things like Systems Administration, SQL, PHP, Free Format RPG and a lot of other topics. Many of these people will never be able to attend one of the larger conferences, so having access to industry speakers in or near their home town is something that they need and will come to.
TPM: So, if you build it they will come? I know a little bit about this myself.
DR: I suppose you do. But isn't that the hope of any user group?
TPM:How much is this going to cost attendees?
DR: Good question. Keep in mind that this is a user group and I'm going to do my best to bring in the best speakers I can and to do so at "user group" rates to the members. The daytime seminar would be fee based and the evening meeting would be part of the membership fee. We're very successful at doing this at WAM and many other LUGs are also successful at this. Chattanooga will be as well.
TPM: Are you planning any JAMs?
DR: Frankly, I'd love to do a one-day event of five or so tracks next year, but we're going to have to wait and see what the market demand is for such an event.
TPM: You chose tvmug.info as your domain name. Why did you use the .info extension?
DR: Well, we in the LUG community are here basically as information providers to our membership. Not only information in terms of technical items related to i/OS systems, but there's also the exchange of information between users. Perhaps you have a solution to my problem, etc. Besides, the .org domain was already taken.
TPM: I have to ask, what will happen to WAM?
DR: Absolutely no changes. WAM's treasurer, KB Soni, is running point on the WAM events, and we both work together in planning events. Things have been going smoothly now for over a year. Susan Dridi has kept the Web pages up to date, and thanks to David Gibbs at Midrange.com, our communication to the membership continues to run as smooth as ever. And, if I'm needed up there, it's only a few hours up a road that I've traveled a lot of lately.
TPM: So, you still have clients in the DC metro area?
TPM: When are you planning your TVMUG kickoff meeting or seminar?
DR: I'd like to have it in mid-October, but right now it's important that people go to the TVMUG Web site and get on the announcements list. It's free and they'll be in the loop as things progress.
TPM: Given IBM's Power Systems convergence last year, why didn't you call yourself a "Power" user group?
DR: We have that option in the future it we want it. When we incorporated with the state of Tennessee, we also filed doing business as Tennessee Valley Power Users Group. This allows us to expand to include the AIX space when we move in that direction. We also have the tvpug.info domain already in reserve for whenever expansion is chosen. But we're also seeing the Power umbrella as little more than a fašade to push AIX with deference from i/OS. My best guess would be that there's more services revenue to be had from an AIX configuration than an i/OS one.
TPM: That would be my guess as well, but the Unix market is also a lot larger than the i/OS market at this point, so IBM's AIX focus is as understandable as it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy for the past 15 years. The point is, you're still open to inclusion of AIX users.
DR: Oh, most definitely. But let me walk before I run.
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