This PowerUp blog entry was written by Rick Flagler, a consultant and educator with 30-plus years' experience on IBM i and various ERP systems. He teaches IBM i classes at Keene State College and specializes in DB2/SQL and RPG.
Are you passionate about some aspect of IBM i systems? Did you ever want to write a book? If these two things intersect for you, then maybe doing a residency at IBM is for you.
I did this during the summer of 2012, spending June as part of a team working on a Redbooks publication in Rochester, Minn. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a Redbooks publication is developed with the guidance of IBM's International Technical Support Organization (ITSO) and focuses on a technical topic of interest.
Redbooks publications are how-to books describing hardware or software products and capabilities. They also typically contain a wealth of information for the readers, enabling them to use the described product(s) more effectively. Residency participants are selected from ranks of IBM employees, customers and business partners. The subject of our residency was DB2 Web Query, an implementation guide that spans installation, setup, capabilities and tips. The team was a multicultural and multinational group with members from Germany, Italy, China, Japan, Indonesia, Nicaragua and the U.S.
My interest in this project stemmed from a long-time desire to do a Redbooks publication, my DB2 expertise over 30 years working on IBM i and its predecessors, and a deep interest in business-intelligence (BI) tools and metrics. I'd been Involved in projects to build or renovate DB2 databases originally built on DDS. Because I teach DB2/SQL at Keene State College, I need to stay abreast of advancements in SQL and query technology. I've enjoyed working with DB2 for i and DB2 Web Query is a great addition to the IBM i arsenal. The opportunity to go to the source and work with the new release of DB2 Web Query before it hit the streets was one that I didn't want to pass up. It was sort of like attending COMMON but staying for a month!
IBM publishes a list of open residencies on the Redbooks website, click on the Residencies link. Getting accepted isn't difficult but it helps to have complementary experience on the residency’s topic and sufficient enthusiasm to go the distance. Many times it’s more about timing and whether you can set aside other activities for between four and six weeks. Not everybody can do that but if the justification is what's bothering you, think what benefits accrue from a chance to immerse yourself in the technology, meet the experts and play with the software or hardware for several weeks. The benefits last long after the project is complete.
The Residency Experience
I was lucky that the timing was right for me. After some planning, I loaded up a big suitcase and headed to Rochester for the month. I had been there before about a decade earlier, but the instructions “watch for the Big Blue building on your left, you can't miss it," still gave me a sense of anticipation as I drove up Highway 52 through Rochester toward the facility.
After checking in and meeting the rest of the team, we landed in a well-equipped conference room that would be our daily home for the next four weeks. Outside was the "lab", an area housing more racks of Power Systems than most people ever see. Officially titled as IBM Lab Systems and Storage and Technology Group, the folks manning these systems do benchmarks and testing and proof-of-concept activities. They'd carved out a couple LPARs on which we could do our work. A sign on the wall said "Welcome to Rochester where the winters are cold but the systems are Hot!"
The first couple days were spent familiarizing ourselves with Version 2.1 of Web Query. The product has been frequently updated since it debuted but this was a bigger update. For example, In V2.1 the Web-based Info Assist development tool becomes the primary user interface for report, chart and document development, replacing Report Assistant, Graph Assistant and Power Painter, which were present in the previous version.
To help us get up to speed, we heard presentations from experts and were able to pose questions to a number of support people and developers from the Rochester team. Next we had time to play with the software and because the product was still in beta, a few bugs required work-arounds at first, as might be expected. Part of our mission was to shake out the software by doing things that typical clients, consultants and developers might do. In most cases features worked pretty much as we expected them to and the transition from the old version to the new version was less painful than we thought it would be.
The version 2 guide, like its version 1 predecessor, contains several tutorials and examples. We revised these and added new chapters for topics such as Mobile Favorites, dealing with viewing BI presentations on tablets and phones. Our mission to rewrite this book and bring it up to speed including any screenshots or examples for the existing and new functionality of Web Query. By the time we were done, the draft of the book was some 900 pages in length. You'll be able to download this publication sometime this fall from the Redbooks site. The prior version was one of the most frequently downloaded books and this one probably will be too.
It wasn't all work and no play. Downtown Rochester hosts an event called Thursday 1st and 3rd. This is held weekly at the junction of 1st and 3rd streets downtown, on Thursday nights of course. Varieties of live music, artists, crafts-people and food are served. Our predominately non-U.S. team enjoyed experiencing every aspect of this offering, trying new foods and buying some souvenirs. One Thursday evening we unexpectedly got trapped in a Mayo Clinic lobby waiting out a fierce storm and accompanying downpour. On a weekend day we took a road trip to local caves where we ended up some 200 feet beneath the Minnesota farm country, in caverns spanning miles underground. We visited the National Eagle Center where bald eagles live near the Mississippi River.
We also got a tour of the IBM Rochester facility and saw where Power Systems servers are born, including the very interesting Custom Solutions Center, where IBM can basically create whatever a client wants and then support it.
Productive and Fun
The four weeks I spent in Rochester will go down as some of the most productive AND fun times I’ve had with a group of technology colleagues. We came, we wrote, and we met new people and made new friends. I recommend Rochester for the city’s hospitality and IBM Rochester and the IBM ITSO group for providing interesting learning opportunities (and hot systems).