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August 2004

Catch a wave and surf away from the sharks

NewsWire Editorial

My partner Abby and I vacationed on the Texas Gulf Coast last month, a place where we could observe the habits of surfing. To be sure, the beaches west of Galveston won’t rival California or Hawaii for breaks. But astride Follet’s Island sits Surfside Beach, a sleepy little community where beach-house bums like us could plod out of rentals into the salt water. Some days I could see how the surfers modeled habits for your HP 3000 transition.

To begin with the highest drama, these were dangerous waters. We didn’t realize it when we booked our trip with the family, but late July is mating season for Gulf Coast sharks. The waters weren’t infested, but we heard about two bites in as many days along our bit of the coast. We had to swim with caution, but there really wasn’t much we could do to be completely safe short of abandoning the water. Not really an option for our annual vacation destination, a place at the end of a long flight for Abby’s sister Nancy and her man Gary.

That feels like the water you all got tossed into at the end of 2001, when your vendor chose to exit this market. You swim with the sharks of expense and unreliability, keeping an eye out for the schools of cost overruns and the uncertainty of support futures. But you have to be out there, solving this transition’s challenges.

The TV news — an oxymoron if there ever was one — advised us to get out of the water if we found ourselves in a school of fish. Sharks prefer food they can swallow whole. I compare that to the HP 3000 site that doesn’t communicate with much of the MPE community, or keeps putting off its plans for the future of its critical server. You’re easier to swallow whole if you’re not in touch with what’s happening and studying options with a trusted advisor to help manage the risks.

Our swimming spot was so beautiful that we wanted to brave the risk and embrace the waves. Surfside has a beach you can wade in for 200 yards out from the shore, but deep enough to bring on four-foot swells when the wind kicked up. I bought a cheap boogie board at Buc-ees, the convenience store with live bait and 18 racks of flips for our bare feet, and then waded in to try my hand at a little wave action. I did more floating than riding with the little board that I lashed to my wrist like a real surfer. But once the rain blew in and the waves kicked up, I could watch the wave masters go after the breakers on their waxed boards.

Like computer pros, surfers can do a lot of waiting for the right wave to catch. The first two-plus years of the transition have been a time to wait for many of you: The wait for budget, for solutions to appear, for tools to mature. Most of you have been waiting for a recovery and your Y2K purchases to amortize. These waves seem to be breaking now. ERP customers are reporting a boom. Our President keeps telling us the economy is starting to swell, although those new jobs seem to have dried up. Hey, even down on the beach we could get enough TV during that week to see the Democrats promise that “Hope is on the way.”

The rain taught us that bad weather makes for better surfing. In Texas we need a rainstorm at the least to make surf-worthy waves. So while the showers chased the Gulf’s magnificent brown pelicans out of the skies, the foul weather churned up the slate-gray waters nicely. Think of this stormy spot of your career as a place to make changes you’ve had to delay. New support suppliers, maybe, or a revamped application to replace the code that nobody wants to decipher anymore.

You can wait for the right wave to come to you, if you have the patience to stay put and remain ready. You have to look farther into the sea make this happen, I learned. Then you jump into the curl, the bravest moment, to let the momentum carry you along. This reminds me of the sites that won’t migrate for more than six years, because they need a massive wave of coding to carry their business to a new computing shore. Unix often drives those currents, chosen by companies that want a lot of cohorts around them when they make changes.

Once the surfers were up on a wave, I could see how experience counts. They make subtle adjustments for balance, a skill you can only master over time. Mastering skills over time is something a lot of HP 3000 pros can be proud of. Business savvy is made up of such subtle adjustments to users’ requirements, not the ability to crank out C# code, as our Q&A subject points out this month.

There are smaller boards to use on lighter surf. Homesteading carries less change and investment, if you find yourself on a beach of resources where the waves run lower.

You won’t know if you’re on the best wave until you’re in the water, paddling to catch one. Wax up your boards or strap on your little boogies, but keep a shark eye out and get in. Don’t wait too long, because that breeze of recovery might blow another way. You want to ride all that optimism in the air.

— Ron Seybold

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