iModernize Episode 5: You’re Never Alone with iChime

by | Nov 5, 2020

Jordan Antonoff:

Hello and welcome to the iModernize podcast, technology news, views and insights for businesses on the IBM i platform. Today, I will be your host. My name is Jordan Antonoff and I am the Chief Revenue Officer at Profound Logic Software. And today I’ll be joined by Charles Guarino, Founder and President of Central Park Data Systems, which is celebrating its 25th year anniversary. So Charlie, it’s wonderful to have you with us. For those who may not be familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a thought leader in the IBM i community?

Charlie Guarino:

Sure. Thank you very much for the invitation to do this podcast and thank you to Profound Logic as well. I am genuinely touched for this opportunity, so thank you for that. 25 years ago when I started this company, it was right at the steps of Y2K. And that’s really how we got started with the company, and it just took off from there. I never envisioned in a million years or at least 25 years I that we’d be celebrating 25 years in a pandemic, but that’s just the way it’s worked out. I’ve gotten into the speaking world in the IBM i community, well over 15 years ago, but even prior to that, I’ve always had this affinity to want to share knowledge with people.

Charlie:

And I find that public speaking at conferences really gives me that forum to do that. And as far as being a thought leader, I think anybody who’s willing to put themselves out there and share knowledge on any particular topic, be it IBM i or anything else, you can be a thought leader. Certainly. So I don’t, I definitely don’t own a franchise on that. Anybody can be a thought leader. Really. The important thing is just to speak about things that you’re passionate about and you’re very comfortable speaking.

Jordan:

Yeah. And you know, something interesting that you said is speaking on something that you’re passionate about and that definitely comes across when listening to you speak. Can you tell us a little bit about where this passion for the IBM i and the IBM i community comes from?

Charlie:

Sure. I can tell you that I find I have friends in technology and in many different walks of life and different platforms. And it could be a bias that I’m in the community, but I’ve found the most passionate people in our space. I think there’s a feeling that we are all related. And I think in our industry and our community, we have a fairly unique situation where we have very good access to incredible people. In fact, some of the top people in the IBM i community, think about anybody who works at IBM who give significant value to the industry. We can easily tweet out to some of the most incredible people at IBM Rochester, for example, that’s really cool.

Charlie:

Steve Will comes to mind immediately, we can speak right to the top level people. And the list goes on and on. We have immediate access to Alison Butterill, Tim Rowe, Scott Forstie, Jesse Gorzinkski. And then of course there’s so many other people in the speaking community that are just very friendly and very approachable. So we’re really very lucky to have that access.

Jordan:

Yeah. And you know, it’s interesting the use of the word community because in this case, the use of the word community to me for the IBM i world rings very true. It is a true community. Sometimes the term community is thrown around loosely, but in this case, it really is a tight knit group of people that have stayed connected and supported each other throughout the years. And when I joined this IBM i space a little over seven years ago, and then I was totally new to it, and I had never seen a community quite like this for a technology or a system or a platform. With that being the case and all these years of building this community in person and people traveling from events to events, you in particular have done a lot of traveling. I think that’s one of the reasons that this community was able to develop so strongly is you got to see the same people over and over again, and all sorts of different events. So going from being on the road a lot and traveling a lot of being in-person with this community, how has it been since the pandemic started? How has that been for you?

Charlie:

Well, for me personally, many people dread the travel. And for me, it’s a real part of my DNA. You know, I think of the movie all the time with George Clooney ‘Up in the Air’ where he’s not happy until he’s literally at 35,000 feet. I’m not suggesting that I’m George Clooney, but the message is the same and that he just loves traveling and being able to be on site with like-minded people within the community, there’s nothing like it in the world. There’s nothing like being there. And I know we’ve developed a virtual community. I still pine for the days that they will return, even though virtual has taken such a strong foothold where we are today,

Charlie:

The permanent people need human contact. I really, I really believe that. And, and as far as speaking, many people just need to be onsite, to be there in person. What I find interesting is that I’ve seen some some of the conferences with the virtual are getting a whole new set of faces. People who they’ve never met before, because there are certain people who just were not able to travel.

Jordan:

Yeah. Well, I like your optimism because I as well, miss traveling and seeing people in person, but in the meantime, like you said, we have to make do with virtual. You my friend, have taken some initiative to create a virtual community. Can you tell us a little bit about, iChime, for those that haven’t heard about iChime, what is iChime, why did you start it?

Charlie:

Sure. Interestingly, one of my last flights, I was attending a conference in San Diego and quite literally flew six hours from New York to San Diego. And when I arrived, I got a phone call and said, Oh, tomorrow his conference was canceled because of COVID. And that was the start of the whole thing. Going back to iChime, it’s a Zoom meeting, but it’s far more than that.

