Keeping Up Connections to
Jeanette Nutsford teaches the power of staying
connected in a community. The application supplier, COBOL advocate
and programmer counts nearly 25 years in the 3000 community, every
one of them spent working alongside her partner in life and her
husband of 33 years, Ken. Together the Nutsfords remain redoubtable
leaders at HP 3000 conferences, while running a business
headquartered in New Zealand but serving customers around the world.
Jeanette perhaps stands as the woman with one of the longest tenures
in the 3000 community, offering over those years a rich legacy of
volunteer leadership to better the computer and language that lies at
the heart of her professional career.
She began in teaching at the high school level, and has
gracefully translated skills from a mathematics classroom to the
world of IT. She entered the world of computing in 1967, learning to
program at assembler-level on ICL mainframes. It was a time so
different that she had to leave ICL to marry Ken; company policy
didnt permit husbands and wives to work in the same firm. So
they formed Computometric Systems together, and not long after her
husband introduced the couple to HP 3000s and purchased a Series II.
They had to convince HP theyd be able to support themselves on
the MPE software, since they were the first HP 3000 customers in New
Zealand. Brownouts in Melbourne, Australia sold them on
Hewlett-Packard systems, watching the HP 3000s HP 2000
predecessor stay online while other computers failed.
COBOL was the common element through Jeanettes
experience, developing a timesharing service as well as applications
for manufacturing companies. WorldVision, an international aid
organization, was an early client they moved from a mainframe to the
HP 3000. The Nutsfords now use the Internet as a connection to their
own host HP 3000 in the US, but its their connections through
personal appearances that distinguish them in the community. While
Ken leads Special Interest Groups in Client Server and Omnidex,
Jeanette is at the SIG chair for a language thats as
traditional as the 3000 itself, COBOL. Shes been a member of
the COBOL 2002 Standards committee for several years, more in-person
work that keeps the 3000 communitys needs in the forefront of
COBOLs evolution. She also serves on the Executive Committee of
SIG-IMAGE/SQL and the advisory board for 3kworld.com.
With the Chicago HP World conference taking place this month,
we considered Jeanette and Ken to be great examples of how the
contact of face-to-face meetings enriches both a professional career
and the community. We spoke with her while the couple were in their
New Zealand offices, readying for the long trip and a retreat from
the July winter weather of their homeland.
work in the 3000 community is most often associated with COBOL.
Whats made you stick with the language while so many others
haven been on the rise through the years?
Its the language itself, the self-documenting
features of COBOL. After ICL I learned COBOL and then taught the next
course. Ive taught and used BASIC, and Fortran and Pascal, all
of the main pre-PC languages. COBOL is by far and away the most
appropriate language for business applications. It has standards,
portability and maintainability. And I was inspired when I first
heard Grace Hopper [creator of the first compiler, and major
contributor to the first COBOL standard] speak in 1978.
makes COBOL most appropriate for business?
Its a record-oriented language, whose data structures
are oriented around defining records of data. Thats what
business data is all about. The way to define and mirror the real
life data for a computer language was very straightforward and
natural. Then to be able to use those data structures with
English-type commands made it very easy to take your business rules
and translate them into a language and see that you had your
translation correct. Even a systems analyst could read the source
file and see it was designed correctly, even if they couldnt
sit down and write a COBOL program.
you think theres a natural symbiosis between the HP 3000s
design and COBOL?
Ken says its the stack architecture, which made COBOL
very easy to implement on the 3000 and makes it a very fast compiler.
Of all the COBOL compilers we use, HP COBOL is the most efficient,
because of the stack architecture and the separation of code from
One of the key things for me is that both the 3000 operating
systems and COBOL are non-complex systems. I dont mean
theyre simplistic, but theyre not complex.
Whats the language that you think has the most to offer
3000 COBOL programmers a natural fit?
I dont think theres a natural fit with COBOL,
especially now that Ive seen how COBOL can develop further with
the new standard. Its getting all the features we may have felt
were missing, where COBOL programmers had to use another language to
code with. Were getting all of that into COBOL, so I dont
see a need to use any other language. You wont have to go to an
object-oriented language to work with objects, because COBOL will
have that. Some COBOL compilers have that already.
The only language thats gotten me excited over the past
couple of years has been LegacyJ coming out with PERCobol, where we
can develop in COBOL and deploy in Java. Im not too sure
its absolutely necessary in the future. I dont think you
need to go with Java; I think you can stay with COBOL. But
theres an interesting shared interface there in PERCobol.
about Web development needs? Are there things in the forthcoming
COBOL standard which can do things Perl and Java can do?
Youre just a few months ahead of me for me to be able
to say categorically you can stay with COBOL. Im currently
at the moment. Ken calls me his Script Kiddie. The middle part of the
course is all COBOL, using Microfocus COBOL on the PC. With PERCobol
and AcuCOBOL on the 3000, I strongly believe Ill be able to do
everything Im learning, creating an e-commerce site, on the
3000 and in COBOL.
