Andy Youens on the Impact of IBM i and Open Source
Paul Tuohy sits down with Andy Youens of FormaServe Systems to discuss his experiences with IBM i, being re-invigorated by open source and the labor of “quick” free training videos
By Paul Tuohy08/02/2021
Andy Youens: Hello Paul.
Paul: So, Andy I think—well I know anybody in the UK who has ever attended a conference or that there or who reads PowerWire, they all know who you are but there are going to be a couple of people who don't so let me do the obligatory can you introduce yourself please?
Andy: Thank you very much Paul. Yeah, sure can. Andy Youens. I'm in the UK as Paul mentioned, Londoner born and bred, been in the IBM midrange game for a long while going back to the early 80's, the usual route that a lot of us took with the system/34, /36 and then straight into the AS/400 in '88 so pretty new sight. That was a bit of—a bit of a learning curve from the system/36 really and been with it ever since. We've all—my company FormaServe started in 1990 and we've always just been an IBM i site. There are too many Microsoft sites out there, Microsoft partners for this, Microsoft partners for that so we solely wanted to, you know, just stick with this great machine. It's done us great over the years without doubt, you know, very, very pleased with it. IBM has done a cracking job on the hardware. We support clients that we've supported, you know, for 20 years. They're still running their payroll, their stores, and that on system/36 code and they just will not change. They've got no IT department there, you know. Why should I change? Why should I rewrite it? You know, what benefit am I going to get? Oh, you get a better screen, not good enough. Leave it as it is. It works. It's got all my business rules in there for the last 20-30 years. You know, it's just too much change for them and this AS/400, as they still call it, will do forever; just sits in a corner covered in dust, part of the workshop. People put coffee on top of it and it still just carries on and carries on, you know.
Paul: So, you have one of these clients bases, Andy, where a good customer is one of the ones where they put flower tops on top of the system as opposed to coffee mugs?
Andy: Yeah, absolutely. Half of them don't know they've got a machine there to be honest. They really don't but it's been great for us, you know, talking to these guys but we've worked with some big clients as well. It just hasn't been the smaller clients. We've worked with quite a few banks and people like that so it's been interesting. It's been very varied without doubt, so doing everything really from RPG through to installations as well, anything that pays these days. Of course, we can do it. How do we do this? How do we do that?
Paul: So, one of the things you're not mentioned there, Andy, is of course this year you're also an IBM Champion.
Andy: Yeah, very surprised with that, nice surprise, feeling honored. Yeah, I told one of my colleagues when we got the email through at the beginning of January, “Listen, I've been made an IBM Champion.” His words were just, “Wow, they're giving them away these days.” So, that was his first comment and he just walked off after that. You know, I haven't spoken to him since.
Paul: Just jealousy, Andy. But fair to say, Andy, that one of the maybe the main reasons for this was the set of videos, the little snippet videos that you've done?
Andy: Yeah, I think that probably helped swing it. Yeah, without a doubt we started putting together some videos during lockdown, was stuck behind a desk at home, wherever. They’re only short videos. We made some small how to do this on the IBM i, how to do that on the IBM i so we've got a few on there now. I mean I think there's about 20 or 30, so that's building up to a nice—helping people out really is what it's about these days, you know. It was totally different than nowadays when we started trying to get help on why this RPG program wouldn't compile and things like that. It was a different ball game. So, if we can help people these days that's what makes it worthwhile to me to be honest and the videos have been part of that, so yeah but they do take up a lot of time to do to be honest. A 10-minute video takes at least a week to do you know, then it goes through the editing; somebody else checks it and you know they rip it to shreds, just like my coding really so no difference there.
Paul: Nothing new there then.
Andy: No, nothing. You get used to it over the years.
Paul: You get thick skin, don't you?
Andy: I mean, yeah without a doubt. When I started in this game, I always wanted to write a Red Book, an IBM Red Book. I used to go to so many things and they were great from IBM. Always wanted to write, you know, be an author on a Red Book. Yeah, I fancy that, but now becoming a Champion I think that's probably eclipsed that. Maybe not a Red Book author, but IBM Champion. I like the sound of that.
