Josh Hall Discusses Open Source on IBM i
In this episode of iTalk With Tuohy, host Paul Tuohy interviews Josh Hall on the skyrocketing adoption rate for open source on IBM i.
Josh Hall:Hello, Paul.
Paul:So Josh, you are―well I think I can start off by saying 2018 must have been a good year for you. You're one of the class of 2018 IBM Fresh Faces and you are also an IBM Champion for 2019.
Josh:Yes, that's right. A very good year indeed.
Paul:So a busy year 2018, Josh?
Josh:Very busy. I'm still recovering.
Paul:Okay well listen―I think a good place to start, maybe just tell everybody sorry what is it you do?
Josh:I'm a consultant, which is a broad term. I like to say that I'm an advocate for the open-source community on the IBM i, and that usually entails consulting people on how to install those open-source tools, on what to use and sometimes―in fact most of the times―it also includes development using those open-source tools. So you could call me an open-source consultant, I guess, on the IBM i platform.
Paul:So are you seeing a lot of uptake on―I'm sorry. We all know of course the big-the enormous push that IBM are putting into open-source on the platform at the moment, but are you seeing a lot of uptake on that?
Josh:I am actually. I'm seeing a shift in understanding. There was quite a bit of what I would think is misconception about open-source back five or so years ago, and that has started to shift now that IBM is investing so heavily in open-source. I think people are starting to see the validity of open-source.
Paul:Okay so what would you say the misconception was?
Josh:Well, security issues. A lot of people I would hear at conferences, their worry was what of―since the source is open, a hacker can see it and therefore it's vulnerable, you know. But now I'm hearing that less and less and I attribute that to, like I said, IBM investing in the community as well as speakers such as myself. I gave a talk not too long ago speaking about how even though open-source is open, it is far from vulnerable. In fact I would say because it's open, it is less vulnerable, but that's a whole talk in itself.
Josh:That was one of the―
Paul:We―we―we―-we'll-we'll come―we'llcome back on it. So―so I know from having spoken to you about this before Josh that that is one of your pet topics, I would say. Do you have any―like you're dealing with people on open-source on the platform, are there any other sort of major things that you know, that push your buttons a little bit, that you're sort of just going, "you know, I really wish people would just get this?"
Josh:You know, there's a few things. There's the value of open-source itself. I think people are starting to see that, as I just kind of covered there. Another thing I think―another misconception on maybe the word securable in the IBM i community, where maybe people mistook that as meaning that the IBM i is the most secure. At the end of the day security is up to the end user, right, how you secure your system.
Josh:What they mean by the most securable is that it comes―the IBM i comes with everything you need out of the box to secure it. So whereas most other platforms you have to install something extra to secure it, like virus protection software or something, the IBM i comes with everything you need out of the box. So it is the most securable in my opinion like everybody else says, but you have to be careful with understanding what that means. You still have to secure it at the end of the day.
Paul:Yeah. Yeah I remember this when actually when the whole―way before your time, Josh―but when the whole sort of internet started and that and suddenly people being able to access the system through browsers and things like that. It was just the―
Paul:You know people sort of going, "but I never had to do this before," and you're going at us because all you used was menus on a green screen so [laughs]―
Paul:But actually to just touch on this, Josh. If I can just step back a bit, Josh: I mean, how did you end up on IBM i?
Josh:Oh, right. So I had gone through a lot of jobs here in Sioux Falls, just bouncing around because each company would start outsourcing its work to the next company and I would just go to the next company as they outsourced, right? So I kind of exhausted the jobs here as they kept outsourcing to other companies. I had run out of options and there was this shop, this IBM i shop that was desperate for developers. I kind of put it off for months. I was looking for other jobs because I had heard these IBM i horror stories―not from, not from IBM i people obviously, but from web developers that had tried to develop on the IBM i and had―had whiplash from it basically [laughs]. So I was scared, to be honest, but I finally took the job out of desperation, and what I found interesting was I could still do everything I wanted to do. I feel like all those horror stories was just those people hadn't tried to do it. Does that make sense? Like for example―
Josh:I was told by my boss you can't do Git on the IBM i. This was back five or so years ago before we had 5733 OPS or anything else. And I was like, well that doesn't make sense. It's a C―well it's built to be multiplatform and you can build it on anything―so "why can't you?" was my question. It eventually evolved into me experimenting and finding out you could build Git on the IBM i and I could do all the things that I was used to in Linux. Now that evolved to where I am today, trying to spread what I learned about being able to do that.
