Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Volunteering, networking and blogging – it all helps!

The opportunities for NonStop programmers may not be as bountiful as they once were but this doesn’t mean we need to let the knowledge we have about NonStop be overtaken by current events …

Many years ago we took our car to a track where we had to do double duty as volunteer corner flag workers. Hadn’t done it before nor was I confident I would grab the right flag at the right time but as it was pointed out at the time, by volunteering we made track rental a lot less expensive and everyone I talked to was in favor of lower fees. After all, we still had to pay for gas, tires, brakes etc. so volunteering didn’t see all that bad. And did I say I was a corner worker at the time Margo was on track and there is no better close up of a driver than from behind the corner barrier! Or more entertaining than waving flags as hard as I could whenever Margo was right on the bumper of a lesser performing driver!

There are a lot of talented NonStop community members now on the sidelines, often times far removed from the action. When you consider what has happened across the NonStop community for the past decade it hasn’t been the best of times. Sure, NonStop systems are still playing a critical role within many enterprises and there are more than enough financial institutions and telcos committed to NonStop to keep many NonStop programmers gainfully employed, but increasingly, fully employed NonStop programmers are becoming scarcer by the year. Technology moves and continues to evolve and capitalizes on changing customer expectations as well as faster and cheaper components. Listening to the Apple announcement of their new phones and watches it was hard to ignore just how much computing power could be packaged within a watch – a dual-core chip, no less! In a wristwatch!

There continues to be numerous discussions over the strategic posture of NonStop – for a four-decade old architecture that hasn’t been matched by any other it’s a constant reminder of just how impressive the original architects had been in getting the basics of fault tolerant so right in a system so relevant even today. But this doesn’t change the prospects of NonStop programmers all that much other than to keep their expectations high – surely, there will be a new NonStop user nearby where I can continue to contribute and help deploy new applications on NonStop. Unfortunately, taking a leaf from the cloud phenomena, any demand being created isn’t quite what we expected as increasingly it’s a world best described as looking for NonStop programmers “as-a-service!” We used to call them contractors and even consultants, but mostly, independent contributors who are focused on projects.

So, what of volunteering? In part the answer is visibility – NonStop programmers cannot simply post resumes or hire companies to look for opportunities. The internet and social media have changed the game considerably but it is still mostly about the network and how strong our network remains is where I see so much talent being left warming the benches. As the likelihood of Insession remaining independent and the prospect of ACI acquiring Insession strengthened, I volunteered for ITUG and in due course, I managed to get elected to the ITUG Board of Directors. But this only came about because of my network – in the late 1980s I brought about the formation of a local RUG in Sydney that became OzTUG.

In due time, Tony Bond became head of OzTUG and it was through Tony, that I made it onto the ITUG Board. Margo and I were only looking back at how this all came about and it was really due to the support of some forward-thinking managers in the Sydney branch offices of Tandem Computers. However, here’s the bottom line. I had only been with Tandem Computers for just on a year and by volunteering to work on forming a user group, my visibility within the company and indeed, as it turned out, the local press, expanded considerably. As I left for fulltime employment with Tandem in Cupertino, the local Australian publisher of ComputerWorld approached me and asked me to write a feature story centered on my observations of life in Silicon Valley and this I agreed to do. He already knew that I wasn’t short of stories so perhaps this little nudge into the world of publishing was self-serving on his part, but the fallout from volunteering (I was an unpaid feature writer), was to expand my network even further.

Again, volunteer and build the network. I am recounting these experiences to encourage those NonStop programmers who are wondering where their next gig will come from. Finding a fulltime assignment that is well-paid isn’t on the cards for most NonStop programmers I talk to. Seriously, it’s very slim pickings out there and the time-off between productive days only seems to get longer. But we all have skills and they are mostly centered on what it takes to support a fault tolerant solution and how best to leverage the NonStop integrated stack! And here’s the really good news. The lack of training of the next generation of NonStop programmers is going to see the needle swing back firmly towards us – we are more than likely going to see a pickup in demand for our skills as junior, over there on his tablet, knows little about the real world of transaction processing!

There are a number of members of our community that you see commenting on posts to blogs, asking questions on social media groups – LinkedIn groups being one example – and yes, regularly contributing to their own blog. The one observation about opinions is that yes, we all have them. The same goes for assumptions as we all assume one thing or another even as we form and then communicate these opinions. We need to remember, however, when it comes to opinions, according to Australian writer, Peter Mulraney, “There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, as long as you understand that it’s just how you see it.” On the other hand, it was Isaac Asimov who wrote of how, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”

Point is, our experiences with NonStop have placed us in a position where we can provide sound advice, most of the time, and as we continue to write we develop a brand that in time becomes recognized. So yes, to all my good friends out there who email me about what they should be considering doing next I am suggesting just three things – volunteer, network and yes, join the world of social media and find your voice. Blog! As I have already mentioned the world of NonStop is about to come to you.

Think for just one moment of what may transpire should virtualized NonStop (vNS) really take off. Consider too that the community of vNS users will most likely be entirely new and that they are running it on VMs within server farms and clouds – do you think for one moment HPE has the skillsets in place to cover such a possibility? When it comes to global coverage, HPE or their chanel partner selling vNonStop systems, is going to have to tap the knowledge that already exists and they won’t know about you unless you get ahead of the curve and build your brand!

As I look back at how I came to be doing what I am doing today I have just a couple of parties to thank – the managing editor at ComputerWorld (Alan Power along with Graeme Philipson); Tandem Computers, Sydney, manager Steve Bailey; OzTUG and later, ITUG Chairman, Tony Bond; GoldenGate Software executives Tim Rathbun and Sami Akbay; and finally, my wife Margo who today continues to be my primary editor. As you can see, it wasn’t a large group of folks and when you spread their input across the three decades involved, it didn’t require very much from them either. We all need mentors and for me, the mentoring I received came from this group.

In closing, we are coming up to this year’s NonStop Technical Boot Camp. It is still very heavily skewed towards vendors and HPE but then again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it is our objective to stay close to NonStop. Volunteering, networking and indeed blogging all benefit from opportunity so even as you may be considering just how to get off that bench and let the broader NonStop community benefit from your expertise, start thinking about where best to showcase your skills.

Boot Camp may be a tad too expensive for many but at a minimum, there are always the RUGs and after all, if it wasn’t for the time I put in as a volunteer in support of OzTUG, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. Wouldn’t have happened! And should you happen to see me at one event or another and this is a path down which you would like to go then by all means stop me and I will be only too happy to chat about all of this and more. Waving flags or not, these are intriguing times so don’t let the opportunities that I see coming to fruition pass you by!      

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