What a wonderful iAdventure! The iBelieve European tour visited five locations in two weeks, talking to the IBM i community from various countries. The audiences were quite different in each, and reserved as audience members - certainly in comparison to the previous iBelieve audiences in North America. The attendance was unexpectedly high, and the anticipation was palpable. The feedback from each event was very positive.
My presenting style is very direct, I don't believe in talking around a subject, but to address it head on. While this is sometimes interpreted as opinionated in the written form, in person, people tend to warm up quickly when they find I can be self-deprecating and take a joke. Without exception, the European audiences appeared a little wary at first, but warmed up with Dr. Frank, got more comfortable with Paul and Pascal, and by the time my session and the iBelieve event was over, they left in high spirits, feeling motivated.
The only time my frank approach may have caused any issue was during iBelieve Benelux. I made an offhanded remark relating to the fact that EGL was not a preferred development tool for many companies. I did ask if there were any companies using EGL, and a small number of people raised their hand. Apparently, one of those companies has had some success with EGL and were offended by my lack of respect for their chosen tool. I apologized for my irreverence, knowing that any successful development with IBM i projects is good for the platform, and have offered to add their success stories to my presentations. I await their response.
During the iBelieve sessions, while there was some audience interaction, there was more to be learned by talking at the breaks and the end of the event. The highlights for me were Stockholm and Vienna, where we uncovered two fervent supporters of the IBM i platform, not only vocally, but with their actions. Each of them was a business partner, both using the most up to date hardware, operating system version and technology refreshes, and keen to upgrade to the next release as soon as they could. One, specifically, built a complete development framework of IBM i DB2, RPG and PHP technology to develop and deliver modern applications, and they also bring strong outside talent to the platform. The announcement that RPG was to become completely free form was akin to a light in the darkness for them, as they feel they can bring more talent to the platform without the steep learning curve of fixed format RPG specifications. Both companies were eager to be at the leading edge, and this was reminiscent of the community twenty years ago.
More of the attendees were closer to the other end of the IBM i spectrum, where they continue SEU development creating green screen applications in the same manner as they have for at least the last decade - some for more than twenty years. Most of these customers had the same question - “what do I do?”. And, ironically, almost every one told me they were different than everyone else. The truth appears to be, looking back at all the iBelieve events, that the IBM i customer base is now ready to get on with modernization. Attending iBelieve seems to be part of the search for the answer.
At every event on the iBelieve Europe tour, I asked the same question of the audience - “why are you here?”. The response was silence, until the very last event, where one attendee quietly said “because I believe”. I asked the question because no matter where iBelieve was held, the attendance has been strong. Is it simply because the IBM i community is ready to modernize? Most definitely, that is part of it, and clearly the community is wanting answers.
In Poland, one attendee asked a question of the panel that was boiled down to “what do I do?”. However, the question was wrapped in quite a long diatribe including a discussion of the lack of ability to make time to learn new tools and languages, an expression of discomfort with the removal of the MOVE opcode from the free format RPG language, a revelation of the amount of work a one person IBM i shop has in any given day, and a general meandering about what appeared to be the usual challenges for a small IBM i IT organization. Unfortunately, I mumbled about trying to suggest that the only answer is to apply some vision, strategy and planning along with some research. Typically, traditional IBM i developers suffer from pushback when asked to look at the big picture, and in this case, there simply is no other answer.
In hindsight, it was not possible to answer every attendee’s “what do I do” question. Yet, from many, I learned that they were motivated, inspired, and willing to take steps in the modernization direction. More than one attendee told me they would return to the office and spend some time learning RDi with a goal to developing with modern tools. More than one attendee told me the event had given them more ideas about the direction of their own company's IT than any other past event. More than one attendee told me they would engage more in social media and follow product directions and strategy more closely.
The most heartening response to iBelieve has simply been to recognize that the community believes in IBM i, and those who attended believe IBM i has a strong future.
My heart is warmed!
IBM Champion, looksoftware