New LUG Spreads ‘MAGIC’ In The Mid-Atlantic
December 12, 2016 Alex Woodie
Starting next month, a broad swath of IBM i professionals along the eastern seaboard will have their very own local user group (LUG) to call home. Dubbed the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators, or MAGIC, the group hopes to create a sense of IBM i community across a large region of the country where visible support for the platform was lagging.
If you’ve been around the IBM midrange for any length of time, you realize how much the community has shrunk in size. Instead of semi-annual COMMON conferences that attracted 4,000 devoted AS/400 and iSeries enthusiasts twice a year, we now have a single annual COMMON conference that struggles to draw 1,000.
The same story has played out on a regional basis, with many LUGs calling it quits over the years. In the Southeast alone, we’ve seen many LUGs packing it in, including the Central Florida Midrange User Group (CFMUG) based in Orlando, the Data Exchange Bay Area User’s Group (DEBUG) based in Tampa, and the Jax iSeries User Group in Jacksonville. According to the BM i Local User Groups list maintained by IBMer Dawn May, there are only 37 IBM i LUGs left in the entire country. Simon Hutchinson’s LUG list at RPGPM has a similar number.
All of which makes the creation of MAGIC such an anomaly–but in a good way.
It all started in May, at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana. Laura Hamway, a longtime IBM i consultant and principal of Hamway Software Solutions, was chatting with some fellow IBM i professionals from Secure Infrastructure and Services and Surround Technologies about LUGs.
“I wish we could get a group in our area,” Hamway remembers saying. “And it just kind of grew from that.”
Hamway spearheaded the group’s first event, a two-day IBM i get-together in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia in the beginning of October. With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the East Coast, the show went off without a hitch, with 16 speakers from 12 vendors sharing information on the IBM i platform, including Richard Dolewski of Denovo, Eric Herzog of IBM, Trevor Perry of Fresche and Charles Guarino of Central Park Data Systems.
The attendees also voted on the new group’s name, which got one lucky member an Amazon gift card. It was a great kick-off to start a new group.
Two months later, Hamway has the group’s website, www.magic-ug.org, up and running. She has filed the appropriate paperwork to be considered a proper non-profit organization. And starting in January, she will start collecting dues and scheduling additional activities for the group.
The timing was right for the creation of MAGIC, Hamway tells IT Jungle. “There was a group in Washington D.C. that’s fallen off, and there was a little one in Richmond, Virginia that’s fallen out. But there hasn’t been anything around here in several years,” she says. “Hopefully we can tap into some of those areas and get some of the people who used to be involved to be involved now.”
Hamway is one of those longtime midrange professionals who has built a career around the AS/400-IBM i platform, and decided that it’s time to give back. “I’ve always been involved in user groups, but I’ve never ran one,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s fun and everybody is excited about it.”
Running the two-day event and then establishing MAGIC opened Hamway’s eyes to just how many IBM i shops there are in the group’s area, which stretches from Washington D.C. down to Raleigh, North Carolina.
“The people who attended couldn’t believe how many [IBM i] shops were around here,” she says. “I think a lot of people thought nobody else is on it, because you don’t hear a lot of marketing about everybody who’s on the IBM i. I think a lot of them thought that it wasn’t around anymore.”
Hamway realized there was a big opportunity to help educate IBM i professionals in the region about what the platform is capable of. “Everybody was surprised how much you could do on IBM i now, because a lot of them are stuck in the old green screen. They haven’t been able to go to the big conferences and see some of this stuff,” she says. “They didn’t know you could do PHP, and we had a session on .NET, so they were all excited that you can do this stuff. They had no idea.”
MAGIC was founded with a core group of 20 people, but Hamway expects that number to grow quickly as word gets out about the new group and spreads among the IBM i community, including local IBM i customers, software vendors, hardware resellers, and schools.
“Right now we only have one person from each company. Multiple people will be joining from the other companies that we have, so the list will grow pretty quickly,” she says. “We still have a lot of companies to pull from to get involved. There’s still a good 30 to 40 shops at least.”
There’s a solid swath of IBM i customers in a manufacturing belt stretching from Greensboro to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Hamway says. Other early MAGIC members work in the distribution, marketing, insurance, and technology industries, she says.
The MAGIC plan calls for holding an annual user group meeting in September. The big draw there will be IBM i chief architect Steve Will, who has committed to delivering the keynote. Two-day workshops on broad topics, such as modernization or security, are also a possibility. There’s been talk of holding a modernization challenge, which have become popular at LUGs in the United States and Europe over the past few years.
Like other LUGs, MAGIC plans to hold monthly meetings, and to bring in a featured speaker to present on a given IBM i topic. However, MAGIC’s monthly meetings will be different in that there will be physical get-togethers in three different locations–in Virginia Beach, Richmond, and Cary, North Carolina. The featured speaker will attend one of the locations, and a live video feed will be sent to the other two satellite locations.
Hamway also wants MAGIC to reach out to local schools to get involved with their IBM i education. There’s the possibility of sponsoring students taking IBM i-related classes at local colleges and universities, and possibly helping to influence curriculum. And the networking connection could possibly lead to job opportunities for new graduates. “It will help the companies around here to know there’s another pool to hire from,” she says.
Hamway has certainly taken a lot on in starting MAGIC while also maintaining her consultancy business and running the ETL business at Hamway Software Solutions. But at the end of the day, she feels it’s all worth it.
“I’m glad to do it,” she says. “I’ve been on the ‘400 since it came out, in 1988, and I figure after 28 years, it’s time to finally give back to a platform that has given me my whole entire career. That’s kind of the way that I look at it. This is my turn.”