Monday, November 21, 2011

The Past Is Prologue

Heard from some old friends over the weekend and it got me reminiscing about the early part of my career as a technology professional. I have always considered networking (with people not wires) to be an important part of life in general. If you hang around with a bunch of smart people, you get smarter. Networks also provides an outlet for you to share your knowledge and experience with others.

Back in the days of the mini-computer, I played a role in the growth and maturity of the National Prime Users Group (NPUG) an organization devoted to education and fostering a healthy dialog between customers and the vendor, Prime Computer, Inc. The organization was independently funded and operated, and managed by a small group of individuals. We maintained a close working relationship with Prime though a special department with two people assigned to be our liaisons.

There were thousands of members and a couple of hundred of us would spend a few days together each year at the NPUG annual conference. Over the course of many years, this conference grew from a day and one-half with causal discussions around a table to a three day, multi-track conference with papers submitted, reviewed and distributed in bound proceedings.

While the conference was beneficial to all who attended, it was great fun and an educational experience for me personally to help organize and run it. I worked with a great bunch of people who not only looked good on paper but really knew their stuff.

Looking at some of the photos they sent me made me realize again just how far we have come in terms of the technology we have today. For example, you can see the keyboard and monitor at the registration desk. It is only a keyboard and monitor (CRT) with an RS-232 cable connecting it to the mini-computer (about the size of a small refrigerator) with all the computer power and storage to run the applications. There were separate cabinets for disk storage units and a large line printer. The system was run with commands and the interface was all text. There were no windows and no mouse.

In another photo you can see the container for a 300mb disk drive. It could easily be mistaken for a large cake platter with cover. Today we have memory sticks with more than triple the capacity. Processor speeds, memory sizes and the sophistication of the software have advanced light years beyond what we had then.

The value of conferences and the (people) networks that emanate from them has persisted through the years. In fact, I would argue it has perhaps even increased in importance. With all of the telecommuting, video conferencing, on-line communities, social networks, email, blogs and other forms of interaction, there is still a huge need for people to occasionally hang out in the same physical space at the same time. The formal presentations and, importantly, the informal chats in the hallways are where concepts are shared, new ideas are spawned, and people can grow both personally and professionally.

Prime Computer and NPUG are long gone from the technology scene. But there are plenty of professional organizations with emphasis on specific brands or types of hardware, software systems or applications, disciplines such as development, project management or security, and management who regularly publish materials and organize meetings.

I encourage people to attend a few conferences or seminars throughout the year and for a truly rewarding experience, try getting involved with the organization as a chair, speaker, panelist or organizer. You will have many opportunities to exercise or acquire a new and different set of skills which will build your self-confidence and ultimately help you do your day job even better.

By the way,  it doesn't hurt to continually grow and expand your personal network.

Captain Joe

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