Brian May Discusses Internship Programs and Creating Talent

Developer Interns

Brian May Discusses Internship Programs and Creating Talent

Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. I'm delighted to be joined today by my—well I was going to say old friend, but old friend would be the wrong thing to say. I'm going to correct it—my young friend Brian May of Profound Logic. Hi ya, Brian.

Brian May: I'm doing well.

Paul: So we were just—when we were chatting beforehand, Brian we were just—I was just commenting on how it is amazing how time flies. So three years since we were working on the modernization Redbook in Rochester and that's the last we met in person.

Brian: Yeah, it's crazy. You know it's—you see people in the speaking circuits and in the IBM i circles. Like we were talking about, you'll go on a tear where you'll see someone all the time and then it's just one of those random things. We just haven't run into each other.

Paul: Yeah. Ships in the night. Ships in the night, Brian.

Brian: Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: Okay but listen, you in the last three years have been extremely busy. So something I want you maybe to fill people in on and I know this is something that I touched on with Ted Holt a little bit recently. Ted just gave a brief outline, but can you tell me about this intern program that you have?

Brian: Sure. You know as the co—Profound Logic as a company has been growing very rapidly the last few years, which is obviously a good thing, but we—as we were growing we had, you know, a lot of the same problems that many companies have. We were, you know, constantly looking for talent and trying to build up our stable of developers, if you will. So I—I was of course working from home at that time, and I spoke to Alex and said you know, I'm sitting here in a small town in Mississippi. We have a major research university right here. It's—I would probably say that it is—in the southeast U.S. it's one of the top two research universities in the region. I said "there are no software companies here, but they have, you know, business information systems majors, computer science majors, software engineering majors, and they would all love to work for a software company, so why don't we open an office and start an intern program?" So it was really an experiment to start with. We had a tiny little office just off campus when we first started it two years ago. It was 800 square feet. In the beginning, it was just me, then of course we hired Ted Holt, and it was just Ted and I. Then we started hiring interns and by the time—by the time the one-year mark hit and we had the option of leaving our lease, we actually had five or six of us crammed into an 800-square foot space between our full-time employees and interns, so we had to do something. So we moved across town, so now I'm in a much larger space, but we have in two years—we now have, if you count the interns—we now have seven employees in this office.

Paul: Wow.

Brian: So it's really taken off. I have four interns currently. Two are getting ready to graduate and, so we're hoping to retain some of that talent as well,, but my outlook on it is that the absolute worse-case scenario of the intern program is that they don't work out but we send another person out into the world that knows about IBM i, and so where's the downside of that?

Paul: Exactly. So is this a thing, Brian. So then for whatever business reasons or economic reasons or whatever—so let's say you've got six interns and you decide at the end of the year—let's say all six of them are graduating. I know they're at different stages and everything

Brian: Sure.

Paul: Let's just say for the sake of argument—and you decide, well business-wise we are going to offer jobs to three of them. Well you've also kind of now done a favor for the rest of the industry don't you, that there are three people who are coming out of college who have experience of IBM i under their belt?

Brian: Sure. I mean it's good for everyone. It's good for—it's good for the industry as a whole. Again, young talent now out there that have used IBM i, that have used RPG and have used RPG in conjunction with web technologies so they are—they're the ideal candidate, if you will.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: It's good for our customers. Our customers may want to hire some of these interns that are coming out knowing RPG and knowing our tools. That's got to be a huge plus for them too, and then of course it's good for us. As we have openings or as we expand, we have—we have a pool of talent that we can draw from at any time to fill those positions. And in the meantime, not to—not to belittle what they do because trust me, I have a great team but at the same time I've got cheap labor.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah, let's be honest.

Brian: I've got cheap labor to help me out with projects, so I mean there's really not a downside to this. The amazing thing is that Ted and I obviously work with them to help teach them, you know, RPG and IBM i and those types of things—but you know Ted and I were discussing it probably a year ago after the first set of—the first two interns that we started with were kind of on their way. We sat down and talked about it and said, "you know, how much time have we actually invested in these kids?" And it wasn't much. We probably—all in all of, you know, heads down instructional time—we probably only spent ten or 20 hours each—

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: Actually teaching them. The rest of it—I mean the students these days, they'll figure it out. I mean you and I know that RPG is not a hard language to learn. It's actually a very simple language. You know if they don't know the answer to a problem, they're going to go and google it. They're going to find the information. They're going to figure it out on their own. They actually take care of themselves most of the time. I forget they're here sometimes.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: Generally now that I have four—I have three development interns and one graphic design intern. My graphic design intern is a bit of a hybrid. She is perfect. She has a bachelor's in graphic design—so, in art—and she's working on a master's degree in computer science. So she's my perfect candidate for that position. So she can code and she's an artist, so she completes that team. But when I give them a task, generally they all just crowd up around a table and team code it and work it out together. So even as I hire new interns, you know, because like you said, they're on different schedules and at different levels, so that you know they cycle in and out. The more senior interns generally take the new ones under their wing and teach them. So at this point it almost takes care of itself. It's really amazing.

Paul: Yeah, it's just great when you sort of see that Agile development thing at work naturally—

Brian: Yeah.

Paul: Without the whole, you know, structure of it.

Brian: Yeah, if you just leave them in their natural state, they'll actually just go to that. I don't have to try to force it.