Paul: Yup. It's—yeah it does sit well.
Andy: Yeah, absolutely.
Paul: It becomes you sir. It becomes you. There you go. So just something you touched on there, Andy, and I know from when we were chatting a little bit earlier and I quite like the way that you put this was the—I was asking you about like the type of work and things that you're working on at the moment and I love the way you said you had become bored.
Andy: Yeah, that's probably the best of way of doing it, 30-40 years looking at the same bit of RPG and still trying to find out what MATCH RECORDS do and things like that, so yeah, I was getting bored without a doubt probably about five years ago which coincided well with IBM bringing out some open source on the box. It's still my favor box without a doubt, you know. I'm a still a lover of the box, but that hasn't gone. But yeah so I was getting bored to be honest, so open source was a great bring me back in online and get the enthusiasm back up there is probably about the best of way of doing it. I've been in love with open source. It's on our box so it's a winner for me and I really think it has changed the box. Might sound a bit drastic really, but I think it probably has saved the box. All of us guys, me certainly, you know, getting older and older, won't be doing RPG forever and now this seems to be a way out. We seem to be generating the younger guys coming on board now and that's all down to open source. IBM has done a cracking job on it, you know, all these packages. Who would have thought we'd add two or three different databases we could use, you know? It was always DB2, DB2 this, DB2 that and now it's not the only option. There's two or three different databases we can use, never thought we'd have that by a long way. MySQL, you know, SQLite and things like that, it's—yeah fantastic. It's got the enthusiasm back up there without a doubt.
Paul: But I think fair to say, Andy, I mean you sort of say five years ago, but in honesty you were doing PHP from—
Andy: Yeah, we—
Paul: From the very, very early days so—
Andy: Yeah, we started probably about six months before Zend started getting involved with PHP on the IBM i. It was hard work then without a doubt and resources certainly weren't there in those days that they are now. The help is not around and the things like that, but you could see it there, you know. This was probably the way forward for the box. I can now put up something from the browser that's looking at the database and it looks—jobs that one of the first things we’ve done, we started-there was a database on the hardware. We were working for a big finance company and they had all these partitions. They had all these HMCs, boxes everywhere, and they had a spreadsheet like everybody else did in those days, you know, the name of the box, the partitions it had, the OS it was running so and so forth and that to me was hang about. You know, if we had done this in a browser, it tends to open up for itself. You know you've got a box there; you've selected that server, click on it, and it pops up and shows you all the partitions. It was screaming to be in a browser, the links from this to the links to that and so looking around. Oh, PHP was just about coming on board, so we started with that, and it was great. Yeah I thoroughly enjoyed it. Zend then got involved. We had a few issues with Zend, not Zend personally, but more about the PHP. I won't get personal, but some of the things didn't seem to work well on the IBM i side. You know, things were a lot more difficult. It was new to them as well to be honest, so you know—
Paul: Yeah, I remember it was always one of those cases of three steps, one step back.
Andy: Yeah, it was hard work.
Paul: So, Andy, would you say you're a Node convert now?
Andy: Probably yes. When I first started looking at Node, “Oh no!”, you know. One of the first workshops I gave at the i-UG, user group in the UK, was—the title was just "Node is weird" and that said it all for me. I run a program and it finishes before it's completed half of it doing it with all its sync-asynchronous stuff. Hang on, the program says “It's finished”, and it was still going away and outputting to the database and wow. It was just like an RPG program submitting 50 jobs; you know, where have they gone? But more and more you use Node, the more and more—yeah, I'd probably say yeah, I'm more of a convert now, but I still love PHP. These open source programs now we've got on the i , you can just go back, put it on your PC, and learn it. You don't need access to a box. You're not going to break your database. Put it on your PC, have play around, learn from there. You don't need to be connected. I mean it's a great way to learn it, so yeah, it's been a long while open source. Fantastic move by IBM as I keep saying.
