Monday, September 6, 2010

Coffee! How about a beer?

In the week before I left for Europe, I spent the first few days back in Cupertino. In between playing the role of chauffeur for my wife, Margo, and catching up with folks, I took time out to revisit some of the landmarks around Vallco Parkway, Tantau, and Pruneridge. There’s always a need for coffee and there’s no better place to catch up on all that’s happening in the surrounding area than to stop by The Roasted Coffee Bean on the corner of Stevens Creek and South Tantau.

Jared, the owner, has been a fixture at the store from the time they were located in the shopping center alongside Homestead, tucked away behind the Duke of Edinburgh pub, and I happened to catch up with him for a quick cup and a pastry. And talking of the Duke, the picture above is of me in Munich outside the famous HofbrÀuhaus and framed against the Starbucks that has opened just opposite the entrance.

The business environment has changed so dramatically around his coffee shop, and he sure misses the Tandem regulars who dropped in for a coffee. He misses the good old days when his tables formed a perfect venue for a quick offsite meeting. My very first meeting with Pauline Nist, formerly the head of the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) prior to Martin Fink’s arrival, took place at his coffee table. I have penned quite a number of blog posts from atop his high tables.

Lunch was a quick sandwich at the Grain d’Or in the new Cupertino Square. Formerly the Vallco Shopping Mall it had been a lively place where Tandem id badges could be seen hanging from the belts of nearly everyone walking the halls. The Cupertino Square continues to be anchored by the big three retailers – J.C. Penny, Macy’s, and Sears, but there’s little life left in the place and even less that reminds me of the times I spent shopping for Cupertino souvenirs.

Driving along Vallco Parkway on my way to my next meeting I passed the former Tandem buildings 1, 2 and 3, as well as my own former “home,” building 4, but everything looks different. Gone are the cream colored Tandem “tombstones” lining the streets as today, outside the freshly painted two-tone gray buildings are the Apple logos that have just sprung up all along Vallco and Tantau.

So much has changed and I have chronicled much of it in this blog. Yes, the Tandem swimming pool has been filled in and yes, Jimmy’s headquarters building is now flying the Apple flag, and yes, the TV studio’s in the building behind the Com building over on Ridgeview court, where First Friday clips originated, is long gone, and yet, NonStop continues. I suspect there will never be a plaque or a statue erected to commemorate all that transpired within the buildings still standing, or references to all those who made a contribution to Tandem Computers over the years (and where did the obelisk go containing the signatures of all employees the year Tandem pushed through the one billion revenue mark) but all the same, I wonder if something will be done one day.

All of this came to mind as I watch the preparations for the upcoming NonStop Symposium start to ratchet up in earnest. Registrations are really beginning to climb after a very shaky and worrisome opening period. There’s a good mix of users registered as the number of participants pushes through the 350 mark with just on a month left to register. Historically, most of the activity really occurs in the final three weeks. Apart from a sprinkling of European users participating there are those in HP Cupertno busy sorting through visa applications as there’s quite a number coming from India, Singapore, Japan, and Korea – a very healthy sign that the NonStop Symposium will be much more than just a local regional NonStop event.

However, in the background, I continue to hear the murmurings and whispers over the demise of so many old Tandemites – how can events continue with so many missing? “Talking ‘bout my generation,” comes to mind. In fact, how can NonStop keep going with so many hard-core Tandem developers no longer working for the company? So many of my friends have retired that, walking through the HP buildings housing the NonStop team, I don’t recognize the faces. I sometime wonder what Jimmy T would be thinking if he, too, were to walk once more among the NonStop team. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Is the message here any different from what it used to be simply because the participants have changed?

In the exchanges I have had of late in online forums and groups, it’s hard to tell what my good friends and former colleagues really want? Would it be impressive to re-hire the original development team and to ignore how old we all have become? Will we always associate success with the presence and active participation of the once great development teams that populated the offices along so many corridors within the Tandem campus? Do we want to see the hallways lined with walkers and motorized chairs? Should today’s cubicles be plumbed for oxygen distribution? Isn’t it time for us to look around and just recognize that yes, “the kids are alright!”

Few of us can ignore the never-ending saga of Brett Favre as he continues to play American Football into his early 40’s where, for the first time, I read commentary not about the possible contribution he will make but rather, about the fallout from his presence on the team and how it may hold back the younger players. How many of us have witnessed the struggle to perform at the highest level that has bedeviled perhaps the greatest F1 car driver of all time, Michael Schumacher. Even the mighty Indian cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, who is fast approaching 40, is rumored to be retiring next year, after the world cup, much to the relief of Australian an English cricket teams.

I am often caught wondering why we are enthusiastic about welcoming young players to our sporting teams and cheering from the sidelines whenever they do well and yet, when it comes to something even more important we barely acknowledge the presence of younger developers? I was talking to the CEO of an Australian based software company that for the past several years has been adding fresh recruits from the Universities to the ranks of their developers. At Integrated Research, Mark Brayan was telling me how well these young programmers adapt to working on the NonStop platform and how surprised they are at how comprehensive the combination of the operating system and infrastructure has become and how easy it is to develop new products for the platform.

The new development model for NonStop may not be perfect and the pursuit of off-shoring, or globalization, may have been happening too quickly, but it’s happened and I don’t see any immediate potential for its reversal. Whether development teams are in Ireland or Scotland, Romania or Bulgaria, India or China, or combinations of all of them, development in support of NonStop is now a global pursuit. When you combine what HP is financing with the investments being made by the business solutions as well as tools and utilities ISVs, the knowledge of NonStop that has spread into every corner of the globe represents enormous potential for the platform.

The NonStop Symposium is still weeks away. I will be giving a presentation on networking, and on cutting the ties to SNA, an architecture and technology rapidly entering retirement as well, and for many, well past its “use-by date!” I’m up against some very stiff competition, mind you, so much so that I have created quite a stir by offering a free bottle of good Aussie wine as a door prize. Something I wouldn’t have contemplated a few months back but yet further sign that the NonStop community continues to stay strong and to grow – why else would so many really good sessions compete for only a select number of timeslots?

As I walk the corridors of the San Jose Fairmont hotel, I will enjoy conversations with many friends I have known for decades. I will drop in on presentations of product roadmaps to hear the latest from product managers I used to work with, and look at the audience to see how well they are received. I am also going to start talking to those from overseas and those who definitely will be much younger than myself – what is it that attracts them to NonStop? Do they share the same passion I do? Can they envisage the same solutions to myriads of business problems that keep me so plugged into all that is happening with NonStop?

I’m now in Europe and far from Silicon Valley, but enjoying the company of vendors and users alike. The European roads are an unfamiliar place for me and the cars have engines I haven’t seen in years. Landmarks and signposts provide little encouragement as I head for the next city. But the restaurants and bars are just as popular as they are anywhere else and whether you follow football, cricket, or car racing, its always exciting to talk about the new talent bursting onto the scene.

“The kids are alright,” and isn’t it time we began to give them more of the limelight and shouldn’t we at least back away just a little from our reminiscing about the great deeds of the past? After all, the world has become so much better connected and ideas spread far more quickly – I have no worries that new solutions are only a few beer coasters away. Just as it’s always been! And if you pass me walking along the corridors at the Symposium, stop me! Let’s have a chat – I would love to listen to what you think will become the next chapter for NonStop. And I am sure Jimmy T wouldn’t have it any other way …

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