Shared Lives, Shared Careers...But Separate Offices
Susan Gantner and Jon Paris on the reality of online training and the enduring value of educational conferences, career mentors, AI's potential and pitfalls and why retirement is a work in progress
Charlie Guarino: Hi everybody. Welcome to another edition of TechTalk SMB. I’m sitting here today with a couple of luminaries, in my opinion, in the IBM i community, people who when you first come to think of education in our community, advancing the platform certainly in many different ways and all things good in that regard. I’m talking about none other than Susan Gantner and Jon Paris. I have to say that it’s a real treat for me because I’ve always looked to them for educational advice. I’ve been reading their articles for many, many years as I am sure many people on this podcast have been and they are just a complete wealth of tech resources that is just amazing to me, unparalleled in fact. So it’s a real treat for me to have both of you on the call today, so thank you very much for joining me.
Jon Paris: Well thank you, Charlie. At this point I’m so embarrassed by the intro that I’m— [laughs]
Susan Gantner: Don’t know where to go from here. What’s the point for people now?
Charlie: I think we’ve reached a high point, so it’s all downhill from here I suppose, right?
Jon: It’s all downhill. That’s right.
Charlie: Okay. Well then it should be easy for us. How’s that? You know it’s interesting to me Susan and Jon one of the things that I think a lot of people don’t even know—you know people think of you, I think in many people’s mind, as a pair. You always come as a pair certainly, but people may not actually realize your actual relationship you have with each other. I think that’s a bit of a mystery to many people. Tell us. This is a tell-all. [laughs] Rumor has it—
Susan: Revealed here?
Charlie: Yeah, exactly. Rumor has it that you guys are married. Any truth to that?
Susan: Oh yeah.
Susan: Better yet, we’ve got a big anniversary coming up.
Jon: Big anniversary coming up the end of this year.
Charlie: A big anniversary?
Susan: 25 years.
Charlie: 25 years.
Susan: I know. I can’t believe it either.
Charlie: Wow. That is a big anniversary. Congratulations.
Jon: Yeah, and we haven’t done any planning because we thought it was next year [laughs].
Susan: Face it. Even if we had known it was this year, we wouldn’t have done anything.
Susan: We’re not planners.
Jon: We’re not planners.
Susan: Planning is not our strong suit.
Jon: That’s true. Planning is not our strong point, I would say.
Charlie: So we’ve been on the circuit for quite some time together and I’ve been to many conferences where I’ve seen the both of you, and that is an interesting point that I wanted to really get on record here, and that is that you’re always together. At least I mean that has been my experience. It’s been very rare for me to ever see one of you without the other one there, and I’ve told you this many, many times but I wanted just to get this on this little podcast here, and that is that when I think of you, I have the same thought about Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney. I’ve seen Paul being interviewed a couple of times and one thing that he said really struck me, and what it was was in all the years he was married, and I’m sure it was more than 25—he was together with Linda more than 25 years. He has famously said that in his entire time with Linda on this earth they were separated, apart a total of 11 days, and that’s been quoted. I just read something yesterday to verify this, and one even said one day. I find that a little hard to believe but 11 days is equally as amazing, but that’s what I think of the two of you. I think of Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney.
Susan: Well, I think we probably had a little more than 11 days apart, but we are pretty much—
Jon: Not a lot more.
Susan: Not a huge amount. We are pretty much joined at the hip and I mean not just because we work together. We’re married and we work together, which a lot of people say I could never work with my spouse. How on earth do you do that? But it works well for us. We couldn’t imagine it any other way, but I mean it’s ridiculous. We do everything; we even go grocery shopping together. We do everything together.
Jon: Share an office.
Susan: Yeah, that we don’t do.
Jon: That’s the one thing we don’t do.
Susan: We were forced to share an office for a little while at IBM—
Susan: When we were both with IBM and it didn’t work well. He talks too much. He has too much noise going on.
Jon: I need noise all the time and Susan needs silence. That does not go well together.
Charlie: Would you mind breaking into song for me right now just as a— [laughs].
Jon: Yeah, anyway so that’s the only thing. My office is upstairs. Susan’s is in the downstairs part of our house.
Susan: We do a lot of Skype between person—
Jon: We do Skype and phone intercom between us.
