Interview with Roland Hughes, author of the series “Minimum you need to know”

Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views joins Roland Hughes, who is here to talk about his “The Minimum You Need to Know” series, which includes “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an Open VMS Application “Developer,” 1st Impression Publishing (2006), “The Minimum You Need to Know About Logic to Work in IT,” Logical Solutions (2007) and “The Minimum You Need to Know About Java at OpenVMS, ”Logical Solutions (2006).

Roland Hughes is president of Logikal Solutions, a business application consulting firm specializing in VMS platforms. Hughes serves as a leading consultant with over two decades of experience in the use of computers and operating systems originally created by Digital Equipment Corporation (now owned by Hewlett-Packard).

With a degree in computer information systems, the author’s experience is focused on OpenVMS systems across a variety of industries, including heavy equipment manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, stock exchanges, tax accounting and hardware value-added retailers to name a few. Working through these industries has strengthened the author’s unique skill set and given him a broad perspective on the role and value of OpenVMS in the industry.

Mr. Hughes’ technical skill sets include the following tools to enable him to master and enhance OpenVMS applications: DEC / VAX C, DEC / VAX C ++, DEC BASIC, DCL, ACMS, MQ Series, DEC COBOL, RDB, POWERHOUSE , SQL, CMS / MMS, Oracle 8i, FORTRAN, FMS and Java, among others. Being fluent in so many technical languages ​​makes Hughes easier to share his knowledge with other programmers. This book series is an attempt to pass on some of his insights and skills to the next generation.

Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Roland. First, tell us what makes your books stand out from other books on Java and VMS?

Roland: For OpenVMS, it’s easy. There are currently no other application development books for it. There are quite a few books for system administration and integration out there, but none that focus on application development or even language usage.

As for Java, I did not drink the kool aid in Java Town and you will not find my body stuck in one of the piles discovered there. I work with Java when I need to. It is not, and should never be, the language of choice for someone who is seriously looking at application development. My book on Java delves right into the hard stuff: calling for system services, using runtime libraries, reading and writing RMS indexed files, interacting with the user on a VT-320 terminal. You will not find other Java books that talk about such things because their authors do not grasp enough of the language to perform it.

Tyler: You said Java “should never be the language of choice for someone who is seriously looking at application development.” Why is that, and why do you think other writers have a hard time understanding it?

Roland: One needs to define the first “serious application development.” Although WEB may be a serious part of income for many companies, it should never be a serious application development. All the serious application development happens on the back end. We now call it SOA. You put up a tiny little WEB service that calls a secure call for a back end process that actually does all the work.

Java is unsuitable for back-end server development for the same reason almost all 4GL tools were unsuitable. They are interpreted. OK, they are p-compiled and that is interpreted. You cannot get enough performance, robustness and security from an interpreted tool set.

If you look at most SOA implementations now, they put up small WEB services that communicate via some proprietary messaging system to a pre-existing backend written in COBOL, BASIC, FORTRAN or another language that the trade press has long forgotten about.

Your question is its own answer: “Why do you think other writers have a hard time grasping it?” They are writers, not professional software developers. They are paid for by a marketing war chest who funneled money to one of the major publishers. The big publisher gives them a $ 4 to $ 5,000 advance and asks them to drink the Kool help with this book. They also tell them that they have to put 5 extra books this year per year. Their contract. Exactly how much skill, knowledge and research goes into a technology book published by a major publishing house? Zero. They are busy tearing oatmeal off the masses.

When I wrote “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer,” I took an unpaid year off to write that book. Had I worked for a publisher, that book would never have been printed. Assuming that I was allowed to write it, the book would be divided into 9 different books, each one of which became a shadow of what the book I am currently printing is.

Tyler: What do you think should be the language of application development, and why?

Roland: This answer really depends on your platform and the toolkit you work with. If you decide you only want to work with RMS-indexed files, the hands-down DEC BASIC is the tool of choice. Please note that you have limited the size of both your application and your business by choosing to use RMS indexed files instead of a relational database. When a single indexed file starts to span multiple disk drives, it becomes very slow to access.