Paul:Cool. So let's talk a little bit about where you are today. So―I mean I do like this in that I always love when I talk to people like yourself, Josh that didn't come into the platform in the traditional way, like people like I did which was sort of well that's what our company had and you know that's―
Paul:I've been an RPG programmer for 500 years, you know. So I'm seeing this where you know somebody coming into it from the point of the new technologies and that. So from that perspective―and I don't mean this just in terms of the technical side, the hardware side or the software side―but to you on IBM i, what's the big thing? What is it you like most about it?
Josh:So when I discussed doing all my research and finding out I could build Git, while doing that I discovered the IBM i community. And it's just―so the open-source community, and Linux and all the other ones, they're welcoming and they have their corners of the internet where they're passionate of course just like every other industry, but I've never been in one like the IBM i where like the top names in the industry are accessible. You can visit them at conferences and talk to them one on one and they don't mind that and they're not bothered by it and they welcome conversation and criticism. I'll give you an example: I was―I think the second conference I went to―the first IBM i conference I went to―was the RPG/Db2 Summit―
Josh:And Barbara [Morris] was there, and she spoke with me at dinner for hours, and I thought I was bugging her. I was like, "well we can go if you like," you know and everything, and she was like "no, I'm loving this conversation. Let's keep talking." You know I couldn't imagine having that from anyone else. And by the way, I don't know if I mentioned it, but Barbara is the RPG compiler developer.
Paul:Developer, yup. Yes, it's a thing. I do know and as I'm sure Barbara told you, I mean it's a thing that for her to get out from the development lab, and to talk to real people is a thrill for her.
Josh:Yeah she said―
Josh:She loves it, yeah. And I mean that's almost everyone, it seems―like even, like Steve Will, I've had conversations with him at conferences. Yeah they don't mind talking to the community and spreading, you know, a good word if you will.
Paul:Yeah and so have you noticed―and again we've touched on this before in conversation privately, I know, Josh―is the thing, the other difference is that in general, the community, like the online community and that in IBM i, it's a little bit politer to each other especially―
Paul:When you ask stupid questions [laughs].
Josh:Right. Right. Right. Yeah, there's definitely more understanding, I guess, in the IBM i community.
Josh:I think maybe it's that the IBM i community is maybe used to being, maybe unheard of―
Josh:So when someone―so when someone new comes in they're like hey, someone new. And yeah sometimes, like Stack Overflow for example, you can run into some abrasion―
Josh:Because they're trying to be so scientific and technical about it that they remove any sort of type of... what's the word? Not―is it ethos maybe that I'm looking for? Where it's like, you know, understanding what the person is asking and not necessarily spitting back what they shouldbe asking.
Paul:Yeah. Yes, very much so. So one of the things just to clarify: The area that you concentrate on mostly from a language side then would be which?
Josh:So right now I'm playing a lot with Python, but language wise for my history would be―PHP has been a huge chunk of it. I started out―I don't know. Have you ever heard of QuakeC?
Josh:Yeah so that's actually what I started out―
Josh:Developing in is I helped this fork of Quake called Nexus back in 2003, and that's what got me developing. Then I found out that web languages―or I kind of predicted along with all the news that web applications were going to be the future―so that's when I focused on web languages. But really I try to learn a new language every year because―well I was actually told to do that by one of the first developers I met. I think he learned it from a mentor―that when he told me that idea, to learn a new language every year and it gives you a new perspective. It just makes sense, because you know PHP may implement design patterns differently than Python and Node.js and you know some are―it just gives you a different perspective when you develop. It also can re-spark your passion, right?
Josh:Sometimes you may get bored developing, and a new language can get you back into it.
Paul:Yeah so do you get that thing that I get at stuff like―because you know this from me Josh: I think this is great. I think everybody should do this, should learn new languages. There are new tools but I'm constantly doing this thing of I'll come across something―for example like in Node or in Python―and I'm going "God, I wish I had this in RPG [laughs]."