Charlie: Oh, that’s interesting. In the same house, so to speak. In the same place.
Jon: Oh yeah.
Charlie: Oh, that’s pretty great.
Susan: Yeah. You get tired of screaming up the—well, because he’s got the radio on. You know I can’t just sort of yell at him from my desk because he can’t hear me.
Jon: On occasion when we’re working out of a hotel room or something like this, which of course doesn’t happen as often since Covid as it used to, but when we’re operating like that, then typically I’ve got headphones in so that my noise doesn’t distract Susan.
Charlie: So let’s go back a little bit then. So how did this collaboration even get started? I know this is TechTalk, but when did you first decide to starting working together, I suppose?
Jon: I’m trying to remember it. Shall I—
Jon: Start this and then you can pick up? Basically, when I was working with IBM on the COBOL team, as I was originally hired on to work with the COBOL compilers, and the first time Susan and I ever worked together was that because I had a lot of user experience before going into the lab. They wanted me to brief the Rochester people on what was new in the COBOL compiler, so that was the first collaboration we had. That would be in 1988 I guess, something like that.
Susan: No, it would have been before that.
Jon: Was it?
Susan: I don’t know.
Jon: No, ’88 is when the machine came in.
Susan: Yeah, but I thought—anyway, who knows what year it was.
Jon: See? This is why we can’t work in the same office. Anyway—
Charlie: It makes for a good story. It makes for a great story actually.
Jon: There was that briefing thing and then my role—we didn’t work much together for quite awhile, but we did see each other occasionally at conferences and things. So we were, you know, teaching similar topics and then I got involved in trying to make ILE comprehensible to the masses, let’s put it that way. And I was working with some guys in Rochester and trying to come up with training materials. Round about that time, I also knew you from working and watching Susan present that she was the kind of presenter that was needed. She was the kind of person you needed to put out in front of the business partners, because what was happening was that IBM were putting the deep techies from the ILE architecture group in front of the business partners to try and tell them what was coming and were basically scaring the life out of them. So Rochester came to me and said we need more user level type discussion ways of presenting it to the business partners and early customers. Can you help? I said well yes, but if you want someone local, the person you need to get a hold of is Susan Gantner. And so Susan and I shared materials. She picked up the ball and—
Susan: Yup, that’s it. So, I was in Rochester at the time. He was in Toronto.
Jon: Yup. Yup.
Susan: And so yeah, we actually met physically I think for the first time in a COMMON conference—
Susan: In Chicago yeah, but anyway.
Charlie: And there was a spark.
Susan: No, not then. I mean, I don’t know. He was fun. I do distinctly remember, oh that’s what he looked like you know—
Susan: But yeah. Of course that is before actual email as we know it today, but we had the internal IBM email system at least—
Susan: Profs that we used a lot. So we did a lot of communication that way.
Charlie: You know it’s funny you say that. You make a good point. When people would start listening to like, for example, people on the radio and then you would see them for the first time—oh, that’s what they look like. It’s very hard to put the face to the voice. I get it, so yeah.
Charlie: Completely, but let’s keep going with that because you started out in education and obviously that’s your gig, that’s what you’re most well known for of course. But I think that the landscape has changed over the years. In fact, I am sure it has because I’m in it myself—maybe not in the same capacity you are, but I’m in it and I have seen things in my years in the industry so to speak. What do you think? What’s changed since you first got into it to where we are today? For better or for worse perhaps?
Susan: Well, the biggest thing to me that’s changed is that you know, I think we both started in System/38, even before AS/400, and at that point I was quite proud of the fact that I felt like I really had my hands around the system. I mean I wasn’t a specialist in everything, but I understood at a fairly you know—
Jon: A little bit of everything.
