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Chris Gauthier
Technical Content Manager


Generating the Energy of X for the 3000

If the 3000 community founders want to pass their torch to the next generation, they couldn’t find a more passionate pair of hands than Chris Gauthier’s. The new Technical Content Manager at the community’s Web portal 3kworld.com moved into his job this summer, taking a full-time role after years of experience working with the 3000’s channel partners at HP distributor Client Systems. Lengthy experience with this platform in a technical expert under 40 is an unusual mix, and in Gauthier’s case, only possible because of when he began: at age 15.

He worked as an intern at Denver-area HP 3000 sites, volunteering just to be able to have contact with what was then called a minicomputer. Gauthier worked for gratis at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through high school and then at Denver’s public TV station, organizations often hard up for cash and glad to have help. He describes himself as “Geek at Large” in his communiques to the community, a title he wears with both pride and good reason. For the past five years Gauthier has been technical support for the software vendors and resellers who sell the HP 3000s out of Client Systems’ configuration bays.

Last year the 33-year-old began a project that evolved into a love poem to the 3000 community, a short film called “Growing Up With the HP 3000.” The 23-minute documentary wasn’t his first movie; Gauthier got a film entered in the New York Film Festival when he was just 18. After showing a rough cut at this year’s Solutions Symposium, Gauthier’s HP 3000 film grew up as well, becoming a personal, emotional description of how the 3000 as underdog became, as he calls it, “the most elegant survivor” in the computer industry.

Gauthier calls upon his own survival background, wider than systems management and filmmaking, as he takes the content captain’s chair at 3kworld. After managing bookstores’ 3000 distribution applications and being a 3000 operator for HP’s Englewood, Colo. facility, he wrote a financial application which he first sold to a Denver-area catering company. In those says he cut code and carried food to catering events. Seven years out of high school, he had developed a consulting career and a clientele using his Transact application on a timeshare basis. He later adapted the software from inventorying sandwich components to building software tapes and manifests for new HP 3000s, first in his job at distributor Integration Alliance and then at Client Systems. Gauthier said he still has a few “upstart” firms, like lawn services, that need automated billing and dial into the software on an HP 3000 in the basement of his home — a place where all good old HP 3000 hardware lives. He took advantage of HP’s employee auctions to stock up on systems and terminals, always seeing the value in equipment long after its original owners did.

That’s a philosophy that feels in step with the 3000 community, but one surprising to see in someone who was only graduating from high school as HP was shipping its first RISC computers. After seeing Gauthier’s film surface at HP World, it became plain this is an old-school 3000 disciple graduating to a leading role for a new generation. He organized an online chat in August to let users vent frustrations about HP’s muddled corporate message regarding the platform, advocacy with an air of independence. We asked Gauthier about his new job in the 3000’s online playground, and how the rules about information exchange might be changing while the MPE love song remains the same.

Your role as content manager for the Web site combines what can be a demanding customer base with a monumental appetite for help. What’s your formula to keep up?

My philosophy is that it’s bread on the water. It’s such a small community that we’re trying to grow, and you have to be there to give away the information and support. That’s how I fell in love with the 3000. People gave away their time. The least I can do is to return that. I did this for free at Channel 12, and I’d do it again if it all went away, in a heartbeat. It’s great they’re paying me to do this. A lot of people stuck their necks out to keep me going. The 3000 is a representative of that. You have to give it away, and it will come back.

My personal way of doing business in my life is not to ever struggle over customer support issues. Customers are the one thing you need, and you have no way of getting around without them. They’re paying the bill, and that’s what you’re there for.

So you’ve got a history of giving your time away, and then knowledge, but now you’re opening up beyond the ISV and reseller community to a much larger community. Are you daunted by the larger scope?

Oh yeah, very much so. I have a healthy respect for that. I need to get help from people in this, and I will ask for it. It’s a huge community and a hell of a challenge. This is a chance to really help a lot of people, and get to know a lot of people I haven’t gotten to know. I know the reseller community and the ISV community, the developments types. But this allows a whole new big role to be pulled in. That’s one thing that HP doesn’t have [contact] with either — this mysterious end user group of people. They’re the ones that actually put the dollar out, but no one seems to know they’re there. They’re the ones that are really paying my paycheck.

Because of your configuration experience, you’re on the mainline for a lot of information that HP 3000 customers struggle to get. How much license do you feel that you have to share what you know with everybody who asks, regardless of whether it’s good news or not?

As much as they’ll give me. The second anything looks like it’s got a release date, like it’s something I could share, it’s the first thing I’ll put up. Sometimes we do have nondisclosure, but it’s usually only for a short period of time. They really don’t want some things out because it will do more harm than good.

The thing that’s hurt the 3000, and HP in general, is the communication channel. It’s amazing how much of this stuff we think is private, secret and not sharable is actually sharable. But nobody has the mechanism to get the information out.

Do you feel like you can turn some of these communication problems around?

