Jorge Gutierrez on the Challenges of Modernization

Jorge Gutierrez

Paul talks to Jorge Gutierrez, a development manager at BAC Credomatic, about the challenges and benefits of modernization in a large organization, where to get RPG programmers and cooking with fire.

Paul: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. So this iTalk is one that I have been trying to organize, I think, for the best part of two years now. So at long, long last, I'm expecting the phone line is going to drop or something catastrophic like that. So hello Jorge Gutierrez. [Laughs]

Jorge: Very good. Hi, Paul. It's good that we're finally able to do this.

Paul: It is, after a couple of attempts.

Jorge: Yes.

Paul:  So Jorge, maybe just to start off, do you want to introduce yourself and maybe a little bit about your company as well?

Jorge: Sure. Well I'm Jorge Gutierrez. I am currently the development manager for corporate banking in BAC-Credomatic in Central America. We are the largest private bank in the region. We're owned by Grupo Aval from Columbia so we are a subsidiary of Grupo Aval. I've been working here for around almost 25 years now; next year will be 25. Everything on the AS/400 to the i platform.

Paul: So Jorge the … when you say a bank, OK and bearing in mind; I'm sorry just for people listening to me. I've known Jorge for many, many years, I’ve had the pleasure of going out there to do some work with BAC, and with Jorge and that over the years but you're ... it is not a small bank by any means Jorge.

Jorge: Oh no. In Central America we have like, it is 22,000 employees and our IT department, there are around 600 people, 200 of those are programmers and out of those around 110-120 are RPG programmers or currently doing RPG development actually is more accurate because they were not RPG programmers when they came in.

Paul: OK so actually let's swing back around on that one in a few minutes because that is something I want to talk to you about but OK so you're a development manager. So is it a thing that there has been a lot of development going on in the bank over the last few years?

Jorge: Oh, yes. We … there is … we have corporate development department, which is where I work, and we are doing development for all the banks in every country and also we have local development, which is development done by each country IT departments. We have to coordinate that in order to manage a single version of the same code so I was mentioning we have 100 or so RPG-people programming in RPG. They are all working on the same branch of code, which is distributed to where we bank so that’s one of the things that we do.

Paul: Yeah.

Jorge: And we do it kind of interestingly.

Paul: So I mean do you face a lot of difficultly? I mean do all of the countries then have like different legislation? And that … that has to be taken into account. That would …

Jorge: Absolutely. Yes. Every country has its local and especially in the banking industry. It is⎯every government tries, puts in, tries to control the same thing but they come up with different ways of doing it so part of our job here in corporate IT is to figure out similarities between one development and the other and try to reuse logic that was developed in a different IT department. That is part of the things we do here.

Paul: OK. So obviously the bank has been going through a lot of modernization and that over the last few years Jorge, so I know a difficult question this but are there any sort of like major things sort of challenges, highlights, low points whatever that stand out you know as you have been going through that process?

Jorge: Yes. I will think about that one: that issue about challenges and modernizing. One thing that I learned, I will say I recently learned is when you have this much people doing development, you have to be very careful what you put in as a best practice, what you put in as a norm or what because it is very difficult to get people to start using it. It is also very difficult to get people to stop using maybe something that was not as-what you thought was the best practice or if you find a different practice so if you-you have to do steady steps on modernization so finding out what are those quick easy wins, doing that and making that as norm or making that the best practice is kind of I will say my biggest challenge. I am more careful now than I was ten years ago when we started doing modernization on what I say to the developers that it is a good practice or not.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah because it is, I know, something we've discussed many times over the years but you know my view is always that programmers are creatures of habit and whether they can adapt to something new very quickly. I think it is an excellent point you are making. That new thing can very quickly become a habit that they are going to find hard to break as well. [Laughs]

Jorge: Exactly and in that line, one way to overcome that is you have to be sure that they understand why you're using that habit or why you are doing that practice. I call it, we don't like to follow recipes. Well programmers love to follow recipes especially newcomers, but we don't like them to follow recipes. We would like them to understand how it works, why it's working, and why we are doing this instead of the other thing so they can sometimes put their problems in context and make the best decision by themselves. That is one I will say it is one of the big challenge not only for modernization but also for software development in general.

Paul: Yeah so but one of the other, I think just the nature of the fact that it's a bank Jorge I mean a lot of this process of modernization must be a little bit like trying to steer an iceberg. I mean they must be slow to change. Is that a fair statement?

Jorge: It is. We have very long feedback loops is what I call it. From the moment we make a decision or we make a development, to put it into production and to see that it really worked or that it really-the market accepted it as we wanted it, whatever, it take a long time between the development to the feedback on it and so we can-we have to be careful on the decisions we make because we're going to learn that we were wrong very long into-the distance between one and the other is very great.

Paul: Yeah.

