iChime: A Virtual IBM i Community
How a casual Zoom meetup turned into a vibrant virtual community fostering IBM i education and connection across the globe
Once a month, IBM Power Systems Champion Charles Guarino hosts iChime, a virtual meeting centered on IBM i education, news and information. For many, however, iChime is much more than a monthly Zoom meeting. “When the world shut down [during the pandemic]...I was just missing people, missing that connection to community,” says Guarino.
What started as a casual Zoom meetup for those missing human connection during the pandemic has transformed into a lively virtual community.
A Grassroots EffortArmed with a newly created Zoom account, Guarino posted on social media in March 2020 and asked if anyone would be interested in getting together for a discussion. 12 people showed up to the first meeting. “There was no topic,” says Guarino. “It went in a million different directions…We talked for three hours, I think, if you can believe that.”
In the beginning, the topics for iChime meetings related to the pandemic and professional development: how to run a successful Zoom meeting, how to use LinkedIn to market yourself, how to prepare for a new job after the pandemic.
“Then I decided to have a topic that was more technical, and I immediately saw a big jump in attendance,” mentions Guarino. “Organically, it just shifted in that direction.”
Each month, Guarino brings on a new guest to share their expertise on a specific technical subject. Cecilia Howlin, another regular attendee, mentions, “I write down anything I’m interested in [during the meetings] so I can dig deeper later. I always learn something.” Guests have discussed topics such as application modernization, security, database, programming and open-source languages, to name a few.
Key DifferentiatorsWhile many user groups have switched to a virtual format since the pandemic, they still tend to attract people mostly from their locales. But iChime was intended to be virtual from the beginning. “Do I have plans to go in person? Probably not,” says Guarino. According to him, the fact that iChime meetings only occur virtually is a unique advantage. “Gathering so many like-minded people from all over the world—that’s the cool part,” he says. Attendees have chimed in from six of the seven continents.
Guarino begins every iChime meeting with a “hi, hello,” greeting attendees by name and learning where they’re turning in from. He notes, “We’re IBM i people, and [iChime] is a celebration of us. That’s why I like to call out people by name.”
After greeting several attendees—which average 50 to 75 in number—Guarino introduces his guest and facilitates an open, unscripted discussion on that month’s topic. He mentions, “I spend a lot of time before each meeting preparing questions; a lot of research goes into it.”
Unlike other, more traditional virtual meetings, iChime speakers do not prepare a slide deck to guide the discussion. “The informality is not an accident,” Guarino says. “I liken it to: What if you met that person at a bar? What would you talk about?” The conversational nature of the meetings gives attendees “informal access” to some of today’s best and brightest technologists.
Getting Involved in the IBM i CommunityFor many, iChime has become a valuable tool for getting involved in and staying connected to the IBM i community. Guarino offers his advice for newcomers: “None of us is as smart as all of us…don’t ever think that your perspective is not important. It certainly is. There will always be somebody that can benefit from your contribution.” He adds that people who are new to the community should just jump in; there is no time like the present.
This April will mark the start of iChime’s fourth year—a statement that Guarino finds unbelievable. “I joke around a lot; I open the Zoom meeting and I say I’m surprised that anybody showed up,” he laughs. “But it’s truly a privilege to do it…I’m just so thankful to everyone who has attended.”
Those who are looking to get involved with iChime can visit ichime.io to sign up for the mailing list and be informed of upcoming events and topics. Interested speakers can send an email to [email protected].
About the author
Emma Pitzl is managing editor of TechChannel and a content strategist at MSPC.
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