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By George, I Think They’ve Got It!

George Farr takes the time to address readers about IBM’s new development tools.

George Farr takes the time to address readers about IBM’s new development tools.
Photography by Nigel Dickson

Recently, while attending the Toronto User Group conference, we had the opportunity to talk with IBM’s George Farr. Farr, as you may know, is the worldwide product manager for the development products for the IBM i platform within the Rational* group. Development products encompass the editors and tools such as SEU and PDM, and their more modern replacements in WebSphere* Development Studio Client (WDSC) and Rational Developer for i (RDi), as well as all of the compilers for RPG, COBOL, C and more.

Gantner: George, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We have a lot of questions, but since most of our audience won’t know you as well as we do, we thought we might introduce George Farr, the person, to our readers before we start talking about the tooling and languages.

Paris: I think it’s fair to say, George, that neither you nor I have classic Canadian accents. Most people know that I’m originally from England, but yours is definitely not an English accent. Where are you from originally?

Farr: I have an Irish accent with a twist of French! (Laughs.) I was born in Amman, Jordan. My parents decided in 1978 to move my family (two brothers, three sisters and me) to Canada. I was about 15 years old, and went into grade 11 at high school in Toronto. I spoke French and English, but both were broken and hard to understand. Some people would say I’m still hard to understand, and of course, they are wrong. (Laughs.)

Paris: That must’ve been hard, jumping straight into high school with English as the main language.

Farr: It was difficult for a while changing countries and languages, but I can’t have done that badly, because I managed to get into a specialized honors program in computer science at York University with a scholarship when I left high school. Of course, in those days, high school in Ontario ran until grade 13, so I had a little longer than might appear to be the case. I did pretty well in university. I had an A average and graduated summa cum laude.

Gantner: Did you go straight to working for IBM on leaving university?

Farr: Yes, IBM hired me straight out of school, and I immediately went to work on the System/36* RPG compiler. That, as you probably know, Jon, was written in assembler. After doing all my work at school in languages like Pascal and C, it came as quite a shock to me to have to get down and dirty in assembler. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was no debugger to speak of on the system and the only real debugging tool we had was to work our way through hex dumps.

Paris: That’s somewhat similar to my first experiences at IBM, although they didn’t dump me with the System/36 COBOL compiler until after I had been working with PL/MI on the System/38* COBOL compiler for a while.

Farr: PL/MI was a much nicer language, and I had a chance to work with that when the RPG compiler was transferred from Rochester, Minn., to Toronto, at about release five of CPF (Control Program Facility). My work with the 36 compiler came back to haunt me later, though. My experience made me a natural choice to work on the System/36 compatible compiler for what became the AS/400* platform. That was an interesting time. Later, I got smarter and moved on to working with the main RPG/400* compiler, and was responsible for a number of the enhancements that were added to it in the early releases—for example, the ITER, LEAVE, SCAN and CAT opcodes, and others.

Gantner: What was your next assignment? Did you move straight into the RPG IV compiler team?

Farr: No. I was looking for a change. Having worked on the compilers for some time, I had the opportunity to move into the planning group, working on the C and C++ compilers. But I felt I was somewhat in exile there; it really wasn’t for me. So, when I was offered the opportunity to move back into compilers, leading the VisualAge* for RPG team, I took the job. I actually hired the team that built and designed the tool and subsequently moved on to manage the whole department. As a result of that experience, when the compiler teams merged, I was given responsibility for all of the RPG compilers and then later on to the development tools as well. It was about that time that we began to look at the Eclipse project and to think about how it might be applied to RPG and COBOL development.

“We intend to continue to do our part to make sure that the RPG programmers get the tools they need.” —George Farr, worldwide product manager for IBM i development products

Jon Paris is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.

Susan Gantner is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.



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