You decide, for whatever reason, that a primitive relational database will be your choice of data storage method. You choose MySQL because it is free. You are limited to C / C ++ as your development language on most platforms when using this database.

If you decide to use the best of the best in database technology, RDB on an OpenVMS cluster with fully distributed databases, you can literally choose any language supported on the platform, including Java, as the Java book in this series shows.

In today’s world, you first choose your tools: screen management, database / storage, messaging. Then, choose one of the languages ​​that works with the tools you have chosen on the operating system you choose to run.

Tyler: For the layman, would you tell us a little about OpenVMS and its role in the computer industry?

Roland: OpenVMS was and still is the most advanced operating system ever created by mankind. In the 1980s, VMS gave business clusters and set the standard so high that no other operating system has even come close to implementation. There are many OS and OS vendors who would claim to have “cluster”, but that is not true. They have to spin a new definition of cluster, in most cases down to “we can spell the word cluster therefore we must have it.” No version of Unix or Linux actually clusters. This is something that Oracle finds out about the hard way with their RAC10 product and some highly publicized travel sites.

We are re-opening OpenVMS today as a brand new operating system that would put the entire IT industry on its ear. Most of the IT industry wakes up to the fact that no matter how many $ 800 PCs you keep on knives, it is not a stable enough platform to run your business.

Tyler: Roland, I have to admit I’m not overly computer literate and I have a hard time communicating with IT people because of the jargon and the technicalities of the technology. Therefore, I am surprised and pleased to meet someone who writes books on computers. What made you decide to be a writer about technology?

Roland: That’s the field I work in and it’s very misunderstood. The industry has been reduced to 4-color gloss, and the MBA is making knee-jerk decisions based on which product looks to have the most 4-color glitter in the press this week. We have to change that. There is a very worrying mindset in top management that IT employees are just like the cash piles on an assembly line. This has led to an insane rush to off-shore IT and to flood this country with H1-B workers. In addition to decimating the economy, these decisions are decimating business. From the 1970s to the 1980s, a company’s business edge was its IT department. This defined how your business ran and allowed you to outperform your competitors. Now there is a tendency to use exactly the same software as everyone else. You no longer have a business advantage, so MBAs go into a price war to outperform their competitors. All a non-IT person needs to do is read the communications from the SEC examining accounting practices, stock options and rashes of other scandals to see where the price war mentality puts you.

Doomsday-type people have proclaimed that we will ultimately fight a world war in the Middle East over oil. If current trends do not change, we will fight for a world war to get our source code and technology back long before we go to war for oil. Someone has to put what we need to recover after that war, in writing, long before it happens. They also have to point out that it is coming.

Despite what the off-shoring contracts say, many companies no longer own their software. The data centers it hosts exist in another country. If owners of this center cut the network links, how does this company continue to operate?

Tyler: Wow, Roland. I have never thought of technology in the global way. What do you think is the solution to this situation? Is the situation something that companies have to solve for themselves or is government intervention necessary?

Roland: Businesses won’t solve it for themselves. They have been at the forefront of this cliff and are too busy looking for another profitable scam that will allow them to avoid jail (as outdated stock options did for years).

Government intervention will happen, but not for any of the reasons you might think. An incredibly large and stupid company (think Oracle or Microsoft) will have 70-80% of its source hosted on off-shore services (both of these companies are close to that in off-shore work now if you can believe the number is flowing round ). At some point, an entity or party with a fanatical national policy will take control of the government of this country and nationalize all this source code. (Cuba did it when Castro took over, and other countries have done the same, so I’m not really stretching anything here).

Imagine what happens when these multi-million dollar Oracle products are not sold as Alah-DB or another radical name for $ 50.00 / copy. Large amounts of campaign funds are set aside for reelection campaigns for all federal officials, and Congress is declaring war on the country that did this to protect Oracle (or Microsoft). Tens of thousands of your sons and daughters come home in body bags because corporations were both too stupid and too greedy to realize that this unused thing was a bad idea.