Charlie:

I have this real desire to be with people. And that was kind of what iChime was. I would be remiss if I didn’t mentioned two particular friends who I was talking to quite often about not having this interaction, Alan Seiden and another friend Walden Leverich were instrumental in helping me flesh this out and, and great sounding boards. I had to give them credit because they attend many of the meetings as well, but I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention their names. What iChime started out as this quick little thing I put a post on LinkedIn said, Hey, we want to have a little community here. And there was no topic discussed, literally just, Hey, you want to get together? Here’s a time, two o’clock on whatever date it was. And I think 12 people logged in at that very time. So what that shows even back then that I was not alone with this missing people. And there was no topic in mind. We chatted for almost two hours on that very first meeting about anything and everything under the sun. It took off from there.

Jordan:

Nice. Yeah. And that just speaks to people’s desire to stay connected. And so tell me a little bit about what it was like that first time just connecting. I think, you know, these last couple of times you’ve posted as you’ve had 40 to 50 people join, which is pretty impressive. And not only are you getting a good turnout, but you’re getting really good engagement. Tell us a little more about that.

Charlie:

Absolutely. So when this whole thing first started, we started out with these little Zoom meetings and it was fun in the beginning. So, it became very clear at this, a few of these Zoom meetings that without any real structure, it was just us saying hi for 30 minutes or whatever it was. There was no real structure. That’s when it dawned on me that, you know, if we’re going to have anything in the IBM i community, we need to have a little bit of structure or at least a theme.

Charlie:

So what happened was after the very first meeting that I mentioned already, we decided, or I decided to start coming with these different themes. The first few meetings that we had were not even IBM i centric. I have several friends in the speaking community who were not IBM i at all. So the very first few meetings were talking about professional development, how to properly use LinkedIn, for example, how to properly use Zoom, because there are so many different nuances in how you want to present yourself using Zoom, how to communicate effectively. In one, another meeting was how will life look in our professional worlds once COVID is over. But I also decided that it was time to throw in some IBM i topics. And that’s at that point when the attendance started to really increase. So this has been a totally grassroots organic thing.

Charlie:

And what you said just said, I can tell you that because I’ve been on the speaking circuit so long, I do know many of the other speakers in this space, and I feel very fortunate to have that privilege. So I we’ve been having now what we call a special guest, we’ll have one person who’s featured and different topics. And we have now, as you said, in the very last meeting we had Dawn May speak about performance, and we had 45 people attending. Which is funny because I always jokingly say, even when I’m speaking at conferences, I’m surprised anybody shows up, but people come because they want to hear it. And the price is right. It’s free. You know, there’s no entry fee just come. And I made it a point very early in this process that this was not going to be the Charlie show. I want to celebrate the community and the people who have a lot of great talents, all different topics. And that’s really what this is. This is really a celebration of sorts.

Jordan:

Very nice. Yeah. Something you mentioned before that was kind of interesting was seeing family members more now than before the pandemic. And that just makes me think about how, when we’re forced into difficult situations, like we’ve been forced into with this pandemic, we come up with all sorts of new creative ways to address all the different kinds of things in life. When things are challenging, it forces us to get creative. And that’s exactly what you’ve done here. So I imagine you’re also being able to see and connect with people in the IBM i community that maybe you hadn’t seen for while. Do you find that to be the case as well?

Charlie:

I absolutely do. And I think all of us have different family units, we have our DNA family, and then we have our professional families, and this is what I feel this iChime platform has really become. I’ve made new friends, just as a result of, iChime. There are people out there who I haven’t known in the past, and now they’re somewhat regulars. I have yet to meet some of them in person, but you know what, they’re my friends. And I feel very strongly about that. More interestingly, some people who attend the meetings did not know each other. And I can tell you, because I know for a fact that some interesting business has come out of it. I know people who have spoken to each other just in the meeting at the meeting. And I didn’t know you were in that space. I didn’t know you knew this and now they’re working together. So isn’t that interesting?

Jordan:

Yeah. That’s pretty cool. One of the things that I’ve been feeling throughout this pandemic, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about is feeling disconnected and that’s a by-product of being stuck in our homes a lot. It’s just really cool to see that during this time where people are feeling disconnected, you’re making conscious effort to bring people together and to connect people. Why do you do that? Where does that come from? You know, what is it about the man Charlie that wants to put that initiative to bring people together and stay connected?

Charlie:

Yeah. Well, one of the things that if anybody who knows me from being in a real conferences knows, you know, they call me Charlie, the hugger because they know I hug everybody I see. And I’m sure I’ve given you a couple of your fair share of hugs through Jordan.

Jordan:

Some of the best I’ve ever gotten.