Josh:Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's exactly that I mean. Every single one has its own use case, too. You know like some people will say just use Node or something like thatV
Josh:And I'm like, well I feel right now I can build a PDF with PHP or an Excel sheet. I mean I'm sure some Node.js developer would tell me right―if they were on here right now―that I'm an idiot. You can do that in Node so easily but―
Josh:But my point is that, you know sometimes―you know you can't use a hammer for every nail or whatever the saying is [laughs].
Paul:Exactly. Yup, it is. We're going back to what I always use that toolkit analogy, and to me all programming languages are is tools. Every new language is―
Paul:A new tool in the tool belt. You may not have a use for it today but you might in 10 years' time.
Josh:Exactly and I've had very tiny use cases for things that―like C for example. Every now and again I have a use case for that. I'll need to build a PHP extension or something, and thank goodness I know C to be able to do that. You know so―
Paul:Okay. We have to draw the line somewhere, Josh. I draw the line on the C.
Josh:Yup. All right.
Paul:So listen Josh: there are two other things I want to touch on with you before we go. One is your website, which is Sobo.red S-O-B-O.R-E-D.
Paul:And it wasn't until I went and I clicked on this that I realized that words I was looking at was "so bored" [laughs].
Paul:And I was sort of going "oh, that's really, really clever," right?―
Paul:Because it is one of these things, when you look at the Sobo.red, it doesn't actually read as "so bored," but it wasn't until you go in and you read about that so bored, it isn't actually just you being clever with the words "so bored." Do you want to just tell people very quickly the background to Sobo.red?
Josh:Right. I'll try to summarize as quickly as I can.
Josh:My great grandmother was my mentor growing up. Her name was Nell and she was just a very cultured, intelligent lady. She taught me school growing up; I was home schooled by her. And so when I was starting up my business, the first person I called for advice was her, and she told me about my great grandfather's business. His name was Red and his friend's name was Bo, and they had a business together called BoRed. I liked that name a lot. They were doing―their business model was they would just help everyone do anything. They were basically consultants before consultants were a thing. They would just help businessmen in anything that they needed. I was like, "well I'll take that name. That sounds great." And it just sort of evolved into what's called a heteronym, meaning it can be pronounced different ways―just because people kept just saying bored [laughs] and I got―it just got old correcting them, so I was just like BoRed. Then it evolved to Sobo.red. Funnily enough, you brought up the domain. The domain tod.red does not―you have to have three letters or more so I couldn't have Bo.red [laughs]. It just became SoBo.red, so there it is.
Paul:I love it. I love it.
Paul:Okay so the last thing―and as always, Josh, I always like to end on something personal. When we were talking before―and I think because it's been I think over a year since I last saw you and―
Paul:If I'm to believe what you're telling me, when I see you this time I probably am not going to recognize you.
Josh:No, you're actually right, and I've gotten that a few times―where I was sitting by a client at Think actually, and they―it took 10 minutes. They were staring right at me and never said a word, and I finally―I said hey―oh they leaned over and they said "hi, I don't think we've met before." My name is Tim―or Tom, Tom Huntington from HelpSystems.
Josh:And I was like, "it's me. It's Josh. We had lunch together." And he was like, "oh my gosh, wow." But yeah, so I've lost―I'm on keto and I've lost 120 pounds, and I've gained 20 pounds of muscle.
Paul:Wow but there's―
Josh:I'm the healthiest I've ever been.
Paul:So but there's a side to this as wel,l which is the illness that you have.
Josh:Right so I have a little bit of awareness for Charcot-Marie-Tooth. That's C-H-A-R-C-O-T-Marie-Tooth. It's a neuro degenerative disease that causes nerve degenerative―ahhh degenerization due to lack of myelin sheath growth. From my experience and my neurologist's tests, my nerve responses have improved since staring keto and intermittent fasting a little over a year ago.
Paul:Wow. Well I think that is―and I think―I cannot think of a better note to leave a conversation on than that, Josh.
Paul:What is something good and somebody else’s health improving, which is great. So Josh, thanks a million for taking the time to talk to me. Continued success and I look forward to the next time we meet.
Josh:Awesome. The same to you, Paul. Thank you so much.
Paul:Okay everybody that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.
About the author
Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.
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