Look at GM and the other big companies that are shielding all the software required for day-to-day operations. What happens when the outside world of the third world, they are the same? Unless GM forks over billions to “license” the now-nationalized software, all its plants and sales at idle, putting hundreds of thousands out of work at once. Same thing happens. Campaign contributions change hands and your children start coming home in body bags.

What scares me the most is that the offshore companies themselves will force this to happen. Infokall, USTech and the other large offshore companies are built on a model of what is equivalent to slave labor. You see articles in the business magazines about those who complain about talent shortage and a lack of talented developers willing to work for what they are willing to pay. Most of them are now opening offices in Korea and other countries that appear third world by Indian standards. These guys pull out of their homelands overnight and open the door for some radical groups to be supported by millions of now unemployed IT workers.

The move to Korea was really scary to hear about. US troops have spilled blood there before.

Tyler: Roland, let’s return to your books. On your website, you say, “These books give the IT people the information we actually need, rather than the information the magazines say we need.” What do magazines say that IT people need they don’t have, and why are magazines wrong?

Roland: You have to understand how “Industry Analyst” and the industry magazine industry have been operating over the last two decades to understand why none of them are a good source of information. Both are funded by advertising dollars; both deny it, but there it is. When a new product comes out and a seller opens its war chest, its first business is to become a paying subscriber for one or more of the “Industry Analyst” companies. This gets their product tinted for those in the IT industry who subscribe to the service. Big-X consulting also gets the new product up and running. Lots of articles are featured in the weekly trade press, explaining how this new product is a Mega-Trend and the biggest thing to hit the industry since the semiconductor.

This leads to knee-jerk decisions that launch countless “pilot projects” at various companies. These pilot projects all require some type of license for the product. The seller then publishes this huge number of licenses purchased (even if it’s short-lived stuff of 120 days) and all of a sudden it really looks like this is a train coming down the mountain with you. It is not. Until the new product replaces the actual core bread and butter systems at the company, it’s nothing but a wink in the pan. It takes at least seven years to replace a core business system and get it settled.

A core business system is defined as the complete flow: order entry, customer management, inventory, inventory, picking, shipping and billing.

Let me tell you this in a different way. The language with the largest installed base in the world is COBOL. This is the language of many basic business systems. There are millions of new lines of COBOL code written today and added to the billions of lines in production. Exactly how many weekly or monthly IT magazines do you see writing articles about COBOL? None. It is a mature technology and does not have huge amounts of cash being dumped for its marketing.

Here is an interesting question that you can investigate on your own. Exactly how many college IT courses does COBOL have as a mandatory course?

Tyler: Roland, I’m especially intrigued by your book “The Minimum You Need to Know About Logic to Work in IT.” Your website suggests that logic is no longer taught in college courses and that most IT people are therefore unemployed. What do you see is the problem with IT college courses?

Roland: College courses are hampered by many things, most of them fall into two categories: funding and termination period. I honestly thought Y2K would fix college courses. There was evidence of that. Two years before Y2K hit, a pair of forward-thinking companies bought an IBM mainframe for a local junior college. They installed it and provided instructors. The governing body of the college was informed that it would teach this course and actively recruit students for it. These companies knew that even the students 50 students per year. Semester, they could not satisfy the need they had within two years.

Real estate is a dangerous trap. It opens the door to some really lazy behavior. If you look at the university’s text market, consider the only books that professors are completely packed with tests, scantron response cards, costs and reading lots. The instructor has to add almost nothing to the course and in many cases not.

Colleges do not have huge funding amounts; even many of the private colleges only teach what they get for free when it comes to technology. Supporting a mainframe or midrange computer requires a good deal of cash and dedicated computer rooms. It is cheaper to spread donated PCs around campus and only learn what will run on them for free.

Colleges were caught up in trying to chase a market funded by a seller’s war chest. When companies said they needed IT professionals with WEB skills, colleges only taught the WEB skills. It is believed that all the other knowledge IT professionals had not been taught. What you ended up with was someone who could design a really beautiful WEB page but could not communicate with the backend business systems or understand them. Why pay $ 65K / year starting salary to a candidate like it when you can get the same unskilled person in a third country country for $ 10 / day?