People like to toss stones at COBOL because of its age. What
makes it a tool that can withstand the trendy derision?
Its survived up to this point because of its loyal
supporters. People who use COBOL to develop applications look around
at other things to do, because we get caught up and persuaded by
employers that we should use another language. But as soon as you
start looking at any of the other languages, most COBOL programmers
want to come back to COBOL.
The loyalty of the COBOL programmer doesnt that
sound a little familiar, like the loyalty of the 3000 community? I
think the new standards and features will take us forward. It still
dominates the business world, and even if people stopped using it
now, it could be still 20 more years before the programs stopped
One of the biggest problems is that the COBOL programmers are
getting older, and a lot of the colleges and universities in the
States have stopped teaching it. Theyre starting up again, the
business colleges. COBOL is becoming more of a part of the business
courses. That will bring in the young programmer, especially if they
want to do Web design and Web applications.
you think theres more hope of getting newer COBOL features into
the 3000s compiler through a committed third party, or will
those kinds of features arrive no matter whos the caretaker?
I think I can be safe in saying its going to require a
committed third party, in partnership with HP. It wont happen
on its own without HPs support. But I think thats where
HP would prefer to put their resources.
I think weve got two good, strong possibilities [for
partners] in LegacyJ and Acucorp. LegacyJ has been there quite a
while and HP has done a lot to assist them with their PERCobol.
Acucorp are doing some major changes to their AcuCOBOL on the 3000,
and they are adding many of the HP extensions to it.
do think of the Open Source movement in relation to the 3000s
compiler futures? Does the community have what customers need to
assume the most complex of engineering, things like compilers that
are so important to Itanium or is that sort of thing best left
to the HP engineers?
Its going to be HP or a dedicated third party like
LegacyJ or Acucorp. I dont believe the Open Source movement is
the solution, but I think the standards movement is. Thats
whats gotten COBOL where it is. The functionality is there for
everybody, and the implementation for the hardware is done by people
who have the engineering expertise close to the source of the
hardware and operating system.
I think weve gained a lot from Open Source with tools.
Thats been very helpful to the future of the 3000, things like
Samba, Apache and Java. For their continued use on HP, though, most
people prefer HP to support them. Open Source gets things into our
sphere of interest much more quickly than HP could themselves. But it
seems to need HPs involvement for us to feel comfortable with
Ive tried thinking about Open Source in the
applications area, and I just cant see a business model for it.
you think Open Source has anything to offer the 3000 customer on
I dont know. Im still a very strong believer in
IMAGE and its strengths, because I use Omnidex. I believe I get the
best of all worlds with IMAGE and Omnidex. Our databases are almost
totally indexed. We basically have relational databases and beyond,
because weve got the strength of the networked database with
IMAGE. I wouldnt like to see anybody tamper with IMAGE outside
of HP. HP could be more proactive in giving us more features.
Whats the most immediate improvement that IMAGE
requires to help HP 3000 owners?
Its multithreading. The Web applications are the
future. I dont know much about the technical side of it, but I
understand the lack of multithreading could be a major drawback for
applications moving to the Web. It got strong support on the Systems
work on the SIB, and all of your time volunteering at COBOL standards
and Interex functions how do you make that time pay off for
you personally and professionally?
Well, it doesnt pay financially, thats for sure.
Theres major costs involved. Weve gained so much from
other people in the 3000 community that this is just one way of my
giving back. Ive learned so much from other people, right from
the first HP conference we ever went to in 1980, Ive made so
many great friends and technical supporters, that any problems
Ive had in developing my applications Ive always had
someone to go to.
My clients have gained from it, because of the information
and knowledge Ive attained from sharing with people so closely.
I dont think anybody can expose themselves to like-minded
people and not learn something. Sometimes its just
clarification that the knowledge you have is correct. I think
thats just as important as learning something new.
have you seen things change for women in the IT world since you began
My original experience was being treated like a second-rate
citizen, always second to my husband. I dont think women were
really treated as individuals. Thats changed dramatically.
Women are now allowed to take whatever role they wish to put their
energies into not just in IT, but all careers worldwide. I
think in some instances you still have to work twice as hard to prove
yourself. I dont think thats changed terribly much. But
people are more willing to let women take opportunities now than when
But women, in some ways, are our own worst enemy. Were
often juggling families and homes, and we dont want to take on
the stress of management, and the extra-long hours that go along with
the most responsible positions in IT. So they dont allow
themselves to move forward. But then youll find theres a
lot of men, if you really dig deep, in management who come from
programming and the thing they miss most is the ability to sit
down and focus on detail, like in programming. Women allow themselves
to just stay there, and program.
Power means less to women than it does to men, in a very
general way. Doing things for a power fix is not generally a
womans way. I think thats why you dont see as many
women involved in the newer languages and the newer PC technology. A
lot of the young men are going into these, and its a real ego
trip, and its very macho. A lot of women get turned off by
that. Women like to sit down and solve a problem. Its the end
result thats the key. I think to a man its how you get
there thats the key. The best programmers dont have an
ego. Thats why women make better programmers.
there anything special about the 3000 community thats made it
easier to advance as a professional woman?
