Friday, January 30, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas

It was another anniversary, this time Margo’s birthday, and I am driving back to Boulder. Friday night was spent in Las Vegas, and I put the first thoughts together as I looked out at night lights of the edifices along its famous strip. It wasn’t until I arrived in Boulder that I finalized the posting and the storyline has been with me for a couple of days, but as I headed out of town I was reminded of how much I associate Las Vegas with the user community. And the picture I have included here was snapped while I was leaving Las Vegas.

The first time I went to Las Vegas was for an ITUG Board Meeting in 2000. Tony Bond was the Chairman of ITUG and had selected Las Vegas as an ideal location for a “winter” gathering, but the hotel we stayed in was far removed from the glamour of the major hotels we associate with the strip today – it was the only hotel in Las Vegas with no slot machines! No way to gamble whatsoever! A far cry from the venues we expect these days.

It was only a few short months after I joined GoldenGate that I had the good fortune of participating in our user event held at the Four Seasons Hotel – a venue at the opposite end of the spectrum to the one that was chosen for the ITUG Board meeting back in 2000. The Four Seasons proved to be such a hit with the GoldenGate community that the ’09 event will be returning to the same location. Of course there were the back-to-back HPTF&E events in ’07 and ’08 – where we all saw the performances by Train and Matchbox 20 … as well as those given by HP executives.

Being back in Las Vegas for an anniversary reminded me of how last years HPTF&E event was the 30th anniversary of ITUG. Actually, it was Scott Healy, former ITUG Chairman and now a Director of Connect, who reminded me of this milestone – but I had been working backwards with the ITUG timeline and had thought the year was about right. I have an ITUG backpack, provided at the annual event in San Jose a couple of years back, that has a collection of badges on it gathered from all the events I have attended - and I found the 20th and 25th Anniversary badges! Last year just had to be the 30th!

Looking at the badges, I saw that in 1993 the ITUG annual event was in Orlando and that was the 15th anniversary – so altogether, I have attended the 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary events. Expressed another way, I have attended half of all ITUG events that have been held and for fifteen years, at these events I developed many friendships as I used these occasions to network relentlessly. Many of the friendships I enjoy today have their origins in ITUG. Last year, we saw no anniversary buttons celebrating the 30 years – and for me that was a bit of a shame. No T-Shirts were handed out at the ITUG party, and no speeches were made. It was as though the milestone simply passed by, completely unnoticed, and without fanfare of any kind!

With the amount of driving Margo and I are doing lately where it seems many weekends finds us on the road heading back to Boulder or returning to Simi Valley, we continue to work. Margo will routinely move to the back seat so she can pull out her laptop, spread out her papers, and keep right on working. And of course there’s the Blackberry we both have become so dependent on. We have really adjusted to the new world of mobile computing – anywhere if there’s power and a signal we are working! The picture here is of Margo, outside a Starbucks, checking email shortly after leaving Las Vegas.

I hadn’t noticed how obvious it was that we both work away on our Blackberries even as walking along the street. We were both in San Jose on January 22nd just as the news came out that President Obama had been cleared to keep his Blackberry, and a local Fox TV reporter came right up to us and asked us a couple of questions about our reliance on Blackberry. Well of course, our comments made the ten o’clock news on the local Fox 2 and a number of readers picked up on the event – at one point, I remarked how if I were President there would be no way anyone would get me to give up my Blackberry! Margo assured me that this silly comment was sure to land us on the news! She was right.

For thirty years, one of the most valuable parts of the annual ITUG event was the way it brought us together to network. It was at these events we talked with one another about the applications we were running, the problems we were encountering and the third-party products we liked or disliked. It was where we went to find out what was going on across the community of NonStop users. These were the days before the Internet, the Web, and the PDA! This is where we worked hard to find time to listen to others and to relate what we were doing at our shops to others with similar interests.

In today’s community, how much of this communicating do we now do electronically? Have Google, Wikipedia, and any number of social networks, transformed the way we share experiences and check up on what others are doing? And is the need for events a generational thing – something the younger generation, coming up through the IT ranks, has little patience for? Already I see many participants huddled over coffee emailing colleagues, writing up notes for others in their company, or even blogging for other communities.

I was reminded of how widespread readership of this blog has become when recently, I received an email from Tom Hebel: “I came across you blog today while looking for NonStop installations in Southern Nevada.” Tom then went to explain that he was at Citibank when they bought the first Tandem, and how he went on to join the first ITUG board of directors and to become the second President of ITUG.

As Tom retells the story “the first Tandem was absolutely sold to Citibank - Bob White, a Senior Vice President at the time, purchased it off the floor at the old NCC held in the old NY Coliseum. It then sat in a warehouse on 7th Avenue for a period of time. I was presenting a proposal to Bob for the purchase of an HP3000 system, (and Bob asked me if we could use a Tandem System. I told him that I had read about Tandem and we could probably use it - at that point he said ‘Case Closed - I have a Tandem for you - it is in our MIS warehouse.’”

As for his experiences with ITUG, which came into being just one year later in 1978 (and as TUG initially), Tom wrote back to say “I was a founder of ITUG and the second President. Jim Barrintine of the Ohio State College Library Center was the first President, I was the first Vice President and I believe we had three other board members - Dr. David Mishelevich of the University of Texas, Bob Strand from Chicago, and the last member slips my mind. The first TUG meeting took place at the LeBaron Hotel in San Jose. The stories are all wrong - the regional groups came into existence way after the start of TUG. I believe they started as SIGs (Special Interest Groups) and eventually evolved into Regional (User) Groups.”

Tom would never had made contact with me, or even known about the community today, without the postings and comments in this blog. And I appreciated Tom’s emails – these days Tom is the President of TCI Systems and he’s searching for contacts in Southern Nevada. For any who may be interested, feel free to contact Tom at

ITUG didn’t celebrate its 30th anniversary as a much bigger event overshadowed it. Connect was being created and the focus was very much on the future of the user group. But it’s very hard for me to let go of the past, or to loose touch with the folks who contributed so much to laying the foundation for something that energized the community the way ITUG has done. And it’s very hard for me to ignore what the future holds.

Tom mentioned in his emails the NCC – the National Computer Conference. I flew from Australia to attend the NCC in Houston and later, in Anaheim back in the early 80s – and long before COMDEX arrived. But they are no more. HP will always want to hold exhibitions and have a forum to talk about its latest offerings, and IT will find value in attending. But will future generations of IT professionals derive the same value as we did from user run events? Or will they even have the time?

Or, will the future be something very different where all the information we seek, as we work from anywhere we can find a seat, where there’s power and an available network, and where all the contacts we need can be found from blogs, on web sites, and within discussion forums? Will there come a time where our community will share information by simply beaming it to our PDA – and will we, like President Obama, fight hard to retain our Blackberries!

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