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Close Encounters of the AS/400 Kind

April 3, 2013

As Steve Will revealed in his blog yesterday, there's going to be a lot going on in the IBM i world over the next few months to celebrate the "birth" of the AS/400 25 years ago. Yes it has been 25 years and boy does that make us feel our age a little today.

We've decided that we'll use this blog over the next few months to post a few of our own memories, so instead of writing this as a joint effort and letting you work out who-wrote-what we're going to write these pieces from our individual perspectives. What about your own early AS/400 experiences? Please tell us about them in the comments section of the blog.

Susan's Early AS/400 Encounters

25 years seems like a long time, but as they say, time flies when you're having fun! And my years on this platform have seen tons of fun.

After a few years as an IBM customer in Atlanta where I developed a passion for the System/38, I joined IBM as a S/38 specialist Systems Engineer (remember those?).  Within IBM, I started to hear rumors about a new system being developed in Rochester, Minn., which would merge the S/36 and S/38 platforms. When I learned the new system would be based on S/38, that was enough for me. I made it my mission to get to Rochester to have some kind of role working with that new, future system.

I don't remember now how I learned of the opportunity, but I discovered they were looking for Systems Engineers to visit Rochester for a few weeks to work on the new system code named "Silverlake." I jumped on that with both feet. My application must have sounded a tad desperate, because I later heard from one of the people who screened the applications that the reaction to mine was "Hey, we've got a live one here!" 

I was one of the first to participate in the residency to work with Silverlake. I was in awe of the Rochester lab and the brilliant, dedicated folks who worked there. I didn't think I could get more enthusiastic about the system but I was wrong. Being in Rochester was just where I belonged.

I did go back home to Atlanta, but not before lobbying (more like arm-twisting or maybe just begging) to become part of a group Systems Engineers who would travel the world for several months before June 1988 to do pre-announcement teaching to IBMers about the technical details of the Silverlake system. I made the team and in the months leading up to the announcement of what became known as AS/400, I was in my element. I discovered that I was not only enamoured with the system, but also with teaching--something I had not done much of until that time.

I had been working on and around the AS/400 for so long by June 1988 that the announcement itself seemed almost anti-climatic to me. Even so, I had found my niche and was thrilled at the thought of the future before me. Not long after, I moved to Rochester--it was inevitable--and found that I even loved Rochester itself--all except for the weather!

I'm no longer in Rochester and no longer with IBM, but I'm still every bit the AS/400 (aka iSeries, aka IBM i) lover that I was 25 years ago. And I'm still thrilled at the future of this platform.

Jon's Road to AS/400dom

Back in 1986 I was working as a consultant, mostly specializing in converting systems from other manufacturers to the System/38. However, at the time I first heard about the possibility of a contract at IBM I was working on a System/36. IBM, it turned out, were looking for someone who knew COBOL on the S/36 and S/38 and who also had some exposure to the internals of compilers. IBM wanted someone who could take over the maintenance of the S/36 and S/38 compilers to allow their existing staff to work on a "new product." Like most in the community, I had already heard the rumors of a new system that would replace the S/36 and S/38, so the possibility of working alongside its developers was intriguing.

Perhaps I was the only one they interviewed that had the required qualifications. Or it could have been my telling the interviewer that it would be good to have the opportunity to fix a few of the bugs in the S/38 COBOL compiler that I had discovered over the years. Either way I got the job and started work in February 1987. The first bug I handled on my own? A problem with S/38 COBOL reported by the Dallas Cowboys!

Over the months I picked up bits and pieces about the new system, including the fact that the testing was all being done on modified S/38s--there was no actual AS/400 hardware in Toronto. Even then I wasn't allowed to actually see the system it was locked away in a separate area of the machine room under additional security. This always struck me as somewhat amusing because there was really nothing to see, and, from what we read in the trade publications, the press already knew far more about the system than we lowly lab rats did.

After the AS/400 server's formal announcement things relaxed a little and having (I guess) proved myself on the S/36 and S/38 compilers I was asked to do some work on the COBOL/400 compiler. One of the first tasks I got involved with was checking the compiler and run time error messages. As part of automating the foreign language translation of the messages the English versions were being "sanitized" to get rid of words such as "execute" that caused translation problems. Some of the sanitized messages were funny, but the best we encountered was one where the term "Secondary card hopper" had been converted into the politically correct--but completely meaningless: "Not so important card hopper."

After 18 months on contract I joined the lab full time, but that's a story for another day.

Posted April 3, 2013| Permalink

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