Paul: So, are you that little bit like me, Andy, where you try and learn something new every day?
Andy: Try. With open source, you never learn it. You've never got there, you know?
Andy: There's just always something new with open source and that does keep the enthusiasm going. You know going back to RPG as much as I love RPG, you know within a year of being an RPG programmer, you can probably say you've cracked it and that's it for the next 20 or 30 years. You know, we get the odd convert.
Paul: Barbara Morris is going to be looking for you, Andy.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. Where was I? You know, I'm hiding over here under the desk, but we got a few up codes every couple of years or something like that. That's probably a bit of a disservice to RPG as you've rightly said, but with open source you never crack it without a doubt.
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Andy: There's always something new to learn.
Paul: So, Andy, one of the yeah—I think before we finish up because, of course one, of the things we were talking about was lock down and again, I like the way that you put this to me. So—I'm just going to let you loose on this on, Andy. So, what exactly did you do to prepare yourself for lockdown?
Andy: Very leading question there, Paul. I spent ten years in the Royal Navy, deep in the bowels of some ship and never saw daylight for, you know, many a month, so that was a great preparation for lock down without a doubt. Everybody was moaning. You can see the sun. You can see—get a breath of fresh air. Yeah without a doubt, but you know stuck in the bowels of a ship, you know, working four hours on/four hour off for months on end, so that was a good grounding, Paul, yeah, yeah, if I'd known then lock down was on the cards.
Paul: Well, if you'd know that whatever it was 35-40 years ago when you were—
Andy: Yeah. It takes you back. I nearly had to put my hammock up again mate, I tell you.
Paul: So it's a thing I find interesting when again we were chatting earlier, Andy, but would you say that the—so you were saying you went into the Navy when you were 17?
Andy: 17 yes, straight out of school.
Paul: So, the making of the man would you say?
Andy: Oh yeah without a doubt, totally changed. I mean schoolboy, very shy, very quiet, quite happy on me own and changed overnight. It was a hell of a shock, without a doubt. 17-year-old, you know, “Oh, you're going on that ship?”. You're out in the West Indies for nine months. It was a shame, I know, but somebody has to do it. You have to change, you know? You have to change to that way of living, that way of start, you know, being told to do something, you go away and do it. You don't question it. You have some great times, and you have some very low times. You see some horrible things, and without a doubt, you have to have a sense of humor. A sense of humor, you know, it's what the forces live on to be honest. Without a sense of humor—NHS going back to the lockdown, they've said it before you know. You've got to have a sense of humor, you know. You get dragged down otherwise. You can't cope.
Paul: It's true. And I find it interesting, Andy, for a guy who was Navy and you live in Middleton Keens, I would say landlocked so I mean do you—So is it more the whole—the military side, the army side of it as opposed to the seafaring side of it?
Andy: No, I still hanker for the sea, even being the furthest probably point in the UK away from the sea. I still hanker for the sea without a doubt, absolutely. It never goes. It never goes, you know?
Andy: Born in London, made in the Royal Navy, as the advert says on the telly, and that's true. Yeah, I love going down to Portsmouth and seeing the ships and talk about my days. I’m sitting alone in the cafe on my own talking about my days in the Navy. Everybody else is gone by now without a doubt.
Andy: But yeah, I wouldn't change it for the world. There was—there was some dark times,but wouldn't change it for the world.
Paul: Cool. Well, I think that is a good note to leave it on, Andy, and even though when we're recording this both of us will be speaking at the i-UG conference next week, which will be over by the time this airs but—and I won't be there and you won't be there, but I do look forward to the next time where we will meet up at one of those events in person—
Paul: Because you owe me a beer.
Andy: Absolutely. Only one.
Paul: Yeah and—
Andy: For all those Red Books of yours I read. I'll probably do it to be honest.
Paul: I'll even listen to one of your seafaring tales. How about that?
Andy: I'll need the company.
Paul: Okay, Andy, so thanks for that. Thanks everyone for tuning into this iTalk and we'll catch you on the next one. Bye for now.
Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.
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