The Rewards of IBM i Community Engagement
February 22, 2016 Dan Burger
In a world where outlandish claims, one-upsmanship, and hyperbole are as certain as the sun rising each day, it’s no exaggeration to describe the late Al Barsa as the greatest IBM midrange advocate of all time. Like the system itself, Barsa was brilliant and meticulously thorough. He knew the system as well as anyone. The IBM midrange community needs more people like Al Barsa. Not that it has none. It simply needs more.
Barsa was a real piece of work, and that should be interpreted in the most complementary way. He could be difficult. He could be eccentric. But he not only provided sound advice to more than 200 IBM i (AS/400 at that time) shops in New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and Ohio that were customers of Barsa Consulting, he willingly and enthusiastically shared his knowledge with the IBM midrange community. He was a volunteer who supported COMMON and the Long Island Systems User Group. Barsa was always prepared. And he relished the opportunities to make a case for the platform. But he also sounded off, letting IBM know when he thought Big Blue could do more or could do better.
Shortly after Barsa’s death in 2008, COMMON created the Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship, an annual award presented to an individual who exemplifies Barsa’s commitment and dedication to the IBM i community. Seven people have received the award, all of them noted for their advocacy and their community activism–sharing and caring. In order beginning with the most recent recipient, that list includes: Charles Guarino, Pete Helgren, Pete Massiello, Scott Klement, Mike Pavlak, Larry Bolhuis, and Paul Rogers.
From now until April 22, COMMON is soliciting nominations for the yet another IBM i advocate with Barsa-like tendencies. Anyone can make a nomination and self-nominations are also approved. The general guidelines include:
Several of the past winners knew Barsa well. Guarino says receiving the Barsa Memorial Scholarship was a highlight of his career. He became acquainted with Barsa through the Long Island System Users Group (LISUG), where Guarino has served as president and board member. Guarino is also an instructor and a subject matter expert best known for his Rational Developer for IBM i sessions at COMMON and at local user group meetings around the world.
“Al was a brilliant perfectionist in everything he did and took great pride in his work. He was an expert in his craft and he loved the AS/400 community, where he was a giant,” Guarino says.
Barsa was also friends with Pete Massiello, who shares Barsa’s passion for the IBM i. Massiello has also volunteered a great many hours for COMMON and LISUG. He’s served as COMMON president on multiple occasions and also on the board of directors. He’s also a past recipient of the Al Barsa Scholarship.
“Al had a great heart, and was always willing to help everyone,” Massiello says while leading into a story that backs up Guarino’s comment about Barsa being a perfectionist.
“Al used to do his “Everything You Wanted to Know About System Values, But Were Afraid to Ask” sessions. When he first started to do the presentation, it was in foils. (Background templates for PowerPoint presentations.) He had two projectors, and he asked me if I could flip the foils for him at his session during a COMMON conference. I said sure. So, then he told me, he wanted me to come to his office to flip the foils in a practice session.
“I said to him, ‘You have done this plenty of times, why do you need to practice?’ He said, ‘The practice is not for me; it’s for you.'”
“I told him, I could handle flipping foils. Well, if you knew Al, you knew the outcome. I was in his office later that week doing a dry run.”
“Afterward, Al took me out to a great dinner, where we talked AS/400 all night. Al was full of knowledge, and always willing to share that knowledge, and always a professional. I do miss hanging out with him.”
Barsa was an engaging personality and being engaged in the IBM i community has a great deal of significance for Pete Helgren, who received the Barsa award in 2014.
“We have a rare gift in that we have a tight community that is interested in sharing knowledge in and evangelizing about the IBM i. Community members tend to be mature professionals, who are eager to share and mentor folks who are entering the IT arena. COMMON is the best vehicle to engage and support that community,” he says.
Helgren attended his first COMMON conference in 1999, when he made a presentation on using iSeries data with Microsoft Office. Since 2005, he’s been sharing his knowledge through educational sessions at every COMMON conference in the United States. He’s also presented topics at COMMON Europe in 2011 and 2012. He’s been on the COMMON Board of Directors since 2009, serving as secretary for two years and is currently executive vice president. He’s also a proponent of open source software on IBM i and enjoys sharing that knowledge with IBM i community members.
As you can see, advocacy for the IBM i is common thread that connects the past Barsa award recipients, but it’s the sharing of information that creates the community fabric.
Nominations for the 2016 Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship can be made by downloading the form from this link. Completed forms can be emailed to Michelle August, president of the COMMON Education Foundation, at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 708-974-5622.
The recipient receives a no-cost registration to the 2016 COMMON Annual Meeting and a commemorative plaque. Nominations must be a current COMMON member (local user group memberships and corporate memberships qualify). Self-nomination is acceptable.