The Distinguished Professionals Of IBM i
February 17, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
We use the term legacy a lot in the IBM midrange and mainframe markets, and not necessarily in the good way we talk about political leaders or business executives or sports stars all leaving a legacy behind of their body of work. I use the term when it means something precise – legacy applications, for instance, are the ones that originated back in time and that have not been modernized in any substantial way because perhaps they don’t need to be.
I prefer the term vintage when I am talking about hardware and software releases because that conveys a certain amount of aging that has gone on with these wares, but now that I think on it, old hardware does not age well like old wine, and at some point, like wine, it turns to vinegar when it goes beyond that sell-by date. The memory chips lose the magic blue smoke that gives them life, the disk motors or platters fail, and so on.
While there are certainly IBM i professionals that will leave or have left a long legacy with their body of work, including the many people who actually created the System/38, the System/36, the converged AS/400 platform, and its follow-ons that this publication has always been dedicated to, no one wants to be called a legacy. We have IBM i and now Power Systems champions, but these are titles that are conferred by Big Blue for those who demonstrate steadfast and forceful faithfulness to the ideals of the AS/400 platform. I like the terms distinguished engineer or fellow, which I see a lot amongst IT vendors, to denote those techies who have contributed significantly to the advancement of hardware, software, or processes or, in the case of fellow, are given a lot of leeway to pursue their own interests once they have done distinguished work.
Given the long history of the IBM midrange, which dates back to 1969 when IBM Rochester was picked as the home of the System/3 minicomputer, we expect for there to be a certain number of distinguished gentlemen and distinguished ladies at work in the field, and from a straw poll done by HelpSystems as part of the webcast back in January going over the results of the 2020 IBM i Marketplace Survey report, that looks to be the case based on how long they have been in the IBM midrange. A similar poll was done last year among attendees of the webinar, and the questions asked then were less precise than the ones now. Before, the System/36 and System/38 were broken out as separate choices in the straw poll, but obviously have overlapping times, and with this survey, they are lumped together to cover a single time running from 1978 to 1987, when these two architectures dominated the IBM midrange. What was missing last year was any time between 1969 and 1978, when there were System/3 and follow-on machines that were running RPG programs and doing a lot of the same kind of work that System/3X iron was doing, so this year, that was added to the poll. Here is how the 2019 and 2020 straw polls stack up:
As you can see, about 8 percent of those who participated in the webinar going over the survey results predated the System/3X era and had well over four decades of experience in systems; it could be System/3, System/32, or System/34 machinery, or it could have been IBM mainframes or other systems. Another 31 percent of those polled came in during the System/3X era, with 41 percent coming in during the AS/400 era. Only 12 percent got into the field after 2000, when the iSeries era started, and only 8 percent started out their careers during the modern IBM i era. If you do an average time in the field across the System/3X and AS/400 era, then you get an average of 32 years in the field, with the range spanning from a low of 22 years to a high of 42 years, and we cannot get any finer granularity. We cannot estimate age from this data, since someone could have been very young when they started or relatively old, but there is a correlation. But it certainly looks like many professionals in the IBM i base – admittedly from this relatively thin sampling of data – are indeed distinguished.
I suppose that includes yours truly, who started in the summer of 1989.
It would be fun to talk to as many of the IBM midrange fellows as we can get ahold of, too. So if you are out that and you want to do a little storytelling, we love that sort of thing. Glenn Henry and Frank Soltis are at the top of my list, but if you have any suggestions, send me an email.