Susan: A relatively deep level I understood pretty much everything there was to know about system, including the AS/400 when it first came out. But just over the years, the system has just grown and broadened. It’s become such a broad spectrum thing and at the same time it keeps getting deeper, right? You need to know more about these other topics. So I think what’s happened to me is that I’ve had to narrow my focus dramatically, and it took me awhile to get my head around that because I really liked the idea that I knew everything. For a while I tried to keep up with everything and I found that over the years, I just had to narrow focus more, more, and more. I mean now especially since working with Paul Tuohy for so long, I tried to hang onto both RPG and SQL and be equally competent at both, and Paul was much more into the SQL side of it—
Susan: So I said great, I’m just going to leave that aside. Not that I didn’t keep up with it at all, but I wasn’t trying to retain any expertise particularly—
Susan: And you know focus more just on the programming side and the tools and that kind of stuff. And so it’s frustrating for me in a way that I was kind of forced into these narrower paths, but then again, it’s also been rewarding because it is good to know a lot about what you’re talking about, especially when I’m teaching. The only time it’s ever bothered me to stand in front of people and teach is when I felt like I didn’t know at least two or three times more than what was on the charts, right? And when sometimes especially within IBM, IBM has this tendency to sometimes think that technical presenters were plug-compatible, you know. Here, give them some charts and they can cover this—it’s kind of vaguely in your area. And I could never do that. I mean I did a few times, I was kind of forced to, but I definitely try to stay away from it because like I said, I’m never comfortable doing it. I’m only nervous when I don’t really feel I know a lot more than what I’m actually trying to teach.
Charlie: And that would become obvious to the attendees.
Jon: Oh yeah.
Susan: Yeah, eventually. Yeah.
Jon: In fact, that was the death knell of my time with IBM. I finally quit IBM and accepted a job that I’d been offered some 12 months before when my manager, who knew nothing about programming, insisted that I give him my charts and that he would replace me on the Asia-Pacific tour that I was supposed to be about to go on.
Charlie: We talk about onsite training and speaking at conferences and the like, but you know it’s no secret that the attendance is down and I think part of that is because—well, two things, perhaps. I think the way we consume education today is very different than it was. It’s much more pervasive, the content that is, but is there something to this that people are busier today than ever or are they not allocating enough time to education or I guess don’t need it? I don’t know. That’s one thing I struggle with because I think education is probably more important today than it’s ever been, because to your point there’s just so much more out there today that we need to learn.
Jon: All of the above, I think. I would say that for me the rot sort of started to set in with the widespread availability of internet, so even when people were sent on education classes, user group conferences or COMMON or Summit or whatever, they were still taking their work with them and you’re actually teaching a class knowing full well that the three rows at the back have all got their 5250 screens up and they’re fixing problems for work. Those who are lucky enough to work for a company that understood that education was valuable and needed focus would not do that.
Jon: But there were always people, so that was the sort of start of it. Then of course you get the whole Covid bit coming along which forced us all to start looking more at remote, and the rise of companies like Zoom offering good online conferencing systems at reasonable prices made a difference.
Susan: And allowed all that education to at least continue.
Jon: And let education to at least continue.
Susan: I mean we’d just have been dead in the water if there wasn’t something like that. So it was a good thing for getting through the pandemic and I think it will continue to be a good thing, but—
Jon: But we hate it.
Susan: Right. Right now, I think the problem is that management, particularly if it comes to someone the management has to pay for or approve, they will all say well can’t you just do that online? I mean I’ve seen these other conferences online. You don’t have to actually go there and stand in front of somebody to learn from them, and online education can certainly be quite valuable. One of the things that we’ve found, much to our surprise—as Jon says, we don’t really like doing it if you can’t see their faces and see the light bulbs go on, because that’s to me the whole point of teaching.
Jon: Correct. Or the shutters coning down, which is—
Susan: Yeah or the shutters come down, which is every bit as important to say wait, I’m not getting through to them. But you know that’s the way we teach, and so it doesn’t suit our model very well but some people do it quite well and a lot of people can learn that way and a lot of people have no other option. I mean when we did the first virtual Summit and all of our workshops and lunch and learn and things that we’ve done virtually since the pandemic, it never occurred to us how much of a worldwide audience we could get which we couldn’t really to any great extent. A few international people would come to Summit but not very many, so it’s both good and bad. We don’t like it but—
Jon: I mean the biggest problem—and you must have encountered this, Charlie—is that yes, you have a slide deck, but you never teach the class the same twice. You’re constantly watching your audience, seeing what they’re keying off on, exploiting their understanding or doubling back on things that clearly they didn’t get, etc. And as a teacher, you lose that in the online environment. As Susan said earlier, you can’t see the whites of their eyes. Even if you persuade them all to turn on their cameras, all that that proves to you is that half the time they’re drinking coffee, talking with their kids, dealing with the cat, or taking phone calls. So, it can be equally depressing when you can see them [laughs].
