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Paul Tuohy on his Career, iTalk and Ireland

Paul Tuohy Tami Deedrick Newgrange
Paul Tuohy and Tami Deedrick at Newgrange.

iTalk puts Paul Tuohy in the hot seat and he talks about his career, how iTalk With Tuohy started and Ireland.

Tami: Hello, everybody. Welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. As you can clearly hear from my complete lack of Irish accent, I am not Paul Tuohy. I’m Tami Deedrick, the former managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Power System edition and I thought it would be fun to turn the tables on Paul and put him in the hot seat. So welcome to your own podcast, Paul.

Paul: Hi, Tami. I don’t like this seat. It’s uncomfortable. [Laughter]

Tami: Well, I won’t be too hard on you so let’s start at the beginning. Are you a died-in-the-wool Irishman, born and raised?

Paul: Yup. Died-in-the-wool Irishman. Born in Galway on the west coast of Ireland and moved to Dublin when I was in my early 20s and lived there ever since, still living there.

Tami: So of course, you know Bono, Enya and Collin Farrell right?

Paul: Oh yeah. Like whenever the four of us are in town, we get together and we play poker but Bono still hasn’t learned that reflective sunglasses are a bad idea when you are playing poker but we’re not telling him that.

Tami: Well, tell me, Paul, how did you get started in an IT career?

Paul: By accident. Back in the ’70s, here in Ireland, there was sort of a state-run training program. I went and did aptitude tests and on the back of that they were about to run their first programming course that they were going to do, which they had subcontracted to Digital DEC, as many people remember that company. So I was, based on my aptitude tests, they asked me if I wanted a place on that and I sort of said ah, sounds as good as welding or whatever it was I was thinking of doing at the time. I fell into IT.

Tami: So how has your career progressed since then?

Paul: Pretty much along the same lines as that. That sort of set the tone for it. I think everything that I’ve done since then I have fallen into; it has just sort of happened. I mean, when I finished that six-month course, I started working for a software company, worked for them for a few years and sort of, you know, followed the usual thing that people do being a programmer, senior programmer, analyst, analyst programmer, etc. Then I did a stint for a few years, for about two and a half years, as IT manager with Kodak here in Ireland. The great thing I learned there was that I hated being a manager. I got no enjoyment out of it. It has given the greatest admiration for people who are good managers, you know, with that because I know it is something that I do not have a penchant for. So when I left Kodak, I joined—a friend of mine was setting up a software company and he asked me to join him in that so I did and there were three of us. Ten years later, we were employing, I think, about 110 people-

Tami: Wow.

Paul: And I was back to being a full-time manager again so I decided to leave and set up my own multinational company, which is me. I describe myself now as a multinational where I wouldn’t be employing people or that and just do consultancy work for myself. That is what I have been doing now for the last 20 years or so.

Tami: Okay, great. So tell me more about your consulting business?

Paul: Yeah, it’s—well there are really two parts to it. I’ve got my own business here in Ireland, which is ComCon. In that, I would probably spend I would say just over half of my time doing consultancy work with companies that are doing modernization, which is what I specialize in and more on sort of the back end, the RPG applications and how you modernize those to, you know, take that good business logic and incorporate it into a modern application. Then sort of in line with that, I do a lot of training with companies so teaching people RPG, SQL and basically anything else they want me to teach and I know anything about with that. Then I also do a lot of talking at conferences, user groups, and all of that. It was through that then the second set I have is that I am also a partner in System i Developer with Jon Paris and Susan Gantner. We run the RPG and DB2 Summit in the States twice a year as well.

Tami: Well I’m familiar with them. So what is like to work with Jon and Susan?

Paul: [Laughter] Oh, now there’s a leading question if there ever was one. No, it’s, well it’s sort of, obviously it’s great working with them. They are two of the nicest and the best people in the business but I have known Jon and Susan for so long now. I mean they have had sort of a major impact on my career. I mean like they’re the ones who got me into writing and they’re the ones who got me into speaking at conferences so I owe a lot to them but it’s a little bit like working with your family, you know, so I mean there are times that we sort of lock horns now and again but for the most part no. It’s great and especially doing the RPG and DB2 Summit. I mean it is a lot of hard work twice a year but it’s a blast, wouldn’t change it for anything.

Tami: So what would Jon and Susan say it’s like to work with you?

