|Planting Seedlings of MPE
Jon Backus is
repaying his rewards from years in the 3000 community, building
classrooms for the platform. Last year he formed his own outsourcing,
consulting and remote system management firm for HP 3000 sites, after
years of service with a national catalog fulfillment company serving
the 3000 market. While his new Tech Group built revenue for Backus,
he started another project more unique in its mission. Tech Group University began to
offer the most complete slate of classes in MPE expertise, including
specific training in many of the third-party tools that have been the
bedrock of the platforms success.
semesters, the educational offering has a curriculum including COBOL
programming for the 3000, advanced MPE security, an ODBC Boot Camp,
performance tuning, system management, IMAGE and MPE fundamentals
even a course on VPlus, taught by Backus himself. Compared to
the slim listings of HPs official education offerings, the Tech
Group University lineup bristles with opportunity for the IT pro who
wants to leverage years of 3000 experience. Classes are taught in the
Advanced Technology Center of Hagerstown, Marylands community
college, a location thats a complete alternative to the Western
US classroom locales of HP courses.
In addition to
the coursework, Backus has spearheaded a certification track for HP
3000 skills, drawing on input from a collective of seasoned HP 3000
experts. The MPECert program is expected to have tests in place by
next year, offering nine different certifications in areas like
security, the Internet and system management skills with broad
value tailored to an environment that includes the 3000.
like plenty of MPE graybeards, cutting his teeth on programming
Classic HP 3000s, along with HPs pioneering 125 and 150 PCs
linked to the early systems. He did consulting for 3000 customers
while working at a DEC shop, then served as a programmer analyst at
manufacturers using 3000s. He created a security subsystem product
(HSS/3000) but the experience didnt lead to more development.
When he formed his own company last year, he returned to a
longstanding dream of offering education for the platform. Why offer
classes for a mature platforms technology, in competition with
HPs? Why put effort into certifying at such a detailed level,
when HP itself offers only one broad certification for the 3000? We
caught up with the fast-moving Backus at HP World 2001 to learn
whats motivating his drive to educate the community, and see
what might be up on the whiteboards next at the university.
Starting something from scratch like a university
seems to take a love of being an entrepreneur. How has your time in
the 3000 community fueled that drive?
consider myself an entrepreneur. Tech Group University and the
certification programs were born out of a passion for the platform. I
perceived things that were shortcomings in the paradigm of the 3000
world, things I wanted to attempt to address. I spent the last 19
years working on this platform, and its by far my favorite
computer. I dont think it can do everything, but for its niche
its extremely well suited. I had a desire to give back to the
community Ive taken from for the last 19 years.
What made you
think youd like to make training such an essential part of your
Even before I was
in the 3000 arena, I was a lab rat in college. I liked the academic
environment. Having taught, it was clear to me that you never really
learn something better than when you teach it. When I went to
teaching somebody else, I drove home my understanding of products.
Hagerstown is far from the beaten path of 3000
training sites. Was that by design?
Most of the
3000 utility vendors and consultants had very limited resources for
training. So wherever their classes sprang up, it was typically
closer to HP on the West Coast. Being on the East Coast, it was rare
that I had the opportunity to take these classes. I had to figure it
all out on my own, and there are limitations to that.
How did your experience as an IT manager help
create the University?
As director of IT
for a national fulfillment company, Id evaluate what my team
had done successfully, and where our weaknesses were, and what we
could do better. For 1999 we needed to bring our staff more in line
with industry-standard salaries. I set out to spin off a consulting
company for the national fulfillment company, but when the
fulfillment company didnt want to go in that direction, I
revived my longstanding dream of a training facility in the East. I
contacted HP 3000 application and tools vendors and asked them to
send someone to teach a class.
When did you put the first class up?
In the fall of
last year, and the first was a Suprtool class taught by Jeff Kubler
of Kubler Consulting. We had three classes come off out of five we
scheduled through that year.
With so many classes in your lineup, does
everything you schedule actually get taught?
cancellation rate, as with any training facility. I struggled with
that at first, coming from the other, IT side of things. I only
wanted to offer classes that I thought would happen. After the first
two semesters I sat down with the college partner in Hagerstown. They
said I was watching the wrong indices. I needed to look at how many
students we were serving in a semester, not the ratio of successful
to cancelled classes.
That made a
tremendous amount of sense. Anytime you offer a brand-new class, your
cancellation rate is going to be higher until the user community
gradually accepts it.
How did the 3000 community react to the
For education to
take off, it required an entire paradigm shift. What had to happen
was the legacy attitude had to be broken down. The 3000 has been
around for almost 30 years, and people had figured out how to do
things 15 or 20 years ago. The operating system has evolved, and the
third party utilities have evolved, but people continued to do things
the way they always had. New people would come into the shop, and
theyd be taught that way.
have a mind-drain of how to use the operating system to the fullest,
how to use the third-party utilities to their fullest. You end up
stuck in a legacy mind-set. Just because the 3000 was created 30
years ago, doesnt mean its frozen in time. Its
evolved. The paradigm shift is that your knowledge of the platform
needs to evolve right along with the platform.
People bash HP for
not offering more training. But until you push the boundaries of what
your 3000 can do, you dont have any right to pick on HP for not
doing more. HP has been evolving the operating system, while users
have a legacy attitude. HP can turn back and ask, Have you used
what Ive given you in the last five years? For a lot of
shops, the answer is no.
You had some budget resistance to training for the
3000, Im sure. Hows that coming along?
slow process. As I continue to evangelize, people are starting to
come to me and talk about their training budgets. They can see the
worth in it, and want to know how much they should budget to send
someone to three classes, for example.
In shops with
mixed technology, [MPE] people see others going to training courses
every year. People are waking up to the fact they need to do this.
willing and able to wait. For the platform to survive, you have to do
this. Otherwise the people of 20 years ago will retire, and companies
wont have anyone who knows much about the platform. Then they
put an NT or a Linux system in. The only way to bring fresh new blood
into the 3000 arena is to show them its a viable career path:
changing, alive, with opportunities. Things like certifications.
What kind of advantage does getting certified
brings to a professional in such a mature environment?
that evolutionary growth path in your knowledge of the 3000. Starting
in January, one of my desires is to create an annual certified salary
survey. Ill contact people who are certified and identify many
of the usual indices: region, years of experience. Ill stay
away from some things like, Are you male or
I hope to
show them, Heres what you can make if you pursue the
3000. Its dynamic and evolving with Java, Apache and all the
sexy things. You show them youre current with the
What if HP gets into the 3000 education business
more aggressively does that worry you?
actually welcome the day. I am doing this from a passion perspective,
not as an entrepreneur trying to make a lot of money. The University
was never envisioned as being a big cash generator.
HP has not
given me any grief over offering independent classes. They recognize
many of our courses go well beyond the scope of what they teach.
There have been instances where people have approached the 3000
division, and theyve told them to look at Tech Group University
classes. They were a proponent of outsourcing their training to the
University, but the division of HP that does training has been
non-reactive at best.
Id love to see the day where HP says,
Theres value in this, and we should do this, and
jump all over it and run me out of business. If they do that, and put
enough resources behind it to service the community with education
that meets my dream.