Though we're aging, embracing change may be a ticket to staying young.
The System i has attracted an interesting mix of individuals, a fact brought home only too clearly last week by the death of Al Barsa Jr. and the reactions people have had to his passing. This is a tight-knit community, and the outpouring of grief that has been expressed since the loss of one of its leaders is remarkable.
One of the postings on the http://www.mr400.com/ Web site, where people are invited to leave messages of condolence, is from former IBMer Wayne Evans, who says, "I will remember Al as the hard driving, hard working, hard playing, and friendly person he was. I think that there are no individual[s] outside IBM [who]...had more to do with the development of S/38, AS/400 and iSeries than my friend Al. You will be missed but not forgotten."
Evans' sentiment is similar to that of many others who were shocked and saddened by the death of Al Barsa Jr., people who feel the loss of someone they loved and admired. I started to wonder, as many of us surely did, if anyone would post such nice notes, and so many, on a public Web site if suddenly we took a journey into the great beyond. What was it about Al Barsa that made people feel so strongly toward him? What combination of personality, behavior, talent, and, yes, circumstances, all came together to make his death so moving?
Clearly, the circumstances contributed to the impact the event had on people. His end was quick and unexpected, it occurred in a hotel room, and--what could not possibly have been more ironic--it happened at COMMON. Many people had seen and talked to Al just days or hours before, and a number of them had just attended one of the five sessions he gave, the last one being on "Save While Active," which was presented from 5:00 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the Governor's Ballroom C. Those who were fortunate enough to sit in on this session were privileged to see Al's final COMMON presentation. I think it's safe to say that no one sitting there in that air-conditioned meeting room dreamt for a second that this was a man who was doomed, a man who was living the last 24 hours of his life. Talking, presenting, and sharing and never knowing that it was the last talk he would ever give.
Al's death brings our own mortality into acute focus. It also raises the specter of a whole generation of System i professionals marching off to retirement, perhaps, sadly, to jobs at Wal-Mart, some eventually toward nursing homes, and all of us, surely, to death. Who will be the next to go? But more important, who will take our place in line? Have we given enough talks, trained enough technicians, inspired enough young people, made the platform easy enough to use? I'm thinking of the answers to these questions, but they are not ones I wish to share.
I wrote a column last year from COMMON Anaheim that appeared in MC Showcase. It mentioned the sense I had of returning to the show after 15 years and realizing there were no young people to be found anywhere at the conference. This year, I didn't have quite the same sense of a reunion of veterans of the Vietnam War, but neither did I see a lot of young people. I would say that the folks who attended this show seemed to have more energy than last year. But, as Al Barsa's death has proved, looks can be deceiving. We're all getting older, and the pace seems to be accelerating. It may be that 60 is the new 40, but we're clearly aging inside. How many System i professionals exercise daily?
The further irony of Al's death, and another sign of the times, is that on Wednesday, April 2, IBM announced that there no longer would be a computer known as the System i. The proud descendant of the S/36, S/38, and triumphant AS/400 that shaped a generation of IBM professionals was gone...forever. The very next day following the announcement, Al Barsa died. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it's ironic to the point of being eerie. Did Al believe that he would no longer be needed? Is there a sense among other System i professionals today that their hour of glory is behind them and that their lives are fading with every passing day and newly written line of Java code?
There are several characteristics of youth. One of them is a willingness to embrace change. Another is the ability to remain tolerant. A friend of mine once said about going gray with age, "The main thing is that you have hair. Who cares what color it is?" I would spin it: "So long as you're working, who cares what platform you're working on?"
I think Al Barsa would find plenty about which to be passionate in today's world of technology. Let's face it. The medium in and of itself may not have been all that fascinating. It was, more likely, Al Barsa, and many others--the human element--that made it interesting. It was what Al brought to the platform in terms of thoughtful hard work and passionate creativity that made it fun. Henceforth, it will be what we bring to today's technologies that will make them come to life for the next generation.