Susan: I was going to say we used to try to encourage people to turn their cameras on during classes and then after awhile we thought no, let’s just not.
Jon: Let’s not encourage them.
Charlie: Exactly. I just want to point a couple of things out. I was making some notes while you were talking and the first thing you said to me that I found humorous, Jon, was you said the back three rows in your session, they’ll have their green screen on and they’re doing work. I would say if you only have three rows, you’re lucky. I’ve seen far more in my sessions [laughs], so congratulations on getting it down to only three rows. In fact, we should have a dedicated part in the conference room. This is the room for everybody to work on the—
Susan: Yeah. Yeah.
Jon: Yeah, yeah.
Charlie: But you make another good point, and that is—certainly the pandemic has removed the word local from local user groups, and even the tiniest of groups have now become worldwide—
Susan: Which is great.
Charlie: But now I think there’s been a shift once again and now a lot of the groups, even the larger ones, are no longer doing these hybrid events. You know you have to be there back in person again.
Susan: Yeah, which I mean as much as I dislike virtual only, I think I almost dislike hybrid more.
Susan: We were often asked couldn’t we at least record our Summit sessions and make those available to people who can’t come, and we always resisted it because we always felt that that was trying to serve two masters—there’s the audience in front of me and there’s the audience online. And I personally—maybe some other people can do it, but I personally can’t do justice to both. I think I can do a reasonably good job of teaching online and I think I can do a reasonably good job of teaching in person. I don’t think I can do them at the same time.
Jon: Yeah, I mean in person of course you get to convey a lot with body language, etc., which you can’t do in a normal Zoom thing unless you’ve got a professional studio camera setup or something.
Charlie: Yeah, but part of the appeal in my opinion was the fact that it was a little bit ragtag perhaps, or a little more you know grassroots, and I think we were all in that same boat and it was an interesting study in human behavior. Because we all got an opportunity to peek into each others’ lives and their homes and things that you would never have with Zoom.
Charlie: I’m kind of glad it’s over—or mostly over, I should say. I also host an online forum to this day, but it’s a different paradigm for sure.
Susan: Yeah, for sure.
Charlie: Anyway, let’s keep going with this. So talking about education, there’s no end to what we can keep talking about for our session, and IBM i—you know our world continues to evolve at a great pace, which is to me a great pleasure and a great reward I should say. But what do you see coming down some new trends in the IBM i space that gets you both excited as far as far technical tools, or the tooling or the languages or hardware perhaps even? Anything that really jumps out at you that you say oh my God, that’s really cool and I want to talk—you know, tell people about that and talk about those topics.
Jon: After you.
Susan: Ah, thanks. Yeah, I mean I don’t know that I can think of any major ones. I mean it’s just sort of the fact that things just keep going. Crazy as it might sound, every new release of RPG comes out and I read the stuff that Barbara [Morris] has put out there on the RPG Café and go I never even thought about doing that. So it surprises me that in a language like RPG that I think I know so well, it just never even occurred to me that I might want to do some of those things. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that I as I look at other languages like PHP and stuff like that, I go why don’t we have that in RPG? Of course in many cases now we do, like you know the some of the looping capabilities and ray support and all that kind of stuff.
Charlie: So how do you stay up with technology? I mean short of just reading what you said about Barbara Morris, how do you keep current? I mean it’s so much information and I think the role of a good presenter, educator, trainer, whatever the case is because there’s so much information out there, it’s incumbent on us to really distill information into a usable form because there is so much out there. But how do you decide with the wealth of information that’s available, how do you decide what to put into a session?
Susan: I’ve gotten to the point where I sort of edit out stuff. If I couldn’t figure out a practical way to use this, I don’t put it in. Or if I put it in, I will actually just say let me know if you come up with a good use of this, because for the life of me I can’t figure out why it's here. And I sometimes I get responses back and I go oh yeah, good idea, and so I’ll maybe put that in, but I know a lot of people would sit and go through one line item at a time and say I’ve got to cover every single new thing that’s coming out. I just sort of say yeah. And there’s other things, you know. Go look at RPG Café or the RDi new stuff list, whatever it’s called, the what’s new in RDi list and stuff like that. I’ll always sort of end with there’s other things out there. I’ve focused on the stuff that I find useful and if I don’t personally use it on a daily basis, I can at least understand where somebody would if they were a certain situation that I’m not in.
