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Transition timing flows from manager savvy

Managers of HP 3000s sometimes have full control of what's to become of their systems. The most fortunate have management's faith in a skill set that has kept company business running for many years. Some of the best-situated IT managers see succession as a key element in sustaining business critical computing.

Enter Dave Powell, the prolific and veteran manager at MM Fab, a Southern California fabric manufacturer. Last week he gave the community notice of a potential job opening at his company. Powell was suggesting that learning the firm's 3000 environment might be a good first step in take over his own duties, someday. It takes a confident manager to start a job search for their own replacement.

Powell's story looks like a tale of savvy that's keeping his company on the 3000 -- and if they had a replacement to cover his retirement, maybe they'd delay a migration. He adds that MM Fab has not "picked a package yet. They've sent out an RFP and are in the early stages of evaluating a bunch of proposals."

Powell is proposing a plan to sustain the company's knowledge about a totally custom application, written in "some pretty horrid COBOL" in some spots. While he's still on hand to help, he'd like to see somebody else learn about that business logic.

It might be a bit easier to step in to an off-the-shelf app situation for ERP like MANMAN, but this is a custom-crafted app. But that does not mean there's not an opportunity there for a 3000 veteran who's trying to preserve career value in MPE and COBOL skills.

"We might have something for someone later," Powell said in a public note on the 3000 newsgroup. "Or not.  Nothing now and nothing definite. If we don't end up buying some sort of package, we should eventually want someone to help me enhance things here, and/or someone to replace me when I retire.  That last is my Plan A -- after 30 years of enhancing this system, I'd much rather hand it off intact to someone than preside over its demolition."

Outlining the position as "a good opportunity for someone who likes MPE and warm Southern California weather more than high salary, prospects for future advancement, and their sanity," Powell laid out the specifics.

A possible replacement for me would have to wear a lot of hats -- I'm department head, system administrator, programmer (currently the only programmer), PC setup/support/security, evening operator.  Basically, the computer department is me and an operator, and the operator spends half her time doing things for other departments.

I think the position would probably be full-time, "permanent" (well, as permanent as anything can be that involves computers and the fabric business) and on-site.  Don't see how a telecommuter could wear all of my hats.

Requirements are COBOL / IMAGE / VPlus / MPE and ability to put up with a lot. But some of the MPE and COBOL stuff is a bit tricky. (Fair warning - some of the older COBOL is pretty horrid. It's easy to imagine a new guy taking one look and running away screaming.)

Powell says there's more than 50 percent chance that his company buys a package, a migration that he figures would put all of the COBOL and 3000 programming "into the bit-bucket. But I have a slightly better chance of persuading management to stick with our old system if I can show them that replacements for me are not impossible to find. A few impressive-looking expressions of interest that I can show management might help me fend off the migration/package fiends."

He's listening for email replies to his company's opportunity, if there's one on the horizon. At the least, Powell is doing his best to ensure the package selection committee doesn't make a decision only to find there's nobody left to help understand the existing 3000 application. This kind of task also comes under the heading of "sustaining."

And if the interest helps preserve the 3000 at MM Fab, then Powell has helped himself along with his company.