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Houston meeting spreads OS training

What a certification is worth

A computer with a dodgy future shouldn't have this much customer interest in certification for its skills. But the HP 3000 is unlike a lot of systems abandoned by their makers. People still want to prove their 3000 skills are up-to-date. The difference? The HP community, still providing training and cert service long after HP's lost interest. When people will pay for this training isn't as interesting as the fact that it's offered at all.

Inside the folders passed out at this month's GHRUG HP 3000 conference (there were no bags, another cost-saving measure other conferences ought to observe), I saw a color flyer from Jon Diercks, who said that he was "sorry I couldn't be there to participate, but wanted to send my regards." Under Diercks' smiling face was an e-mail and Web link to garner contacts from your community. Like a lot of 3000 pros from the modern era, Diercks is able to take work from either a homesteading or migrating customer.

But he's important to the certification process of the 3000, the way professionals will try to demonstrate they're able enough to administer, program for or size up a 3000 for either homesteading or migration. Diercks wrote The HP MPE/iX System Administration Handbook a few years ago. You literally could use the book to study for a certification test. As a 3000 resource, the book remains the only title close to up to date with the operating system.

Why in the world would you want to pass a certification exam for a computer being abandoned by its vendor? The question sparked a lively debate not so long ago on the 3000 newsgroup. Good points were being made by both sides, even though a peristent gravedigger for the system said long ago all is lost for the 3000 customer.

"If I had to pick the biggest story of 2005 it would be HP’s killing OpenMPE, the  HP 3000 and its support “ecosystem” of vendors that were looking to take over  support at the end of this year," said an advocate who's now embracing Windows. "By extending HP’s support of the HP 3000 for two  more years, they’ve not only burnt the HP 3000 and its community to the ground,  they’ve eaten the ashes as well."

"If you didn’t think that the HP3000 was dead before, you’ve got to believe it now."

Like a lot of predictions delivered in advance of the data, this doesn't sound like the 2006 that followed those comments. Third parties like Paul Edwards and Associates, Pivital Solutions and independents like Diercks still want to help you homestead, even it's only for awhile until you move away. Dead? Depends on your definition of alive. How's the health of OpenVMS, currently trailing in all of the HP virtualization offerings behind Windows, Linux and HP-UX.

Then there's Jim Chance's "how can anybody see any value in this, without exception" point of view:

I a 22-year IT guy with 16 years HP 3000 and personally I don’t know why anyone would want to pursue or care about this particular cert. Just my opinion. As much as I hate it, the HP 3000 market, shops, places with it fully running in production, conferences/workshops, new sales, new ERP on that platform, and technical knowledge is DEAD or quickly DYING. When will folks realize this?

Turnover to other platforms and skills is at an all time high. Universities and corporations are de-commissioning there boxes at an astounding rate. How do I know this, by being a contractor since 1997. I could go on and on about this trend.

I asked......who was it, I forget, but some vendor who puts on training to become MPE cert isn’t getting any paying students, none. So why does the board or anyone else lobby for something that frankly  — and realistically, just plain out isn’t in demand? I appreciate efforts, but really? I can think of a dozen former and/or dwindling HP3k guys who are now pursuing MS cert’s; there is no way they’d want to spend $ or time on certifying as MPE.

Donna Garverick-Hofmeister, an OpenMPE board director, made a case :

There is value in MPE certification.  For migrations are taking longer than expected, for companies who plan to stay on MPE long term -- they’re going to need people who know MPE  They’re going to need people who know how to straighten out problems left behind or situations that have cropped up due to infrastructure changes.

MB Foster founder Birket Foster calls this the "flight attendants flying the plane" situation, commonplace in 3000 shops. The trained folks have been downsized or moved on of their own volition. Who ya gonna call? Maybe someone certified.

Tracy Pierce wants to know what any certificate is really worth, MPE or Unix or whatever:

What’s the certificate’s real value? 

As to an assurance of qualification, I bet someone holding said certificate would probably get consideration equal to that of a non-holder if they claimed competence in all the requisites mentioned. 

While the certificate is ostensibly an attempt to certify competence, its existence can be quite misleading.  I bet (I’d say I know but then you’d want examples) that there are people who hold the certificate who don’t know half as much about the machine, much less the project at hand, as do some other people who’ve never set foot inside an HP training class much less taken an HP certification test.

The certificate indicates that its holder passed a test, not that they can program their way out of a paper bag or can apply common sense to a business problem, much less unravel code written by possibly competent programmers who didn’t have time for documentation.  Does the certificate imply knowledge of every gotcha to be found in VPlus?

Said tests include questions about a lot of pretty arcane stuff, just the sort of knowledge that leaves a person pretty quickly if not exercised.  How long has it been since the certificate became unavailable?  Are all those certified actively working with the platform and using all the skills for which they’re certified?  Even if so, does that make them More competent than a non-holder?  Not in my book.

If I had one, I’d probably mention “HP Certified” on my resume.  But I don’t think I’d really want to work on the project if the employer’s more impressed by a certificate than by a demonstration of the real skills actually needed.

On the other hand, a certificate will make the bearer’s suit and shoes look much shinier to an HP 3000-ignorant entity offering a conversion contract; it’s also a probable indicator that the holder knows enough to hire competent staff for a project involving the HP 3000.

Hofmeister said that a more up-to-date test would prove more — a project Edwards and his colleague Frank Alden Smith are ready to take up.

Many of us have heard the complaints about the existing MPE test.  Personally, I'd love for the test to be revamped.  Rewrite it for 7.5, make it good evaluation of a person’s MPE knowledge, make it so the test means something.  If wishes were horses, I’d like for there to be a programmer’s test in addition to an administrators.

Having said that — nothing is going to replace an interview for hiring.  Piece of paper or not, the only way to know if someone is going to fit into your organization is to talk to them.

But getting on as a 3000 expert, after you've stepped away from the system for awhile, is going to take some retraining.

It’s hard to tell what is worthless and what is not.  I was a system operator for an HP 3000 Series 70 with MPE V back in 1990 when major restructuring meant job losses to my entire department and beyond.  It’s rather eerie going back to that building because the office/warehouse is gone and now is subdivided between several different companies. 

I came here because I once again am seeking employment and am wondering — is my past experience obsolete?  Can I build on my knowledge or would today’s MPE/iX 7.5 systems ( be too far removed, and I’d have to start over?

How could it hurt to have a copy of Diercks' book? At the moment, Amazon has an $11 used copy.