Jon: Right. As far as keeping up with new stuff, I’m a voracious reader/listener, etc., so I tend to play with a lot of new technology when they first come along and if they seem promising, then I go further down the road. Then I think Susan has said quite often she takes a look at them when I stop swearing.
Charlie: Okay. Is that really true?
Susan: That’s absolutely true.
Jon: Absolutely true.
Susan: Yeah. He’s the company guinea pig and every once in awhile there will be stuff that I’ll go boy, I’m glad I left that one alone [laughs]. Let him fall on that sword for me [laughs].
Charlie: Let’s change the topic a little bit. There’s so much I want to ask you, and I guess we’re not going to get to my list of 77 questions. I hope you don’t mind if we don’t get through all of it, but there’s so much that this is a unique opportunity for me to have both of you at the same time. Let’s talk about something that’s near and dear to me and that is, talk about mentors, especially with the recent anniversary of IBM i 35 years which to me is an amazing feat on many levels. One of the things that I put on LinkedIn was a small tribute to two of my mentors actually, Al Barsa and Bob Krzeczowski of COMMON. These two people have really in a very large way put me on a path—I mean there have been many others along the way too, and I guess mentors do change over time—but they put me on a path into public speaking and to really getting me started and inspired me to do all that. I often wonder if you’ve had any similar experience, if you had any mentors in the early days or even today. You know if somebody were to ask you who are your mentors—old and new, near and far—who would you name in that list?
Jon: I’ll let you go first.
Susan: I mean for me if I go really far back, not in the IBM i space at all by any means, but my dad was the person who got me into computers. I was going to be a sociologist. Nothing to do with computers; I really had no interest in it whatsoever. My dad worked for IBM and had been a computer geek all his life and he was the person who kept hammering away at me all the way though college and university. I did throw him a bone and took some computer courses and was amazed how much I loved them—but still no, nope, not what I’m going to do for a living. Then I got out and said you know what? I am either going to turn around and go back to school for another 10 years or I’m going to do something else, and he says while you’re thinking about it, why don’t you go down and get a job doing some IT stuff? I did and never looked back. So he definitely was my first mentor and was the person who warned me off of System/38. He said you’re going to love it—it will be the best thing you’ve ever done—but you shouldn’t do it because it’s not going to be around forever. Here we are, 35 years later—
Charlie: And here we are, exactly.
Susan: On that system that my dad was convinced was going to be a bad career decision for me. It’s the only—well I won’t say bad piece of advice, but piece of advice of his that I ignored, because I knew where he was coming from, but I did ignore it anyway and am really glad I did. Coming into more the AS/400-IBM i community probably at the next level would be John Sears. One of the reasons I moved to Rochester from working for IBM in Atlanta was to be closer to people like John Sears, or to be close to all the heroes in Rochester. But in my mind, John being the teacher among them was the biggest one. So he was a big mentor for me getting to be more known as a speaker and the kinds of technical things that I could do. These days I would have to say that Jon—I mean I laughed about him being the company guinea pig, but he is the person who drags me sometimes kicking and screaming into—
Susan: Really, everything. Everything.
Susan: That is my bread and butter stuff now. At one point I was saying to him, why do I want to do this again? I don’t understand what’s important about this. I’ve always said I’m a slow learner, but when I do get it, I get it and—
Jon: And can teach it.
Susan: Can teach it and will teach it forever, which is something that Jon—he gets tired of teaching stuff. He says okay, I’m really into this topic and I’m going to teach, teach, teach this stuff, and then he goes, I’m tired of this. I don’t want to do this anymore. So I kind of get some of his leftovers, castoffs all the time.
Susan: I just perfect them for you, dear [laughs].