The 3000 community isnt a macho community. Its a
very caring and supportive community, and thats helped me.
3000 has survived a long time, and youve been working with it
for nearly all of it. What do you think was its lowest point, and how
do you believe it got through that darkest time?
The lowest point was in the mid-1990s, when HP management
outside CSY gave very strong vibes the 3000 was not in their future.
A tremendous number of third-party vendors left, because it
wasnt something they thought they could tie their future to.
But the customers wouldnt let it go. I think its
the 3000 community that kept HP honest through all that period, and
insisted we werent going to follow HP into the Unix world. So
HP had to bring Posix to us.
current theory is that the community isnt one which adopts
rapidly, and that helped it survive. What do you think?
Yes. That goes back to Open Source. Thats why the 3000
community doesnt take openly to Open Source products. We want
something that will work, and will work ongoing, in the future, and
not threaten the stability we have. Most of us are in the business of
providing solutions for our customers. You cant provide
solutions on operating systems and hardware that are continuously
failing. Not quality solutions.
Youre an application provider in addition to being an
advocate. How does one pursuit enhance the other for you?
I think I have a very practical view of whats needed. I
need it for the solutions for my customers. And I see things from a
users perspective because Im involved in training for my
customers. And from a developers perspective, because I need
the tools and the environments for that. Thats whats
helped me be rounded as an advocate, and not single-minded into one
area only. Although some people would say Im single-minded
Whats the most encouraging thing youve seen
happen to the 3000 community in the past two years?
More than a couple of years ago, it was the decision to take
MPE to Itanium. I think that allowed the perception that MPE had a
future to become generally accepted. In the last couple of years, I
think the 3000 on the Internet has become the most important thing.
Thats what turned our business around. In the last two years
weve consolidated all of our development on one system in the
US. Prior to that I had a system in New Zealand, and one in the US
and one in England. Wherever I was I would take a tape and load, and
unload, and move on. Now I do all my development on one machine in
the US, and its a 3000.
Our clients HP 3000s are on the Internet, so I can
support them from anywhere, including an airport lounge if I had to.
The interesting thing was that HP didnt have to do anything to
make that happen. It was all external. If wed had the Internet
10 years ago, MPE would have been on it. Weve had Telnet on MPE
a long time. We dont even need Apache to access a 3000.
you satisfied with the level of security you have for the 3000 over
Once you get through to MPE, you have all the security you
need there. The bigger issues are outside of MPE: the need for
encryption, passwords and router security, firewalls. Those are the
things that Ken provides for me, and I just get in there and use it.
Weve just put up firewalls on all our PCs and laptops, and
its incredible how many external hits were getting that
the firewall is rejecting.
Youve spent a lot of your professional life working
alongside Ken. What are the rewards that led you to take on the risks
of working so closely?
Working together was a natural extension of what got us
together in the first place. A sharing. Were friends, first and
foremost, and that takes us through our marriage relationship and our
business relationship. The rewards for us are being able to spend 24
hours a day together.
We actually decided fairly early on in our marriage two major
things: We were not going to have children; and if we started up any
new activity, it would be a shared one. And wed drop activities
that werent shared. We did drop things. Ken isnt allowed
to learn how to fly, and I dont go on the stage anymore. We
developed our life together. The business is just one of those
Its had its ups and downs, but some of our success has
come from the fact that were non-competitors. We cover
different skills. Weve seen so many marriages in the computer
industry fail because both partners are competing as programmers, or
in marketing. We dont compete at all.
Ken sees the big picture, but can assist a lot in the detail.
I see the detail, and assist in the big picture. We can support and
assist each other, but our skill sets are quite different. Ken is the
deep thinker and the silent partner, and Im a very verbal
person. That partnership has worked out extremely well, too.
When we formed an American company called Nutsford Inc., Ken
came up with a symbol for it: N squared, because we are so much more
creative together than as two individuals.
commitment to personal meetings remains strong. What do 3000
community members need to remember about the value of face-to-face
Theres more to communication than one format, like
voice over the phone, or written e-mails. Theres body language,
all sorts of aspects for complete communication. You dont get
those until youre face to face. It allows you to build a more
complete form of communication.
Now e-mail has improved the communication in between
face-to-face meetings. Its become extremely important,
especially for us as we travel so much. But the group dynamics you
get in face-to-face Ive seen this happen in a conference
call. Some people are remote, and some are in a face-to-face meeting.
Those in the face-to-face were sharing all sort of things: pieces of
paper, facial expressions across the table, that people on the phone
had no way of communicating with. We got far more by being present.
You also dont get the feedback in a phone conference as
a leader about what people are thinking. In face-to-face, you can
bring in the people who arent able to express themselves
quickly, when you can see they are struggling with wanting to say
something. Its a thorough form of communication, but of course,
its expensive. E-mails have helped to fill the gap, but
Id never do without face to face. Its worth every penny
that we spend.