Services Company Boasts Rochester Brain Trust

Very few custom software development service startups can offer what the Rochester Technology Center can – 30 years of experience on IBM systems, straight from the source.

Created by Cheshire, Conn.-based D.H. Andrews Group to act as a new division in Rochester, Minn., the Rochester Technology Center (RTC) now functions as a services company to help the AS/400 community modernize applications and improve software development practices.

The RTC's mission is to connect three aspects of IT that affect not only the work of AS/400 professionals, but the lives of retiring IBM engineers as well, according to Jim Kelly, director of marketing for the RTC. Kelly, the former IBM executive who designed and launched the AS/400 Partners in Development group and who served as the product-planning manager for both the System/36 and AS/400, was appointed to manage the RTC along with Ken Johnson, a former IBM software development executive with a long list of credentials. Johnson, who now acts as the RTC’s director of technology, spent several years, for example, as third-level development manager for OS/400 and worked to put TCP/IP on the AS/400.

According to Kelly, "We're saying: (a) there is a tremendous shortage of AS/400 skills in the marketplace, especially the advanced skills – people who know the Web-enablement tools, the Java IDE tools and the 4GL tools for modernizing applications; (b) Rochester, Minn. is the greatest source of these skills; and (c) one of the problems in Rochester is, if you're a person who wants to leave IBM, or you retire from IBM, there's not a whole lot of opportunities for you here."

The RTC was formed last summer after IBM veterans Johnson and Kelly each approached David Andrews – managing partner of D.H. Andrews – on their own to discuss their prospects after 30 years with IBM. "Each was approaching their 30th year at IBM, at which point IBM makes it financially attractive for all their employees to consider taking retirement," Andrews explains. "I was just part of the networking process in determining if there is life after IBM," Andrews says. "It was clear the skills they had were a perfect match for each other, so we sat down and laid out a game plan."

Andrews says he has been interested for some time in tapping into the talent base at Rochester, particularly those developers brought into IBM in the late 1960s to create the System/3. These developers, generically referred to as "the Class of '68," are all approaching their 30-year anniversaries, according to Andrews. "As the Class of '68 – which refers more to a period of time than a specific year – grew up, they began to work on projects like the System/36 and System/38 in the late 1970s," he says. "They later became the key technical personnel behind the AS/400 when it was introduced in the late 1980s."

From a customer standpoint, "we saw several ways to exploit the talent," Andrews says. "The most obvious was to offer something that had never been available before to the average customer -- direct access to the brilliant people who actually built this thing in the first place. This kind of access to the Rochester brain trust was previously available only to the largest IBM clients in times of crisis.

"The people in Rochester have done a better job of figuring out how you manage software development projects involving tens of millions of lines of code so that your releases come out on time, your future releases are compatible with the old ones, and the system doesn't have to be re-architected every few years," Andrews says.

Today's younger programmers are inexperienced in terms of creating gigantic software systems, according to Andrews, who says, "We're providing some of the graybeards, if you want, that can go in and coach these young, highly talented young people and help them understand the problems and pitfalls they're going to have in the future, helping them create stable designs and put an effective process in place."