Charlie:

Well, I don’t know about that, but any in any event, I really do miss that. So, but this is an important point to be made here. And I sometimes fall into this same trap that I think it means so many others do as well. And that is the perception that we’re kind of suffering. If that’s even the right word, we’re kind of suffering alone and in silence. And yet people who I speak to about this anywhere, be it in the US or in your brain anywhere else, I get the same thing, but going through the same thing. I don’t know many of the moments in my life where we can all identify like this with a common thing. So I guess that the point is I’m trying to give hope that even though you might be feeling this way, you’re not alone on that, for sure. Absolutely not. I feel very strongly about that.

Jordan:

Yeah. Over the years I have gotten to know you and I get that from you. You’re authentic, and you really do care about people. You and I were talking a couple months back, and you mentioned to me that in the spirit of staying connected with people and given that message of hope that you started recording some personal videos, spur of the moment, just going for a walk and sharing some thoughts, what prompted that? And I’m also curious what kind of response you got from people and you posted these on LinkedIn. I believe so. Just curious. Yeah. What prompted that, and then what kind of response do you get from people?

Charlie:

I’m a huge proponent of any type of personal growth is always outside of your comfort zone. And while I do a lot of speaking, I normally don’t put myself out there as much as I have in these particular videos you’re referring to. And so I have shared some very personal stories about growing up and deaths in my family, but why would I do that? Because I think it’s all interrelated back to what we said even about iChime. And that is that I found on some level, even for me personally, it was very cathartic just to be able to do that.

Charlie:

But I think there’s a message of hope. And I’ve always tried in those little videos, which are only like three or four minutes long, by the way, in those little videos, I try to ultimately tie it to a message of hope. One thing I do every week is text 10 friends. Maybe the number is not so hard and fast at 10, but I will text several friends every week, different friends and just to say, Hey, how are you doing? I’m thinking about you this week. And I do it all the time and I get back responses. Hey, it’s so good to hear from you, you know, thanks so much. It’s just an extension of really giving that message of hope out there, going back to what I said, we’re not in this alone. I find that by sharing some very personal stories, it makes it more relatable for sure.

Jordan:

Just to give us an idea of what was one of those stories that you share, and what prompted you to share it?

Charlie:

Well I go back to, even in the thick of this whole thing, the pandemic, in my own extended family, we have had a fair number of deaths. And I talk about that. And then I, even from that, I was trying to get some hope. And interestingly, just talking about it out loud helped me get through some of these experiences. And you would be surprised, or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised, when I put these things on LinkedIn, for example, it generated a slew of comments and many, many people putting likes on it, but what you don’t see on LinkedIn are all the private messages I get and the texts that I get. And thanks. And I can’t believe you’re saying these things, but, I really don’t have an agenda. I’m not putting it out there to make a name for myself. I wouldn’t, I would never dare do that on these types of very personal topics, but I just think the time was right to really talk about some of these things.

Jordan:

Yeah. You know, what’s kind of cool about that is you’re very committed to your work and to the community. In addition to everything we’ve talked about here, you run your own business, Central Park Data. And as we’ve talked, you’ve been doing that for 25 years. Work is a very important part of your life, but at the same time, you don’t lose the personal, the emotional, the human part of, of all of this. And you seem to do a pretty good job of blending the two together, which I think a lot of people struggle with. And hearing me mention that, does that sound about right? Is that purposeful or is that just something that naturally occurs for you?

Charlie:

I think it’s a little bit of both. Actually. I think you can do both of those. I think it can come naturally, and it can be purposeful because if you have to stay true to that, you know, even though it might be a DNA sometimes the way business goes, it sometimes might take you off of that path. So you need to have a definite purpose to stay on that track. And I should point out that Central Park Data is not just me. I mean, I’m very fortunate to have a team that works with me here. And I like to feel that they’re my family as well. And I was going to make a clean joke and say, maybe I metal too much in their personal affairs, perhaps. I’m not quite sure why, but that’s really important that everybody feels connected with each other. And I try to make that clear no matter where we go, but back to your question, is it purposeful? I suppose I try to be purposeful on that, but you know, much of it is just coming from my natural self.

Jordan:

Yeah, no, for sure. Speaking of natural self, just something kind of off topic, but it’s interesting is I didn’t know this about you when we first met, but over time I got to know you and you shared with me one of your hobbies that you were able to partake in with all the travel you’re doing, which is to go and visit the cemeteries of historical figures. And it was something that I never even thought about before, but after talking with you, it became quite interesting. And I was just wondering if you can share a little bit about how you got into that and what have you been doing in place of that since you haven’t been out and about traveling on the road, have you picked up any other hobbies to supplement that?

