The Spark

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Thoughts on encouraging the ones around us to learn and innovate on our behalf.

I wrote the following little piece for the COMMON.CONNECT magazine about a month ago. I’ve shared it in its entirety below (in italics) and then expanded on my thoughts because in retrospect I really needed to go deeper.

“With the COMMON Fall 2016 Conference and Expo just a short time away, I wanted to write a little bit about the Young IT Professionals leading up to the conference. As a new member of the COMMON Board of Directors, I've also been given the privilege of leading the Young IT Professionals committee this year.

What is a Young IT Professional? I remember going to a YiPs session at my first ever COMMON conference in Orlando when I was around 21. I'm not too sure who led the YiPs discussion but I remember it was Kevin Mort (currently COMMON's Immediate Past President) who stopped me in a hallway to suggest I attend. I was hesitant at first because I'm a natural introvert but I couldn't have been more appreciative afterward. I didn't know anyone when I arrived but I left the conference feeling like I was really part of the IBM i community.

One of our focuses for this year is to expand our reach to young members and people new to the platform. We want to really encourage new voices to provide fresh ideas, different perspectives and to contribute to our community not only by coming to our conferences but by being active in the digital IBM i world throughout the year. And that's important.

The value of the IBM i digital world gives us a place to not only find the answers to questions we might have, be it technical or business related, but it also galvanises our community relationships that make going to the in-person events, conferences and workshops feel more like travelling a thousand miles to meet up with friends. We're all bound by the same IBM i technology that's almost like a secret handshake or a great joke of which we all know the punch line. That's what makes COMMON special. We all “get it.” The value of Young IT Professionals is that it helps keep that camaraderie going for the next generation of IBM i developers, administrators and advocates. These are the people who are writing their own languages on IBM i and trailblazing the open source world. That kind of innovation needs to be embraced and encouraged all year, not just at the Spring and Fall conferences.

With that being said, there's so many ways we can connect with each other.

  • Join the IBM i Professionals group on LinkedIn.
  • Search the #IBMi, #COMMONug or #PowerSystems hashtags on Twitter. Be sure to follow people who provide content and use those hashtags to talk about what you're doing!
  • IBM i is also on Reddit which is a great source of content.
  • COMMON also has an IBM Connections server! Connections is a great place to put your IBM i content and connect with other IBM i professionals. The great thing is that everyone at COMMON has a user ID and password for Connections.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. It's the tip of the iceberg. Don't forget there's a number of individual blogs where people are sharing their content all the time. And your ideas count too.

So, again...what is a Young IT Professional? It has nothing to do with age. It has to do with curiosity, a drive for education and the openness to help bring newcomers to Power Systems and its operating systems of AIX, IBM i and Linux into the COMMON community fold. It understands that good ideas come from everywhere, especially from people who are new to our world. When we do that, we breathe new life into our community and our individual careers.”

This is probably why we need to take an honest look at who we’re sending to conferences.

From 2003 to 2011, I worked for a company that sent me on corporate-sponsored training only twice. Two times in eight years! Both were short trips to Boston, which is only about an hour flight from where I live. My manager at the time, who was a great mentor to me in many respects, was adamant that he should be the one who went to things like COMMON, Lotusphere, and the Toronto Users Group conference. I disagreed with that philosophy then as I do now. Even more so in fact because I want the team who works for me to be better trained than I am.

Managers, directors, and CIOs who go solo to these conferences can get much out of it. It could be building relationships or getting high-level understanding of new IT concepts. They’ll then bring back those concepts and tell their teams to investigate. But chances are, most directors and CIOs won’t be in the labs learning how to load Git or how to perform advanced debugging with RDi. Of course, some of them might be doing just that. Personally, I’m that kind of manager. I’m a gear head. But the average high-level management person on a solo conference trip already has an expectation of what they’ll bring back to the rest of the team. They see the value of doing it that way; it’s cost-effective. But it also filters technology options through one person’s perspective.

The younger developers, database analysts, and administrators absolutely need education. The years from age 20 to 30 are a period when all of us are absolute sponges when it comes to new information. The company won’t send me somewhere? Fine. I’ll read the manual and get it done. What energy!

What happens? We get a little older and life gets in the way. We start having weddings and kids and mortgages and vet appointments for the dog along with all the other things that go along with being a little long in the tooth. You start caring about life more than your career. You get more perspective and learn how to not sweat the small stuff. Case in point: At age 37, what’s the best part of my week? 6:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are the days I coach my eight-year-old son’s baseball team. My wife and I work nearly opposite times of the day, so dinner time, when we’re all together, is always special for my family. My twin daughters will be doing ballet camp in a week, and I’m stoked. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my career. I really do love working in technology, specifically the IBM i world. I still love working at 3:00 a.m. in a cold server room, putting in new iron. While I still have that spark, I have a little more perspective.

That natural, internal spark tends to dim a little with time for many of us. What helps keep that spark alive is what we do with our lives and who we surround ourselves with: family, pets, and yes, even our co-workers. When we’re younger, we want to make that big impact at our jobs. We want to be that much better than the next person. We want to learn and contribute and be recognized as innovators. The spark is alive and well.

That’s the kind of person I want to bring to any conference. That’s the kind of person I want to hire. At our jobs, not having younger people with that spark around us lets us run the risk of being complacent. We need to have those fresh perspectives looking at technology and forcing us to listen. We need to see the world through the eyes of the ones with youthful exuberance for any task to make our companies do things better, smarter, and more cost-effectively. These are the people who need to be given some slack to forge solutions for our companies. But they can’t do it without support.

Young workers need to be trained. They need to be the trailblazers. They need investment.

We’ve all heard the mantra of “If I train them, they’ll leave.” If we don’t train them, what if they stay?

Every choice we make has a risk. We work in Information Technology, where things change faster than you can say MySpace or Palm Pilot or Treo. If we’re not taking risks, then we’re not doing our jobs.

Let’s keep our spark alive by encouraging the ones around us to learn and innovate on our behalf. When we do that, everyone wins.

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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