Paul: I don’t think I’m going to touch that one, Tami. I think you would have to ask them. [Laughter] I would say they find a little bit more difficult working with me than I find it working with them. I think I’ll leave it at that.

Tami: Well, I’m sure it’s never boring anyway. [Laughter] So tell me what is your favorite session to teach either at the RPG and DB2 Summit or at another conference because I know you speak at other conferences too.

Paul: Yeah. Wow. I honestly don’t think I have a favorite session that I teach. I think probably the favorite session I have is the one where I see the lights go on in somebody’s eyes and that’s it. I mean, more recently that has been with SQL sessions because a lot of people are getting more and more to grips with that now and they are learning from it but really like in terms if I was to go through the list of sessions that I give, there isn’t really one that I could pick and say that’s my favorite. It really depends on who the audience is. It’s the audience that makes the session for me.

Tami: So what made you think of starting iTalk With Tuohy? How long have you been doing it?

Paul: Oh. Good question. I think it’s about two years now.

Tami: Okay.

Paul: Yeah because before I was doing it here with IBM Systems Magazine, I was doing it with iPro Developer. Really, it came about from two things. One was the people at iPro Developer were starting to put a bit of pressure on me that they wanted me to write a blog and it was going to be one of these weekly or two weekly blogs or whatever. With the best of intentions, I know I would have said yes and then within three months I would have been missing deadlines. You know what this is like with me at times, Tami.

Tami: I have no idea. [Laughter]

Paul: So but prior to that, Jon Paris and I had recorded a few podcasts together where we had just conversed with each other. They had gone through-if I remember Scott Klement used to put out a newsletter type of thing and we did it for Scott. I mean Scott had asked us if we would do it with that so when I was getting this pressure to do blogs, I suddenly went well I find it a lot easier to talk than I do to write.

Tami: Sure.

Paul: So we sort of came up with the idea of doing iTalk With Tuohy. That’s where it came from.

Tami: Yeah, well, I think it has been great. So what’s the best part of talking to all these people in the industry?

Paul: Oh well I mean it is just that. I get to talk all these people in the industry. I am kind of lucky, Tami, because the bulk of people or most of the people who are on iTalk are friends of mine at this stage. I mean they are people I meet at the conferences and that is how I made the contact and that with them. Very much what I’m trying to do or what I have tried to do with iTalk With Tuohy is that most of the iTalks are actually conversations I’ve had with people so I mean whether it be ones where I might have been chatting with Steve Will at conference somewhere and because of what we are talking about, I’ll just say hey, you know, can we do an iTalk? We’ll just have this conversation again.

Tami: Yeah.

Paul: With that. I mean I do remember there one I did over a year ago with a lady called Sarah Crow. Sarah was a programmer working who had attended the RPG and DB2 Summit and I got chatting to her at that. She just had some great things to say about what it was like being sort of a programmer in your 50s working on i at the moment, you know, so again it was that. So that really is the best part of it. It’s sort of having those chats again and maybe getting it that other people get to listen in on them I suppose.

Tami: Yeah. That’s really cool. So has anyone really surprised you in an interview?

Paul: Ohhh. I-I don’t think sort of surprised me in the way of they suddenly come and said something shocking that I wasn’t expecting them to say. I think what has surprised me at times is with some of the IBM folks is that they have been a little bit more relaxed and more open than I expected them to be, so that has surprised me at that. I think what surprises me quite a bit as well with these is at times when you find out some of the personal things about people and what they do outside of work. I think that’s great. I mean the diversity of some of the things that people do is just amazing.

Tami: Well, you couldn’t have teed up my next question any better, which is what do you like to do in your free time, assuming that you have any?

Paul: Oh, okay well my other love is-I mean outside of the obvious things of family and everything like that is magic as in magician-

Tami: Okay.

Paul: As in conjuring as opposed to dark arts, Harry Potter or the fantasy card game Magic or any of those. So yeah, so actually before I got into IT, I actually worked as a magician for a year or so. Very badly by the way. I am not a good magician but it’s still something I have a great love for and it’s actually I share with Jon and Susan. They are also very big into magic and that as well, so outside of the IT set I have a lot of great friends in magic and that. It’s one of the nice thing about being a magician especially when you’re like me and you travel a lot is that any city I end up in the world, I can go, pick up a phone, find the name of a local magician, call them and say I’m a magician from Ireland. I’m in town for two days. Anybody want to meet for a beer and I will have two or three people to meet some evening.

