Just Wild About Harry

Everyone is wild about Harry, And Harry's wild about..retiring. Well, maybe he's not that wild about it. But Harry Sterling, HP's long-time HP 3000 manager and cheerleader has decided that it's time to "get on with the next phase of my life." With 24 years at HP, most of them involved with some aspect of the HP 3000, Harry Sterling has been on a wild ride.

From his early days in manufacturing, to the launch of the first PA-RISC-based HP 3000 boxes, to his appointment as General Manager for the Commercial Systems Devision, Harry has transformed himslef from a "I thought I knew everything lab guy" to a consumate professional manager who listens to customers. Both Harry and the HP 3000 customers have benefited from it. So has the entire HP 3000 market. And so has HP.

It's an unfortunate loss for the vocal but steadfastly loyal HP 3000 ISVs, customers and users. But there is good news too: Harry is passing the responsibility of managing and caring for the HP 3000 to Winston Prather, his R&D manager the past four years. Harry and Winston spent some time talking with George Thompson, HP Professional's Editor in Chief about their new roles and expectations for the future.

HP Pro: What was your first position with HP?

H.S.: I was a programmer at corporate working on a system we called Costis. A form of electronic messaging that predated our electronic mail system. Networking was very primitive then, but we had it.

HP Pro: Was that the e-mail system that eventually ran on the 3000?

H.S.: No. Actually, it was the predecessor to that. It was a 2100MX, which was a version of our real time 1000 system.

HP Pro: When did you first intersect with the HP 3000?

H.S.: Around 1978. I moved to what was then the General Systems Division (GSY) which is where the 3000 was manufactured. And I worked in the manufacturing organization. We basically took HP's corporate COBOL[-based] manufacturing systems on an IBM mainframe and we moved them to the 3000. We released a product in 1979 called MFG3000 and I worked on that port.

HP Pro: And you've been with the HP 3000 ever since?

H.S.: Yes. I have.

HP Pro: What would you say are the highlights of your career or of the HP 3000?

H.S.: That's a tough question. There are so many.

I guess - PA-RISC. I was in the MPE Lab when we released our first PA-RISC-based system. It was a terrible time and a wonderful time, if you know what I mean. We were working many long hours and weekends. But it was an exciting time. Having been part of that is something that I'll always remember.

And I think the whole shift from technology focus to customer focus. I've learned so much in that process - in taking people through a cultural change. And kind of shifting the values of what motivates us to do our jobs. It was a really huge learning experience for me. That whole management challenge - being successful with that - was one of the highlights for me.

W.P. Actually Harry, I think that's going to be one of the legacies: The evolution to a customer-focused organization. But not only here for CSY [Commercial Systems Division] and the 3000 business. But now, a lot of other parts of HP have really picked up on that. And HP is trying to become a customer-focused company. Harry really had a lot to do with that starting here in CSY.

HP Pro: Winston, how long have you been working with Harry?

W.P.: It's been a long time. I joined HP in 1984. My entire career has been with the 3000. Prior to HP, I've worked on the 3000 in 9th grade. In my high school we had a 3000. At the University of Maryland we had 3000s. Then after college, I did a stint with a customer in Denver for awhile on a HP 3000. Then I came to HP.

At HP, I started on the support side. Supporting customers on the 3000 then [about 10 years ago] I made the leap to the R&D organization. I've joked with people in the past that I've played with, or have been paid to play with, the 3000 for over 20 years.

H.S.: Winston actually has more experience with the 3000 than I do.

HP Pro: So, Winston, you've been training for this position your whole life?

W.P.: Exactly. I've dreaming about this for a long time.

HP Pro: Winston, anything you want to say about working with Harry?

W.P.: Harry is a role model for working with customers. He has taught me a lot about how to look at our problems and our technology from a customer perspective. He always understood what the customers needed and put them first and foremost. Above even, running the business. He was always pushing the organization to [ask the question], "How does this help our customers?" Or if they had a problem, sending us out in the field to experience their pain.

HP Pro: What's the time frame for your departure?

H.S.: My last day at HP will be December 3.

HP Pro: What part of the transition are you in now?

H.S.: I've handed everything over to Winston. Winston is now reporting to Janice [Janice Chaffin, VP and GM of HP's Business Critical Computing (BCC) Group. The CSY was integrated into HP's enterprise computing organization in July 1998.].

HP Pro: What lessons did you learn from your experiences with customers?

H.S.: I would have to say humility I learned that from the customers. They taught me that I don't have the answers - they do. I have to be able to listen to their input to know what the best solution is for them. They taught me to go to those discussions with an open mind. That would have to be the big lesson I learned in the past five years.

HP Pro: Any parting thoughts?

H.S.: It was really a tough decision to come to this point in my life. Because I'm leaving behind so many wonderful people at Hewlett-Packard and a really tremendous career experience. And I've worked other places before joining HP. I still can't believe that the company is still as fantastic as it is.

Letting go of that was really hard. And especially the people. The people are so fantastic. I'm totally amazed all the time when I meet with HP people: How bright they are. How cooperative they are. How willing they are to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done. It's just a tremendous and exciting environment to be a part of.

It was really hard to make a decision to leave all of that and to leave such an exciting industry. But it's time for me to pass the baton onto someone else. And for me to get on to the next phase of my life.

HP Pro: Any particular plans?

H.S.: For the first year , I'm not making any commitments.

And I don't want to do anything other than make it through a whole year without setting my alarm clock. And catch up on some reading.

After a year or so, I'll probably end up doing some form of consulting. Or get involved with some volunteer work or something. I'm not the kind of person that can sit around and do nothing. I get too bored with that.

The staff of HP Professional would like to thank Harry Sterling for the kind attention he has given to this magazine throughout his career. We all wish Harry well in his future endeavors, which we hope will include picking up a Tom Clancy novel and visiting his two favorite places - Venice, Italy and Sydney, Australia - for more than two days at a time.