I have found very few colleges today that teach logic to IT people. The reason is that you cannot make them understand how logic helps them if you do not want to teach them 3GL system language such as COBOL, BASIC, C etc. Logic is difficult to understand in one point and click on the WEB world.

Tyler: Roland, when I introduced you, I mentioned that you are the president of Logikal Solutions, a consulting firm with business applications specializing in VMS platforms. If you are a business consultant, if you were asked by a university that would start an IT student program to help them, what would you do to ensure that students are prepared for the future?

Roland: They have to get students to spend their first three weeks (before committing to the program) studying the growth of off-shore companies, the rates of employment paid in those countries, and the unemployment rate of IT staff in USA. They also need to be informed about all the other career opportunities out there. They need to read the articles featured in business and IT publications, where they say that IT professionals are now “labor” and not knowledge workers, as we were classified in the 70-80s.

Once the candidates have gone through it … they assume they start with 3-4000 in the first three weeks, they have to tell the one student who still wants to teach IT to go to another school.

In all honesty, given the situation management has created in this country and globally, I cannot ethically recommend any college student to enter the IT field. Until a tragedy of massive proportions occurs, IT will not be a rewarding or well-paying field. IT is currently not even respected by companies. MBAs sit through a one-day training course on how to create a contact manager using Microsoft Access, and then get their certificate to manage IT projects. That’s how we got to where we are.

Personally, I don’t think you will find an IT curriculum offered at American colleges in less than five years. The last I read is that enrollment is down over 80% in IT programs nationwide. MBAs have to thank themselves. Some colleges have completely closed the curriculum and now offer only a few courses in WEB site design and Java coding for WEB.

Tyler: What advice would you give today to students who are interested in pursuing an IT or programming career?

Roland: Right now, I would ask them not to pursue it. Become a water well drill or diesel engine mechanic. IT is heading towards a train wreck and we are less than five years away from it. The crazy rush of treating IT staff as storage boxes stacks has led to IT wages and huge amounts of fraud being slashed in the H1-B program. A slight setback to off-shoring has already begun with some high profile contracts. The big hammer will fall when more H1-B workers are arrested by Homeland Security for terrorist acts. When this happens, the H1-B visa is abolished. Off-shoring companies will find themselves tightly restricted. You won’t see thousands of IT staff slipping over vacation visas to work many months tax-free. IT staff will again be respected as knowledge workers and salaries will reward those who know.

Tyler: Roland, what makes your books stand out and meet a need college courses have missed?

Roland: Logic is the basic tool in IT. If you do not understand logic, you do not understand the basic principles of IT. You didn’t earn a degree; you got one.

Tyler: Roland, I was surprised to learn your book “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer” is the first book in ten years on the subject. When technology is changing so fast, how is it possible that ten years have passed without a book being written on the subject?

Roland: It’s easy. HP is the third owner of OpenVMS. It started with Digital Equipment Corporation, which created an operating system that was 30 years ahead of its time. Compaq then bought DEC, and being a PC company didn’t know what to do with a midrange system. Finally, HP bought Compaq. HP has had a really sad excuse for a midsize operating system for many years. You may have heard of it: HP-UX. They sink huge amounts of money into marketing the smaller product. If that money was put into marketing OpenVMS, the HP-UX product would disappear within three years. HP can only perform OpenVMS maintenance and have the OS add millions, if not billions, to its bottom line.

The installed base for OpenVMS is large. Companies that use it know what quality is. They also know that the update for an OpenVMS cluster is measured for decades, not hours as for a PC network. Some of you may have read the article in “ComputerWorld” a while back. As the twin towers fell, the trading companies that used clusters with OpenVMS systems in several places continued to trade until the end of the trading day. They had an interruption of less than 15 minutes, while the cluster verified that the other nodes would not respond, then recovered their transactions and continued. No other operating system delivers this level of “Survive the Fire” design.

Put yourself in the shoes of the top management at HP. You’ve sunk billions into this HP-UX thing over the years. OpenVMS has a large and loyal installed base despite any company you have tried to eliminate it over the years. To do almost nothing for OpenVMS still has to add millions, if not billions, to your annual bottom line. If you push OpenVMS, your flagship HP-UX will disappear from the market. Are you telling the world that you were wrong, or are you continuing to sink millions into HP-UX in the hope that it will catch up on OpenVMS someday?