Charlie:

Well, when I mentioned this little dark hobby of mine, if you will, people will look at me sometimes across like, what are you crazy? I find that quite interesting because there are some people who are very, very famous in life, I’ll tell you, some of them have some of the grandest monuments to themselves or families that put it for them. And some of them have the simplest little headstones, if it’s even that just maybe just a little marker. And it really, it’s very telling how people rose to their fame and the last mark they want to have on their life. I find that interesting by the way. That’s very interesting. I need to know it’s not just me. I’ve been in some cemeteries and you would be surprised, there is an entire subculture of people who share this passion. It’s quite interesting. And it’s not this creepy thing I can assure you, but it’s funny.

Jordan:

Yeah. It’s not at all and I went and started doing a bunch of research on this. Because I thought it was pretty interesting and it’s not morbid at all. It’s very much about history and, not to go totally off topic here, but death is inevitable for all of us. It’s just as much a part of life as life is so exploring and understanding more about people and their passing and how they were memorialized. You can learn a lot. So, no, I think it’s very cool. And hopefully someday this pandemic will disappear. We’ll go back to normal. We can start traveling and I can come see some cemeteries with you. We can check out some famous people that I wish I could have met in, in their lifetime, but I wasn’t able to. So we’ll, we’ll go check out and learn some history from their tombstone.

Charlie:

One of my favorite quotes, and I don’t even know who to attribute it to, but one of my favorite quotes is, “If you want to live a great life, start with your epitaph and work backwards.” I think that’s a very good mantra.

Charlie:

One thing I can tell you from the start of this whole pandemic, the immediate temptation for a lot of groups was just to go virtual. I found that we just went from not having speaking at a conference center or a hotel or whatever the case was to just presenting these things either recorded or live, but it became apparent to me that there was a sameness to them. And what I mean by that is that it was recorded sessions, there was no differentiator.

Charlie:

They were all following a similar format. And I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad format. It’s certainly tried and true, but there was a sameness to it. I wanted to make it not a session We’re not going to do PowerPoints. The idea was just to kind of share thoughts and see where it goes. And I’m still the moderator and I try to keep it on track because every now and then somebody might bring us down a rabbit hole. One of the things I’ve tried to enforce, but it’s loosely enforced, is that I try to have everybody turn their cameras on because I really want to instill the sense of community, but some people just prefer to have the cameras off.

Charlie:

And I’m fine with that too. The whole idea was just to have it be another community. Like I said it’s grown since then. Since it’s first one, we’ve had now more than one dozen meetings, by the way. And it started out as a simple little thing, but now it’s kind of grown and now I’ve just created a logo for it. We have a nice logo for it now. And I was able to get a domain and I’ve been writing blogs. So it’s an effort. It’s always at two o’clock 2:00 PM Eastern time. And that’s because we do cover quite a range of time zones.

Charlie:

We had one meeting where we had a gentleman from Alaska and another person from Moscow. We crossed 11 times zones in one shot, which was really great. And at any given meeting where we are always in seven or eight times zones, which I really loved. We’ve had somebody come on from South Africa and in the last month, people have signed up from New Zealand and Hong Kong. We’ll see if they show up, but I find that really cool. It could end tomorrow, but as long as people show up I’m going to just keep doing it because this has been so much fun.

Jordan:

Well, you’ve been putting a lot of effort into it and I know a lot of work goes into making this happen. And for those who haven’t joined, but they would like to, what should they do if they wanted to check it out?

Charlie:

Sure. So if you want to learn more about iChime itself, the easiest way would just be to go to my company’s website, Centralparkdata.com and right on the heading, you’ll see a tab that says iChime sign up. And there’s another tab that says iChime dates. We’ll show you all of the meetings, the speakers and the topics that we’ve spoken about. The very next meeting is this week, actually on November 5th and our special guest is Robin Tatam. And he is an IBM i security guru. And he’ll be sharing information all about IBM i security considerations. So that should be a lot of fun. I will also tell you that we just have gotten commitment for December’s meeting already, which is not even on the website yet. And that’s going to be December 1st and our special guest is going to be Susan Gantner and we’re going to be talking about all things RDI.

Jordan:

All right, very cool. And what we’ll do is put all this information in a blog post on the Profound Logic’s website. So those of you listening that need access to this information, it’ll be readily available. Charlie, I want to thank you once again for joining us. It was a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for sharing what you’ve shared and hopefully we get to see each other in person sometime soon.

Charlie:

I sure hope so. I look forward to it and I am saving up a hug for that very special time.

Jordan:

I was just gonna say, so I can get one of those world renowned hugs.

Charlie:

World renowned. Holy cow. You’re too kind.

Charlie:

Thank you so much for this opportunity. It was truly a pleasure as always.

Jordan:

Absolutely. Yeah. It’s always a pleasure, Charlie. So thank you all for tuning into this episode of the iModernize podcast, we will be back soon with another guest and more interesting topics. Thank you. And take care all.

 

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