Jon: Yes you do, dear. Yeah with me, my first experience teaching was with the English company ICL, who were at the time as big in a lot of Europe and places like Australia as IBM were, and they started doing what they call customer centers where we used to train accountants to program. It was a language very much like RPG and I was recruited into that center to replace a guy who interestingly enough was immigrating to Canada. So my mentor during that period was a lady by the name of Annabel Webb—who, courtesy of Facebook, I just hooked up with again a few weeks ago—who taught me how to teach basically, and how to listen to students and pace them. Then I didn’t do an awful lot of speaking for a very long time until after joining IBM in Toronto, and they decided they wanted me to speak at COMMON and introduce the new features of the COBOL compiler for AS/400. From that point on, I used to make a point of watching other speakers, and I don’t think I could claim to have a specific mentor in that anybody who sat down with me and worked through it, but guys like John Sears, Al Barsa—although I could never present like Al Barsa—Jim Sloan, Ed Simon probably. Most people won’t know but Ed Simon and Dick Bains were probably the closest to mentors that I had. Then subsequently a whole bunch of other people, Paul and Susan. I would return the favor to Susan because she is the one who beats me over the head and tells me no, they’re not going to understand that.
Susan: Yeah. Sometimes he’ll want me to review something that he’s written, an article he’s written or a presentation that he’s doing, and I sort of argue with him a little bit and say I think you should do this a little bit differently. He sort of goes oh no, this is good. I’m going look, if I don’t understand it what are the chances? You know you and I think so much alike. If I don’t get it, when you had to spend this much time explaining it to me, what are the chances that somebody else is going to get it?
Charlie: Susan you mention that you moved to Rochester because—John Sears, for example. I just think back at my very first time attending COMMON was in the 1990s, and this was before there were even, you know, an on site, online presence. In fact, there was none and to meet these people, I was reading their articles, it was in some strange, nerdy way—I guess I was starstruck, and I think that is still relevant today.
Charlie: People still want to meet the—you know, the thought leaders in our industry in person, and meet with them and sit with them and just ask them a question, whatever the case. So that’s yet another good reason in my opinion why you should go to live conferences in person.
Susan: Yeah, absolutely.
Charlie: That’s the stuff you can’t get on Zoom. Even though you can see people, it is never the same.
Charlie: And I’m not trying to disparage Zoom by any stretch. It is just it’s a whole different—
Jon: The one to one thing, not just with the presenters but I think when we were doing the Summit, what the majority of people were telling us was that yes, I enjoyed the sessions, but sessioning with other attendees, talking over lunch or over a drink in the evening about common problems and what we have done to resolve them, etc., that is what you miss with the online stuff.
Charlie: Correct. I couldn’t agree more.
Jon: People have tried to duplicate that in various ways and I’ve never yet seen it work because when you’re one on one—there may be a group of five of you and maybe one person tends to dominate the conversation, but if you know that there’s someone in that group, that you’ve got shared problems, you can turn sideways and just start talking to them, right? Whereas in the online world, I find that people who are the loudest tend to penetrate, shall we say?
Charlie: Consume all the oxygen as it were.
Jon: Consume the oxygen. That’s a very good phrase for this, yes.
Charlie: Yeah exactly. So let’s just shift a little bit. So we talk about application development and how it is evolving, as it should evolve and continues to evolve, and certainly we’re in the digital age today, more than we’ve ever been before. So the digital age of application development introduces new things, AI especially, and things like CoPilot and things like that. What’s your take on that? I mean as far as its role in app dev, is it a blessing? Is it a curse? Is it both? You know there’s always a double-edged sword when you have these conversations, but what’s your take on how AI is going to impact application development?
Jon: I’ve gone a bit further into that than Susan has, so—
Susan: Definitely. Still in the guinea pig phase.
Charlie: I think a lot of us are, by the way.
Jon: Yeah. I think to me, the answer is it’s both good and bad. The good thing that can come out of it is that a good programmer—and I think Richard Malone from CNX was the one who said he had been wresting with a particular problem for weeks and weeks and weeks and could not work it out, and finally used Chat GPT or something, one of the tools, and asked it how would you write code to do this? It came up with an approach he had never thought of. Within days he had a working solution to something that had troubled him for months.
Susan: It probably didn’t actually take that code and—
Jon: It didn’t actually take that code, but it was an approach. Well, the code came back in C# or something—
Jon: Whatever, but anyway, so I think there is a wonderful opportunity for that kind of thing. Where the danger lies is in the people who, unlike Richard, aren’t smart enough to realize that I need to study this, understand it, and make sure it does everything it should, because as we all know by now, AI lies. It just makes stuff up and why you would think that wouldn’t happen with a computer program when it also happens when you ask it to write an essay for your university course is beyond me, but people do seem to believe oh, this will just work. Well I’ve had it write RPG code for me and it makes up BIFs.