Tyler: In “The Minimum You Need to Know About Java on OpenVMS,” your first chapter is “Why Java?” Would you like to answer that question for us?

Roland: That question is best answered by reading the book.

Tyler: Roland, all in all, what do you think your series of books stand out from all the other books on Java and programming?

Roland: I didn’t get paid to write them. I wrote these books in my own time and published them with my own money. I didn’t get paid by some publishers for turning out six books a year aimed at the market’s least common denominator. This left me free to cover the topics I wanted and knew the need to cover.

Tyler: Roland, what do you find most rewarding about programming and writing about our ever-changing technologies?

Roland: Technology really isn’t “ever-changing.” It is a phrase that the press has been pressing our necks for decades. Technology creates forever old and sometimes bad ideas. The most rewarding part of writing is being able to point out what idea is being retrained this week by the trade press and “industry analysts.”

Tyler: Roland, you’ve been involved in computers and programming for twenty years, back to when computers just became common household items. You’ve seen a lot of changes in that time. What have you found to be the biggest learning curve in keeping up with technology?

Roland: Convincing the MBA that what they see in a 4-color blank is not new technology, it is a rehash of technology that either did not survive or should not be flushed.

As you read through this series of books, you’ll find a section where I cover how PC’s retrained errors mainframes and mid-sized computers made a decade before. You’ll also find a section that talks about how all these “new technologies” that let developers directly link to databases from WEB pages are a one-way ticket to prison just waiting to be beaten.

Tyler: Roland, you seem to have a bleak outlook on technology for the next couple of years. If you had a crystal ball, what would you predict what technology and computers would look like in fifty years more?

Roland: Fifty is a really long number to look at. DEC had the best minds in the industry working for it, and they only looked 30 years. There are really three potential outcomes.

Outcome 1: Greed and corruption win. There are absolutely no IT jobs in the US, Western Europe or England. There are only a handful in Russia. All IT work is done by what was once the world’s third countries. They bleed us dry. The former technology leaders now have a culture made up of two classes, MBAs and those earning less than $ 30K / year, whether building houses or working by 7/11. The domino effect caused by losing IT staff caused a complete obliteration of the middle class by wiping out the industries that depended on spending money (expensive homes, $ 70,000 SUVs, the movie and music industry, etc.). It is the second dark age.

Outcome 2: SEC saves the world. During a brief break between the industry’s major financial scandals, the SEC stumbles into an accounting coverage of off-shore project failures by a blue chip company. They initiate a very deep and public inquiry. The leaders of the company go to jail, and the beautiful history of how papers on offshore failures were common practice rattles the investment community. A short-term inspection of all listed companies shows that the approach was widespread. In a massive plea deal, all listed companies terminate their off-shore contracts within a month and then begin an investigation into what systems they still operate. Mainframe and midrange systems that still run their core business systems, even after the company publicly declared that they had converted everything to $ 800 PC’s running Windows or Linux, prove to be the only system still running. A decade of cleansing is happening, with students getting paid to go to college to know IT skills: logic, 3GLs and relational databases.

Outcome 3: Greed alone wins. The off-shore companies working in India face having to pay real wages, and union programmers blocked their operations over to Korea and other companies within a week. Millions of disgruntled IT staff take to the streets. Extremist groups move in and recruit them. These are educated people with little money, not the usual extremist trade show. One or more large American companies find all their software nationalized by a new extremist government. We end up in a massive war with the result uncertain. Everything we want can be destroyed by a bomb attack or simply erased by the country’s current government.

Tyler: Roland, do you want to tell our readers your site and what additional information can they find there about your books?

Roland: There are actually two places. For information on the current books they can visit http://www.theminimumyouneedtoknow.com. For information about other books or about my business in general, they can visit http://www.logikalsolutions.com.

Tyler: Thanks, Roland, for joining me today. It has been a real education. I hope your books become popular and lead to smarter and better IT decisions and work.