I’m hoping I can, or if I can’t, I hope to give enough information to someone else that they can also run with the ball, too. There’s a huge community of people out there that are much wiser and smarter and more versed about what goes on with the 3000 than I’ll ever be. They’ve been out there with a customer, or resolving a problem at three in the morning. I haven’t done that for quite a while.

But I’m sitting here in unique position. Basically I’m reporting from Roseville [the 3000 factory]. I’m sitting here being able to take stuff that never gets communicated from the factory floor. It’s as if they had a Roseville factory worker being able to communicate out to the 3000-L [mailing list]. There’s been no such thing. We can tell people how big a card is, or how many slots it takes up. These are simple questions for us to answer. Things like what does an AutoRAID array look like, or a connection to an XP256. We see it here.

My main pass is to concentrate on the stuff that seems to be miscommunicated. As the stuff comes up that may be touchier, let’s see how that flies. HP’s changing, too. What’s touchy today may not be touchy tomorrow. I remember when they wouldn’t even bother talking about SS_CONFIG, and that privacy hurt them. None of us were aware that was an issue that other people were taking advantage of. People were victimized buying those machines that were illegally upgraded [with SS_CONFIG] because they really didn’t know. You’ve got to give enough information for people to be smart customers, too.

How do you think you’re doing on exchanging information with the 3000-L community? I know 3kworld has been eager to get the energy of the mailing list and newsgroup to help the Web site. What do you want to do to strengthen that link?

I think we’re doing well, only because several people at HP World came up and said they liked what we were doing — that we’re becoming part of the community. Part of becoming a part of the 3000 community, as you know, is taking it on the jaw a few times. The bottom line of this whole 3kworld exercise is that it’s a community. It isn’t run by one person. The community decides in what direction we’re going to go. It behooves us to listen. I think that’s one of the reasons they brought me in on this, is because I’ve been part of that community longer than 3kworld has been around. I plan on being part of that community even if I left 3kworld tomorrow.

My personal pass is that I don’t care where they get the information. If they get it from the L, or from 3k Associates, or they get it from the HP sites, as long as they get the information, that’s all I care about. I know that’s kind of weird, but I feel if they have the information, they’re armed to do what they need to do

It pays my check if they come to my site, but if they’re not comfortable there, then don’t go there. All I ask is that they get the information. That keeps me employed in the long run.

Do you think that you’ve got more of a position of an information authority because of your connection with HP, versus some other sites? The problem with the Internet is that you can get lots of information, but a rather small percentage of it turns out to be true

It’s a balance of credibility. Being a part of the community also means being credible. How people feel about the credibility of 3kworld will determine how much we’re a part of the community. It will be interesting to see how it plays out with rumors. I haven’t had to deal with that yet — there’s been no big rumors yet.

You’re straddling a line between journalism and technology. How are you handling these very different requirements?

It’s so weird. I’m a geek first, and the journalism stuff I’m learning at best as I can. I’m not a journalist, and I don’t picture myself being a writer. I’m hoping I’m working with people who have done it, and are well versed in it. We can fill the integrity of engineering as a community. When we had that chat [about HP’s corporate 3000 message], it was a sign that we’re a community first. We’re fully supporting HP, but 3kworld is a community before it’s anything else. If Smith-Gardner cannot sell machines because the 3000 doesn’t get enough recognition, that desperately requires intervention.

The journalism can be learned, but you cannot teach passion, and you have plenty. Where does it spring from?

I’m an emotional vampire with the community. I feed off of it, too. They’ve given me that for so many years, through a big chunk of my personal development. The least I can do is give that passion back. There’s people out there banging the doors. It’s pretty hard to miss, and not something to be taken lightly. There’s not a lot of people who do that in their lives.

It will be interesting to see how the passion works out. I think passion can be learned, by example. The responsibility to be true to yourself is very much a learned thing. These people have been the truest thing to true I’ve seen.

You were able to convey that passion well in your movie. Is there another in you, or something else next?

My gut feel is that films have played themselves out, and it’s time to move on to the next thing. If somebody else wants to take the film ball and run with it, they’re welcome to that footage. It would be neat if we could make it into an hour-long film. It would be fun to follow the people around in a documentary fashion. I wish I had some more money to do that. That would be fun.

Are there similarities in keeping a Web site stocked and alive with getting a movie together?

Oh yeah. Like films, the Web site is very much a team effort. I get a whole bunch of contributions. What I’d like to see is more from the community. There’s cool stories out there from great people that have done this for awhile, and have first-hand knowledge. They’ve got great stories to tell, and this is the forum to do it.

The filmmaking gave me experience with the creative side and the passion. I put up a trip report after HP World that was things I really learned. It’s something that eats at you inside that you’ve gotta say. Sometimes you heart’s gotta tell you what to do, and that’s what I’ve learned from the film. You do what your tummy tells you to do. If it feels good there, it’s the right thing.


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