Charlie: Makes up BIFs [laughs]? That's funny.
Jon: It makes up BIFs, so you can see what it’s trying to do and therefore you can take the code and modify it. But my biggest fear is that programmers who won’t realize that one has to treat this as a suggestion and not absolute truth, and perhaps even worse, managers, particularly ones who aren’t terribly technical themselves, will reach the conclusion that AI is doing most of the real work. So I can say that every job will take 1/3 of what the programmer tells me it’s going to, so you know there’s a fear there of management. There’s a fear there of lazy programmers.
Susan: I think it has usefulness as a tool but not as a crutch. My biggest fear is that people will use it as a crutch or as a replacement for actual thinking—
Susan: Developers, right? I mean we all know as developers there’s a lot of grunt work that goes on in writing code and letting somebody else generate that. I mean we’ve got the wizards and stuff on a very low level, not AI kind of stuff really, but we’ve got some of that kind of stuff. In some ways it’s just a sort of super iteration of some of that. Let’s use it to help out in certain areas, but I mean maybe someday it can replace a real live programmer, but I think that day is a long way away.
Charlie: It’s in its infancy, certainly.
Jon: Yeah, and it requires a different skill set. AI, no matter how good, is only as accurate as the questions it’s asked. So if you fail to ask the question completely and comprehensively, what you will get back may work, but it won’t actually perform all of the task.
Susan: I have a similar thing even interacting with people, right? I mean how many times have you been asked a question or read it online or whatever on a forum and go okay, I can answer this question. You know, how do I do this? Sometimes I go back if it’s an individual question, particularly to me as an email, and I say I can answer the question, but first I want to know why you want to do that. If it seems like sort of an oddball request I don’t want to refuse to answer it, but I want to know a little bit more about the context—
Jon: The background.
Susan: Of the question and you know, why is it you want to do this? Sometimes they sell me on it and I go fine, okay, I understand now why you want to do it. This is what I would do. Other times I go back and say well, if that’s what you’re trying to accomplish, the question you asked was the wrong question. This is the way I would approach that.
Charlie: How dare you not know exactly what I’m trying to say when I’m thinking? Right.
Jon: I’ve found a couple of times with things like RegEx, I know that a RegEx search is what I want, but I wasn’t brought up with RegEx and I still have difficulty in understanding it. I haven’t even reached a stage yet where I’d attempt to try and teach Susan, so—
Susan: Wow. It has been a long—
Jon: But I can ask an AI to do it for me and understand what it produced enough to know whether it’s going to do the job. So things like that, I think. There are niches where I would use it regularly right now, there are areas where it needs exploring, but certainly when it comes to RPG coding, it needs to be fed a hell of a lot more base code examples, and specifically good examples, because of the stuff it’s been fed is really old and if you ask it to produce a modern RPG program and that will do X and what you get given back is an RPG III example, you know it still needs help.
Charlie: Hence the term machine learning, I guess.
Jon: That’s right.
Charlie: So I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Paul, because in my mind while I’m enjoying this conversation with the two of you, certainly Paul comes to mind because you are on some level to many The Three Musketeers, that goes without saying [laughs]. But I did want to ask you a question because Paul is actually not in the room with us right now. Is there anything you want to tell me about Paul, just between the three of us here? Anything you want to tell us about Paul while he’s not here and not listening to this conversation [laughs]?
Susan: Oh dear.
Charlie: I can strike that question if you like.
Susan: No, no, no. No, we’re good. Gosh there are—Paul is Paul, I mean.
Charlie: Where do I start? Where do I start?
Susan: Yeah, really where do you start with Paul? I guess we can start in one way by saying that we’ve had such a successful working relationship with Paul, and that’s not true of all the partners that we’ve tried to work with in the past. So it’s really good that we get along so well—
Jon: Professional and personal.
Susan: Yeah, professional and personal, absolutely. And so you know we have a lot in common with him, but not everything. So we butt heads from time to time and we’ve had a few moments of I can’t believe this, but I couldn’t think of anybody better to have partnered with for all these years. He definitely has the community and the good of the platform and the language at his core as we do, so you can’t really do much more than that. He is one smart cookie if—speaking of cookies-
Susan: If we could just teach him to pronounce cookie, you know.
