Episode 3: The IBM AS400

Flying back from Sedona I was thinking back on New Year’s Eve and my days in Sedona. During the course, I became friends with one of the other participants, Victor, a writer from the UK, and we spend time together on the airport there were delays because of the heavy snow which was fallen which caused the planes bringing us back home were rescheduled. Victor started writing when he was 12 years and published his first book at age 21: “The story Of Tess”. Only 36 he had already published 5 books, which were well received, and wrote a daily column in an English newspaper writing about social and political issues. He was flying back to Amsterdam where he had a large meeting planned with his readers in Hotel Americain and he was constantly in WhatsApp’ing his publisher hoping he would be back in time.

Reflecting on my own journey so far I was jealous on what he had accomplished. Before I started working in IT I had tried out al kind of jobs because I did not know what I wanted to become and, that is still my problem now. When I finally started working in IT at 30 this was just an easy way of earning money which I needed because my wife was pregnant and it was nice having earning money in an easy way and driving a company car: around 1980 it was very easy to get a job in IT without having the proper qualifications.

I remember being trained in Belgium as a software programmer where I was looking at a screen whole day with code and was certified after three weeks because at the end of the day I was still looking at the screen when everybody was gone. This was what the software company I was doing the training expected from me: give the impression of working and making long days so these could be billed to the customer, customers did not have any knowledge of IT in these day and you could sell them everything,

After some time, I became friends with one of the partners who always was the last to leave the building and appreciated a good glass of wine. The one thing I remembered from him is that he advised me to always wear a suit and tie and polish my shoes when wanting to make a career in IT. When I finished the course, he took care I was assigned as a software programmer to an IBM reseller who developed software for the AS400 computer designed to support medium sized companies. One day, still staring at the screen and not being productive at all, the manager of the company came to me and asked who of the programmers knew something about finance. Because nobody gave a response and I had learned you did not have to know anything at all in IT I said I was interested: after all I had done accounting on High school and had trained students in accounting during my studies. So after working as a software coder for three weeks I became instructor and in three months project manager, in no time I got a bigger car and a laptop.

On my first assignment with a customer I drove to the south to a laboratory which had just bought an AS400 and where IBM had done the implementation of the computer and the cables, and the screens. I walked in with three software tapes under my arms, introduced myself and was guided to the computer, uploaded the tape, looked at the screen and typed in INSTALL FIS and the computer started doing all kind of things. Time for me to start drinking coffee with the Finance Manager who was just appointed as IT responsible and also knew nothing about IT.

I asked him if he had any requirements about the new financial package and he did not have a clue: as long as the package worked as he was used to it was OK for him! When I asked him for documentation he told me they did not have this so I asked him to put this on paper and send this to me and made a new appointment with him in a week: too early for him and we agreed he would do this in two weeks. My first lesson: always take care next action is with someone else! After 6 hours, the software was installed and the start screen came up: time to leave and my boss could bill 8 hours to the customer: my first invoice for only drinking coffee and let others do the work!

Of course, he did not send me the requested description so I went there again, asked him for a list of account numbers, showed him how to enter them in the system, asked him to add them all before next week, had lunch and went back home after half a day. I had a list of 24 steps to be done before the system was ready to be used and it took almost 4 months before we finished them all and my boss was very happy for all the hours spend and invoices send. When I did not know something, I phoned a colleague and when this took also some time to investigate his or her hours were billed also.

I remember one customer very well who lived in my home town and, after we did the implementation, told me he and his partner both had a budget for external lunches but that he, as financial manager, did not have enough contacts to spend this. Because he also wanted to be out of the office weekly he asked me to lunch with him Fridays at his expense. For more then a year I went to the restaurant on my bike at 12:00, had lunch untill 15:00 and went home afterwards sending him an invoice for the whole day, an relaxed ending the week for me…

My boss was very happy with  this arrangement and toke care the manager got a laptop, the first one in his company. I give him some private lessons how to work with it at our office because he did not want his employees to say he did not know how to work with a laptop.  One day he called me and told he erased his computer by typing in DEL a:*.* an asked me to come to the office after working time to restore the software. If you know a little bit how IT worked when companies were first confronted with IT you could have a lot of fun and you did not need to know too much to become an expert and successful IT professional. Three years ago, after having worked for almost 30 years in IT, I stopped: time for a new challenge although I was still teaching Information Management to students who liked my stories on IT a lot.

While discussing this with Victor he said this description of the starting days of IT looked like the current impact of social media on society. While the first IT revolution was changing the way we work social media are changing the way we communicate, not only in the public but also in the private environment: while I was having lunch 30 years ago with my customers now the new generation is communicating through WhatApp and Facebook with it’s customers all over the world and which they maybe even had never seen. Social media have big impact and has changed the way we communicate significant, he wrote a lot about this issue in his columns. The reason he participated in the ‘Resurfing” course was he wanted to know learn more about this methodology because he was writing an essay on the modern communication paradox.

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