Laura Ubelhor on Volunteering and User Groups

Paul Tuohy talks to Laura Ubelhor about running MITEC (Michigan IBM i and AIX Technical Education Conference), user groups, the COMMON Education Foundation and the challenge of bringing youth to i and i to youth.

Paul: Hi, everybody and welcome to another iTalk With Tuohy. I am joined today by Laura Ubelhor who is—oh I think in the industry probably I would put Laura, I would put you, as being one of the key people in the industry. Unless somebody has come across you at COMMON or at MITEC or one of the numerous places where they are due to bump into you, people may not know who you are so will you do the quick introduction about who you are and what you do.

Laura: Sure. Well, as Paul said, I am Laura. I live and reside in Michigan. I own a consulting organization. We specialize in application development, which is a pretty broad brush. A lot of times we work with automotive companies because of the area that we are located in; however, that has changed a lot throughout the years because consulting anymore does not mean necessarily that you are onsite. It has turned into a much more global thing so it makes things exciting and interesting and I have always enjoyed work. I have been in the community for quite a while and I have been active in several roles including the local user group and on a national level at COMMON as well.

Paul: Well now you are just giving me the perfect lead-in to where I was coming to, Laura, because as I said you are one of the key people and are one of the key people because of all the volunteer stuff that you do within the community. Okay, you mentioned the local user group there and you mentioned COMMON. Of course, it was at COMMON that we first met if I remember correctly. We will not go back as to how long ago that was that we met, a couple years ago. So tell people a little bit about what you do with COMMON, Laura, and about the COMMON Education Foundation.

Laura: Yeah, I kind of evolved. I have always been involved on a local level. Actually when I started my career, I kind of sought out the user group and just kind of latched onto it and connected throughout the years, on a local level did that and then somehow or another got introduced to COMMON. I started out volunteering as a TLC and I do enjoy meeting people, chatting tech, meeting people and have enjoyed throughout the years all the friendships I have made and look forward to seeing everyone at COMMON. It kind of evolved where I got involved in some different committees and things. Currently I am assistant director of the COMMON Education Foundation and that is really a pretty nice fit for me because I feel very strongly about education in the community and the Foundation really has a strong base in helping both educators as well as students get involved in the community and learn. The Foundation provides scholarships to both the educators and students. We get them to come to COMMON and the educators when they come, they sit in on the sessions; they learn; they go back to their local communities and spread what’s new for IBM i.

Paul: So the other one that I mentioned there of course is the MITEC conference which runs in Detroit every year and which I have had the absolute pleasure of speaking at for the last few years. I’ve told you this before Laura, it is always—it’s a great conference to speak at, a marvelous buzz. I am always at it but the thing that I am astounded by is whenever you hear about Detroit in the news, I mean I am sorry. I cannot remember. You have got to remember I do not live in the States so I cannot remember if it was that Detroit was about to go bankrupt or did go bankrupt. It is this city and area that is all doom and gloom but every time I go to MITEC, you get a phenomenal turnout, a great buzz. So what is it that you are doing to get all of that?

Laura: First, I do not want to forget to say thank you because everybody very much appreciates you coming to our local community as well. In regards to MITEC, I think you know a big part of it is—how that evolved is a long time ago there used to be some local conferences. They stopped and they went away. For several years we did not have any and so myself and a few others, we pushed like to make it happen. You know there is a lot of people that have that opinion of the Detroit area but there is an extremely large pocket of IBM i’s in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio area so there is a real need you know to have something like COMMON and not everybody—or not COMMON but to have something, you know, with sessions to learn what’s new and to meet and greet with industry experts, all those great things that come along with conference events. So you know I think there was a real need for that and not everybody can go away for a week to a conference or fly away, you know, and take that much time away from work so I think first off that there definitely was a need for it. We started out, the first year I think we had around 100 people and this last year, we had 225. I think some of the things that have attributed to that is you know making sure that we have a real good lineup for everybody to choose from. You know, we make sure that the agenda includes a nice combination so it fits for managers, programmers, system admins, and we have also done some things for example like including students. I think that has made a big difference like this last conference there were a lot of organizations that inquired ahead of time and they were quite enthused to hear that, wow, there is a young resource and they are actually going to be at an event that we are going to be attending. We have been quite fortunate. Steve Will did the opening session last time and that certainly is an attraction as well but I think you know no matter where you are throughout the country or throughout the world if you are working on the platform and in technology, it is critical that you continue to keep current and learn new things.

Paul: Yeah. Well I mean it is interesting where you mention about Steve Will there of course because this is one of the areas where I think success breeds success. In other words, if you are going to have 200 people coming to your conference, IBM is quite willing to send Steve Will to speak at it whereas if you are having 20 people at your conference, they are not going to send Steve Will to speak at it so continued success on that. So tell me when you are not volunteering at COMMON, when you are not working with your own clients running your business, when you are not doing all the stuff with MITEC, in the 25 minutes that you have left in a week, what do you like to do with your time? (Laughter).

Laura: You know I think it is important you have a balance in life. Sometimes mine gets a little bit lopsided but I still you know make sure to make time. I live in Michigan, which is a beautiful state. There is a lot of water here. I love to get out in a lot of beautiful outdoor areas. I love to get outside. We have a boat. We get out on the lake quite frequently. I like to get outside and walk, do picnics. I have a large family and I feel quite fortunate for that because we get together quite frequently and that is something I enjoy a lot.

Paul: There is a thing and I just have to go back and check it here, Laura, because I had asked you this in an email about what you did outside work. One of the things you said in the email, and I was surprised with this, you said you like to do local volunteer activities.

Laura: Well, yes.

Paul: Okay. Okay. I just got to point out to you before you tell me what it is you do Laura, I got to tell you. You have an illness here. You keep volunteering for everything! (Laughter). On local volunteer activities, what kinds of stuff do you go for?

Laura: Well you know actually that is kind of funny because my grandmother when I was younger used to drag me around to different things she would help out with, you know, whether it was putting flowers on the church alter or helping out at fundraisers for some family in the area that was in need or things like that so I think that probably that was a beautiful lesson I think that she taught me so I always feel it is really important that you give back to your community, you know.

Paul: So I think we have your grandmother to thank for this then do we?

Laura: Yeah.

Paul: The fact that you do MITEC and COMMON and everything, that she instilled that in you?

Laura: Yeah. I think she is-she certainly deserves some credit for that.

Paul: Excellent. Well listen, Laura, I am going to let you get back to work. Thanks a million for taking the time to talk with me and I look forward to the next time we meet. I hope it will be before the next MITEC next year but thanks a million, Laura.

Laura: Me also and thank you very much, Paul.

Paul: Okay. Okay. Well that is it for this week everybody. Talk to you all again soon on the next iTalk With Tuohy. 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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