Jon: Paul says kookie.
Susan: I love the Irish accent but every now and then some of his pronunciations are like, what? What did you just say?
Jon: As an Englishman, I’m more familiar with hearing the Irish pronunciation than most, but even so having been over here so many years now, every so often Paul will say something and I’ll go what?
Charlie: That’s funny and I’m going to just add to that. I absolutely agree with everything you said about Paul, but I add him to my list of mentors as well. In my early days, being at COMMON in particular, he’s inspired me to do that, so I have to you know, prop to him, certainly. So thank you Paul for that too. So let’s start wrapping this up. What do you see as far as what’s coming up or any new initiatives that you’d like to look at or pursue? What’s new and upcoming with anything or you’re trying to accomplish that’s coming down the road?
Jon: Retirement [laughs].
Susan: We are. I am as close to 70 as I want—as I’m going to be—
Jon: As you can be for that.
Susan: And Jon’s been there for awhile so yeah, retirement is one of those things that we—I would say the funny thing is we keep telling people we’re working at it. We’re trying. We’re trying to retire.
Jon: We practice from time to time.
Susan: Yeah, and it’s hard. I mean it’s hard for us. We’re so attached. It’s so much a part of our lives—
Susan: Our lives together and just individually. It’s so much a part of our lives. It is really, really hard to give it up in some ways. On the other hand, retirement is very appealing so in many ways, so we’re kind of working our way in that direction, but we’re still got things going on. I think we’ve still got a lot we want to do. We’ve got some workshops coming up here in the near term, but you know I don’t see us totally—not one of these people that sort of kind says okay, I’m retired. I’m going to do something else.
Charlie: Here’s the gold watch and you’re on your way.
Susan: Yeah, and me personally, I think Jon maybe a little bit more than me, might have a few things he actually wants to take up and spend more time doing that’s not IBM i related. But I think we always have our hands in as much as we can.
Jon: Yup. I mean my idea of retirement so far is spending more time answering questions on online forums.
Susan: Still working, but just not being paid for it.
Jon: Yeah, that’s right. Working but not being paid for it.
Charlie: Right—volunteering. Well I think that just speaks to your passion for technology overall, and I think I’m in the same camp as you. The notion of actually retiring, just walking away from this, I don’t know. At least not today I don’t see a clear path to that. I don’t know how I could, how you could even walk away from—I mean people have, I guess, successfully, but I don’t know how you do that.
Susan: Yup. I do know a few. I mean we were talking about John Sears earlier, and I believe he pretty much walked out and—
Jon: But he didn’t give up computers.
Susan: He did work on some other platforms.
Jon: He went and worked on other things—he started from scratch.
Susan: Yeah, but I’m not that person. I’m too invested.
Charlie: Well I will share with you that I’ll never forget some of my old neighbors—they were already in retirement and they all told me the same thing, and that is they were so busy in retirement, they don’t know how they ever had time for work.
Susan: Yeah. I’ve heard that too.
Jon: We’ve experienced that to an extent ourselves.
Charlie: Wow. Hey listen, this has been such a real treat for me to have you in the room with me and to have this great conversation. I’m so appreciative of your time and I’ll just say it again: On behalf of the IBM i community, certainly everything you’ve contributed and given guidance all these years and information and distilled information which is no small feat. That’s a lot of work and I recognize the effort it takes to prepare a session, monthly articles and blogs and the like. You know it shows a real commitment, so thank you for everything that you’ve done and thank you for that and thank you for this time too. It was really special for me, so thank you. I’m so glad we got to do this as our kickoff for the fall of TechTalk.
Jon: Thanks, Charlie.
Susan: Thank you, Charlie.
Jon: It was great talking to you too.
Susan: We always need a cheerleader and you are one of the best.
Charlie: Oh my gosh. Okay. Well thank you. Thank you for that. Thank you Susan, thank you Jon for everything and for your time today. Thank you everybody who is listening to this podcast today. Stay tuned for other podcasts. We have a lot of great guests coming up down the road and until next time, we’ll see you again. Take care, everybody. Bye now.
About the author
Charlie Guarino // President, Central Park Data Systems
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