Paul: I think you have a—you have a—there is a title for a book: "The Natural State of Interns." [Laughs] So listen, the next thing that I want to talk to you about, Brian. I have been looking at the agenda for the upcoming COMMON conference in May, and I saw a session that you had in there and the title of it piqued my interest. It was called: "Hiring and Retaining Development Talent." Now I mean this is—I know amongst anybody who's involved in training of any sort, it's something we discuss a lot—and I don't want you to give away what is in the session—but if I was to ask for maybe two or three of what you would consider to be the highlights of the session that would pique people's interest.

Brian: Sure. You know the session came about as—much like you, I get to talk to a lot of customers and a lot of shops, so we have a unique perspective in that we can observe, you know, many different environments, not just our own. So as trainers, as speakers, as writers, you know we—and working for a software company—I have lots of customers I work with. So I get a—I have sort of a 25,000-foot view of the world instead of just my own little corner.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: So I thought that it was a good opportunity to share what I've seen and what I've learned. I think Profound Logic as a whole does an excellent job when it comes to hiring talent. I'm not going to name drop all the people that are on staff—

Paul: Okay. [Laughs]

Brian: We're pretty good at it, and that's not just me. That's the company as a whole. Alex is very good at it. Scott Clement of course runs our development and our support team, and he's very good at identifying talent and bringing it in. So it's—I get the question a lot, you know—how. do you do it? What do we need to do to be better at it? So I thought that, you know, why not give a talk? You know, as far as that talk goes again I want people to come to the session, so we're not going to do the whole session right here.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah.

Brian: I think the keys are first, you've got to realize that as an IBM i shop and as an industry as a whole, we absolutely suck at finding talent. We're terrible at it.

Paul: Yup.

Brian: And a lot of that session is spent going through and looking at those things, looking at job postings and why they're terrible. Right?

Paul: Right.

Brian: Looking at statistics. You know, as we discussed earlier—you thought was an awesome statistic, I'll share it: You know I looked at the top 50 RPG job listings on two different job sites, and out of that sample of 100, 73 percent of those job postings required at least three years or five years of experience. 100 percent of them—every last one of them—required at least three years of experience. So it's—how can you say that there is no talent and young talent available if you're not hiring it?

Paul: Yup. [Laughs] Actually one of the things on that figure, the thing that I mentioned—I'm sorry that you did mention—there was the number of those jobs who were looking for people with ten or more years experience as well.

Brian: Yeah, I left that out, but in that number, that 73 percent, not all of them were asking for five years. Some were asking for ten and it's—you know I think it comes down to—I think as an industry we've forgotten that the vast majority of us did not learn RPG in school. If you start talking about the people that have been around the longest, most of them weren't even computer people, right? They were engineers or accountants or something that learned this new system that came out. So—don't get me wrong—the Academic Initiative does a great job of supplying schools with what they need to teach IBM i to students. I have two students that are actually Academic Initiative students from a local community college that are interns with me right now. And that's great, but at the same time, you know, there really never was a time that every university in the world taught IBM i or AS/400 at the time or System/36.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: That never happened, so why do we think it should be happening now? It's—I think we've really gotten lazy, to be perfectly honest. We've said, "I don't have time to teach people anymore. I need someone that perfectly fits this opening that just came open and I don't want to invest in them." And I think that's just completely wrong.

Paul: Yeah and hence the circle back to you, you're running your intern program to actually deal with that. Okay so listen, before we finish up, Brian. As you know, I always like to end up on a personal thing and I've known you for many, many year. I know that you are just as a big a technophobe as I am—and in certain areas, a bigger technophobe than I am with things like that—so I was quite fascinated by your last vacation. So tell people about cabin fever. [Laughs]

Brian: Yeah—so yeah, for spring—you know, my wife works for the school system, so generally when my kids are on—are out of school, she's off work as well, so I generally try to plan my vacation times to coincide obviously. So spring break came around recently and we were trying to decide what we wanted to do for spring break. My wife and I for Valentine's Day had gone to this cabin that was, you know, back in the woods, just kind of in a little town in the middle of nowhere just... away. We wanted to just get away and we liked it, so we packed the kids up and we just went to his cabin out in the middle of nowhere for four days and unplugged. I think it was great. We you know we—I mean we watched a little TV there. We played some board games. We spent some time outside. The kids enjoyed spending an afternoon just laying around in a hammock that I hung between two trees, right?

Paul: [Laughs]

Brian: But I think it was really good just to get away from the computers, and the iPads, and the phones and all of that and just spend some quality time together for a change, you know? It actually forced the kids to look us in the eye for a minute and spend some time together. It's something I try to do regularly, because as you know we get so focused on technology when it comes to work and, you know, even away from work. You know I tell my wife all the time I've got like three jobs. You know I've got my day job, then writing and speaking and all of that. So I mean I spend way too much time staring at a computer screen.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: And so I really like to get away from that. That's why I enjoy going to cabins or going camping or, you know, fishing or whatever it is. Anything to get outside for a little while.

Paul: Yeah, a little bit of that laying back and just looking at the clouds pass by.

Brian: Why not, right?

Paul: Yeah, indeed. I think that probably, Brian, is as good a note as any to leave it on. So thank you for taking some time out of your busy, busy schedule to talk to me.

Brian: Oh, anytime—and let's not wait three years before we do it again.

Paul: Oh, indeed. Okay, I'm scheduling you in for this time next year again, Brian. [Laughs]

Brian: Excellent.

Paul: Okay everyone, that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.

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