Sitting in a traffic jam on the A34 this week, twice, I got the opportunity to catch up with the excellent Enterprise Geeks podcasts. In one particular TechEd Phoenix episode "Tech Skills Chat with JonERP" there was something that Ed said that resonated particularly with me, about the way to being "the best you can", becoming "that guru", was to READ.
I think this is a great piece of advice, and something that needs to be underlined. To this end, I'd like to tell you a bit of a story.
In the early 1990s, I was working at Deutsche Telekom, in their data centre in Euskirchen, near Bonn, in Germany. I was part of the IBM mainframe and SAP Basis team that ran a fantastically huge SAP installation - around 10 parallel SAP R/2 systems that coordinated and shared data through a central system. The systems ran on IBM mainframes, and were powered by IMS DB/DC (DB for the database management layer, and DC for the transaction processing layer, for you young ones 🙂) . They were the best of times. We hacked 370 assembler (yes, including qmacros!) while drinking coffee so strong the spoon would stand up, and wrote Rexx scripts & ISPF panel-based applications to heavy-lift SAP R/2 installations like they were LEGO constructions (and yes, Sergio, we had SBEZ!)
Being an IBM disciple at the time, I was aware how good the IBM documentation was. Seriously. I relished every opportunity to visit the documentation room, where I could diagnose any problem imaginable. Everything you ever wanted to know was there, if you knew where to look.
Anyway, there was a consultant, a veritable guru, Tomaschek I think his name was. He came and went at unearthly hours, drove a Mercedes with double glazing, and Knew Everything. Everything I could imagine knowing about running R/2 on IMS, with VSAM, and more. He knew. Of course, his experience counted for a lot, but I was eager to know how he had become so knowledgable, and so respected. So I asked him.
And he replied: "I read".
Since then, I've made it my business to read as much as I can, about the things I'm interested in. Anything and everything. Source code. Dry documentation. Articles. Books. Magazines. Weblogs. I have a stack of "to read" papers, ready to pop and take with me in the train, to meetings (how many meetings that you are invited to actually start on time?), into the bath. At my time at Deutsche Telekom, I set aside 10 minutes each day to read all the new OSS notes on my favourite areas (it was possible then!)
I feel I've gained a tremendous amount from what I've read. Some stuff I've read and not completely understood. Other stuff I've read and given up, bored. And yes, there's a lot of SAP documentation that could be better.
But if I can give one piece of advice, it's the same advice that I received from Mr Tomaschek all those years ago.
And then read some more.