In the Wheelhouse: Why You Need to Be at COMMON

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The value of the premier Power Systems user group is not to be missed.


By the time you read this, there will be less than one week before the COMMON User Group Annual Meeting and Exposition starts in Anaheim, California. Ideally, you are already registered, have your hotel and flight booked, and are making short-term arrangements with the office to ensure things go as smoothly as they can whilst you're away. If you're like me, you've been half-heartedly plotting secretly with yourself to buy a cheap car in California to drive down to Mexico and rent jet skis for a living, never to return to the snowy Northeast. I may even send for the wife and kids.


But what if you aren't registered yet? There's still time!


And I'm going to try to help you justify it.


I've been in the IBM i world for about 15 years. The biggest regret of my career is not attending COMMON and other education conferences as often as I wanted. I was there in 2002 and 2003. I remember meeting people and attending sessions that really opened my eyes to how powerful the then-iSeries really was. I remember coming back to my work invigorated with a "we can try this" energy. I was stoked about Linux partitions after attending a session with Dave Boutcher and Erwin Earley. Erwin was launching foam "Tux" penguins at attendees if they asked a good question. It was a blast. I was armed with a CD with POWER-ready Linux code I would load on our little box. I saw Kim Greene speak and realized how much of our Lotus Domino environment (<cough> which I inherited, by the way) was just not set up right. I remember making Domino configuration changes at the airport lounge while waiting to fly back, knowing I could make a difference in overall performance.


In late 2003, I began working for a company that "didn't see the value" of sending me to COMMONor for that matter, anywhere else unless I could get there for less than $100 of expensed mileage. I couldn't even expense lunch while on business in certain areas of our little community, while other areas were fine. Sound ridiculous? It was. I spent eight years at that company and eventually stopped asking for training after more than a few consecutive years of being turned down.


During that part of my career, I learned by way of reading the manual and being really isolated from what the rest of the world was doing. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with rolling up your sleeves and working through the manual in order to build or support something, but when you do that, the only opinions or interpretations are your own or the fellow untrained people sitting in the cubicle next to you. While I did learn a lot during those years, which was mostly industry/business related, there was literally a gaping hole in my professional development that I really needed when I was a twenty-something sponge. I wanted to be able to conduct a presentation where I wasn't shaking in my boots from stage fright, even in front of five or six people. What's the best way to do that? Experience. I didn't get comfortable until just a few years ago. The great thing about COMMON is that it's a user group. Abstracts can be submitted from anyone, and there's nothing like honing your boardroom skills than presenting to your peers and being questioned on the content.


Another reason to get out there is to find out about what the other guys are doing. It's one thing to read a forum or a blog to put your finger on what you perceive to be the pulse of your industry, but it's another thing to actually go out and experience what people are doing. Being able to ask someone not only how they solved a problem, but why they solved a problem a certain way really comes through best via face-to-face communication. You can read a lot from speech inflections and body language. Furthermore, you're making contacts that you can tap into in the future.


Since leaving that company, I've been to the COMMON annual meeting for four years straight plus the occasional fall meeting. I've been reconnected to a wealth of knowledge within the Power Systems community, which has provably paid for the membership dues, conference fees, flights, and hotels. The contacts I've made have helped me solve everyday problems, cut support time down, and decrease the need to bring in consultants.


Think about it. You get four full days of sessions where you learn from industry experts about the strategic direction and technical components of the platform that runs your business. You get to strike up conversations with people who do your job at other companies, learning about their struggles and successes.


When I get an opportunity to speak at COMMON, it costs me time building slide decks, taking screen shots, and conferring with support to make sure my information is accurate. Is it worth it? Absolutely. In fact, if I had more time, I'd be happy to contribute more of it. The return on investment is very real, and it keeps returning year after year. This year, I've give four sessions, but I'll attend far more than that. What I take away in technical knowledge is far more than what I try to give. With that being said, I can't afford not to come to COMMON.


I spoke with COMMON president Pete Massiello about what he was looking forward to about the conference. If you get a chance to see any of his systems management sessions, then please do.


"I am really excited about the upcoming Spring 2015 Annual Conference at Disneyland in Anaheim from April 26 to the 29th. First off, it's a great location for a conference, as we have been here before. We have over 320 sessions and labs scheduled for the conference, plus a sold-out expo, and the best speakers in the world are coming to COMMON. IBM is also planning on making some very interesting IBM i announcements at COMMON.


This year, we are also featuring a VIOS track and high-level and technical sessions on Linux on Power, SQL, database modernization, free-form RPG, system administration, RDi, OS upgrades, Ruby, and more. Don't forget the core IBM i training at COMMON that shouldn't be taken for granted either. We have made sure that the education being offered is what you need to succeed in your career. In addition, we have three pre-conference workshops, certification testing, and networking receptions.


You know, education happens at COMMON not just in the classroom, but in the halls as you are walking with other attendees, in "Ask the Experts" sessions, in nightly networking events, informal discussions, one-on-one with speakers, and visiting companies in the expo. But it doesn't end there. The friends that you make at COMMON allow that education to continue to grow throughout the year, as you now have a team of experts that you can call on and expand your IBM i knowledge by talking to and emailing them. I am looking forward to some great sessions, expanding my knowledge, seeing my existing friends, and making new friends. If you work on IBM i, you need to be here to enhance your career, improve your value to your company, and learn about new technology. Safe travels, and I look forward to seeing you at the conference."


I can't end this piece any better than that. I hope to see you there.


Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly


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