Jorge: It's long.

Paul: Yeah. [Laughs]

Jorge: Went to Spanish for a while. [Laughs].

Paul: OK. We're sticking with English, Jorge. So the other thing as well Jorge is that because I know you have done some work on this over the years as well though is I mean have you started to see an impact from the modernization process? I mean have you seen a thing of sort of saying well you know things that used to take us, you know, two months to change now take us a week? Or you know things that used to take a year are now taking two to three months. Are you starting to see results like that?

Jorge: Oh, yes.

Paul: After 10 years?

Jorge: Yes, absolutely. Not only on the development time, the lifecycle of the development but on the type of projects and services that we have been able to offer now. Ten years ago an interface with a browser or with a .net application or client or whatever was unthinkable right; it was a long project. We don't know how to do it. It will be hard. We'll have to redo a whole bunch of interfaces but since we started doing modernizing, doing layer programming, separating out interfaces from our logic and our databases, we have been able to pick and choose different components and build new services at a much quicker pace than we were able to do it before. So now we jump into any project that comes along without there being many technical barriers for us to go in.

Paul: Yeah. So let me swing back on something that you touched on earlier Jorge, which is the thing about the RPG developers. As you said like 100+, like 110 RPG developers so is it a thing that there is some college sitting there in San Jose in Costa Rica that is churning RPG developers for you?

Jorge: No, not since the ‘80s I think. [Laughs] No. No, RPG is not being taught at any college here. We don't even have in the regions RPG trainers so to say or seminars or whatever so we actually stopped looking for RPG programmers. When we hire programmers, we just look for good programmers, programmers that are able to put stuff in context, that know good patterns development patterns from bad patterns, that are OO object oriented right developers and we teach them RPG here at our offices. It is actually a really quick process. You can have a good Java or .net programmer be doing RPG in a matter of two to three months. It is because they really don't-they are programmers. They don't mind the language maybe or we the old-fashioned programmers were very keen to doing the same language and we qualified ourselves as RPG programmers but these guys, they are actually-they are just developers. You throw the language at them and they will learn it and they will use it. That is what we've found.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. So don't tell me that they don't need training Jorge because that's what I like to … that is one of the reasons I like going out speaking.

Jorge: That's why. You're part of the training. [Laughs] That is how we keep ourselves modern in the languages and that is how we found out about the new development that is being done on IBM for the platform, right. Bring guys like you and sending us to summits and-

Paul: And COMMON.

Jorge: COMMON and all those training options that are there. We do a lot of reading, a lot of reading. That is interesting. I've seen a lot of new people blogging about the platform and the language. Kind of interesting.

Paul: Yeah, there are-I think we were talking about this earlier this year saying that there are now-there is this sudden surge of new people coming in on the platform with that and some of that is really exciting especially with the advent of all the open-source stuff as well. I think that potentially is going to bring even more people-

Jorge: Definitely.

Paul: Playing around on the platform you know which is great. So listen Jorge, to finish up on maybe two little things I want to touch on with you more on the personal side. So again having had the pleasure of sending time out there with you, I know these two things to be true. So I think you are first of all I think like most people in Costa Rica, you have a love of nature.

Jorge: Absolutely. Absolutely. That is where I find my Zen. It's … it's … and I also have the luck-I'm lucky enough to have like a farm really deep in the rainforest that I really enjoying going to and that is my place of relaxation.

Paul: Yeah. There is the second thing though and I am glad that you sort of used the word Zen because I think it was one of the times I was there when I saw you cooking. You were cooking at a barbeque and I remember it was a neighborhood one. I think it was Mother's Day actually if I remember correctly and you started to cook on a large sort of barbeque. Excuse if it is the wrong term that I've just used for it but a long barbeque and I saw you go into the zone. You were somewhere else as you were cooking. So you like to cook as well, Jorge?

Jorge: Yeah, absolutely and cooking with fire to be more accurate. [Laughs] I like to burn things in a controlled way. The funny thing about cooking⎯I know I read it somewhere, I cannot pinpoint where it was … but the author was comparing programming to cooking because you mix ingredients and you come out with flavors, new flavors, new things, and you solve problems by cooking so I guess a lot of creativity goes into cooking and playing with fire as well. [Laughs] Mix the three together, all three and it's-

Paul: Actually that's an excellent point Jorge because the number of people that I've done these iTalks with whose passion outside of programming or outside of work is actually cooking so that is actually a very valid point.

Jorge: Yes, it is.

Paul: Well and actually I think that is a great point to leave everybody with. I don't think we can top that one. So Jorge thank you so much for at long, long last managing to do this iTalk with me.

Jorge: No, thank you. Thank you, Paul, for everything and for giving me an opportunity to share.

Paul: OK. So that's it for this iTalk everybody. Tune in again soon for the next one. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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