Life After IBM
Retirement can’t take the i out of Frank Soltis.
Photo by Craig Bares
Frank Soltis may be just starting his retirement, but his association with IBM i—now beginning its fifth decade—continues. Dr. Frank may be gone but he hasn’t gone far. Though his official final day with IBM was Dec. 31, Soltis says he’ll remain a part of the i community.
“I still want to be a part of it,” he says. “Whether I do that through COMMON and some other user groups or whether I do some things for some of our business partners, I still think there’s a need to talk directly to i customers.”
While official word of Soltis’ departure from IBM may have come suddenly for IBM i loyalists, his retirement was actually almost a year in the making. He explained that he planned to step aside in early 2008, as the System i* and System p* groups were being morphed into the Power* Systems organization. However, with the persuasion of several IBMers, he agreed to remain on board through the spring unification announcement.
Ironically, in quasi-retirement, Soltis kept a grueling work schedule. In ’08, he traveled the world to discuss the Power Systems platform with key IBM customers. “I’ve spent a great deal of time in some of our emerging markets—I think I made six trips to Asia last year,” Soltis says. “That’s a lot of travel, and traveling is very tiring. I’m looking forward to less travel now. But on a day-to-day basis, I’ll still be involved.”
He adds that his travels taught him that IBM i customers are as passionate and loyal as ever. “It’s fantastic, seeing the enthusiasm in every country,” Soltis says. “When we unified the two systems and brought in a lot of people from the System p world, I think many of them were extremely surprised at the i community around the world and their enthusiasm. I really don’t know of another system with that following.”
What Soltis does know is that he’ll keep busy. He says retirement will give him an opportunity to explore different interests. The lifelong car lover will definitely get under the hood. Soltis would also like to get back in front of the classroom. A full member of the graduate faculty at the University of Minnesota, Soltis looks forward to having more time for teaching.
“I have all kinds of hobbies that have been somewhat on hold the last couple of years,” he says, “things I haven’t had a chance to pursue, like photography.”
Looking at his time at IBM, Soltis is struck by the fact that the job he took on day one was the one he stayed with for 40 years. When Soltis joined IBM in late 1968, he says his assignment was designing a replacement for the System/3. The System/3 wasn’t even announced until 1969 but in those days, computers were assumed to have five-year lives.
The 1970s’ economy slowed IBM, but Rochester delivered the System/3 replacement, the System/38*, in 1978. You know the rest. The System/38 became the AS/400*, which became the iSeries*, which became the System i—many names, but essentially one solution.
“My children used to tease me about that. They’d say, ‘In your entire IBM career, you’ve worked on one product. When are you going to do the second one?’ ” Soltis laughs. “It’s a very strange career from that standpoint.”
Not that he would have had it any other way. “I loved working for IBM, absolutely,” he says. “I’ve always maintained that it was probably the only company that could have achieved this. The System/38 was in many ways an experiment. It was fairly radical; it was a whole new approach, as we all know now, to designing computers. I think most other companies, certainly smaller companies, would never have gambled on it; they never would have put it out there and taken the chance. In my mind over the years, I think that’s been one of the real positives.”
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