Tami: Wow. That’s really cool.

Paul: Yeah.

Tami: So do you actually outside of like when you’re speaking at a conference, do you actually go out and perform magic anywhere?

Paul: Ummm not as much anymore. The thing about performing magic is that you need to practice. Well sorry. I need to practice a lot and the last few times I sort of stepped out and performed, I wasn’t very happy with the way that I performed so I don’t do as much of it just because I don’t have the time to practice.

Tami: Right. I assume then you like going to magic shows?

Paul: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean it’s one of the regrets that we don’t do Vegas anymore because of course Vegas is the Mecca for magicians so I would always get to go into four or five magic shows whenever we were there.

Tami: Do you have a favorite magician?

Paul: Oh, I have favorite magicians. It’s a long list. Yeah, no. Too long a list to go through. [Laughter]

Tami: All right. Well so, I had the opportunity to visit Ireland last year. What an amazing country. Yeah, I could tell stories because it was a great trip but I got to spend some time with you and your lovely wife, Phil. You were both so hospitable and I’m sure you have taken many tourists around. So what would be your favorite things to show them?

Paul: Okay. Well probably, the one I took you and your sister to, which is Newgrange.

Tami: Yeah.

Paul: I’ve-I mean there are many-as you know, I am very proud of my country and how beautiful it is. It’s a great place to visit and I like people to get the most of out of it when they’re here but Newgrange, and people can Google it and find out all the details on it, to me is one of the unique places in the world. It’s a Neolithic tomb. It is over 5,000 years old. Just to put that in context for people, that predates Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. It predates the Pyramids at Giza by about 500 years and it is a structure that is based on the winter solstice so worth looking at. So it’s something I like to bring people to because it is something that is unique in the world. You won’t-you know you will see other things along the same lines but not quite the same-

Tami: Yeah.

Paul: So I think Newgrange is a special place.

Tami: Yeah, that place was astounding and it was kind of neat to get pretty much a private tour when we were there.

Paul: That’s right. The time we were there-just so people know this right, I mean-because it was not exactly summertime when you were here.

Tami: Right. Yeah.

Paul: So when we went to visit there was only one other guy on the tour with us and when we finally got up and we went to go into the tomb itself, the guy said no, I’m not going in. I’m going to be taking photographs out here so the three of us got our private tour, which was kind of cool.

Tami: Yeah.

Paul: But of course I had arranged that earlier, Tami.

Tami: Of course.

Paul: Yes, of course. I phoned ahead. [Laughter]

Tami: Yeah. Do you have any other favorite stories from people visiting you?

Paul: Ohhh. Well actually to bring it back onto one of your opening ones, which is Bono. It would be remiss of me not to tell-I think the funniest one I had was with a gentleman called Blair Wyman and when people at home come across Blair, he works for IBM out of Rochester. He now works on the mainframe but he worked on i at one stage. He was one of the guys I think behind the JVM on i but he was visiting here in Ireland speaking at a conference. Blair is very big into music and when I was taking him on a tour with a couple of other people and we were driving out along the south coast of Dublin. I knew Blair was big into music and that but we were actually going to be driving by Bono’s house and like an idiot, I actually said this. I couldn’t believe that a man who was in-Blair must have been probably around the 40 mark at the time that this happened but who knew a man in his 40s that his voice could go up five octaves and he could suddenly sound like a 12-year-old child and that he would start bouncing on the seat of the car going “Bono’s house, Bono’s house” [Laughter]. I had to sort of explain to him but you know, Blair, all you are going to see is a big gate and a wall. I mean that’s all there is to see but as we came around the corner, there was a car pulling into the gate. Blair suddenly was going “Is that Bono’s car?” I went “No, I don’t think he drives a clapped-out old station wagon, Blair” but who was standing there holding the gate open but the man himself, Bono. I don’t know that there was-Blair lost it. I really was checking the front seat of my car to see if there had been an accident [Laughter]. Actually, Blair still tells this. He says that to him one of highlights of his trip to Ireland was he saw Bono. As I told Blair, he really has to get a life if that is going to be one of the highlights of a trip. [Laughter]

Tami: That is pretty hilarious. That is hilarious. Well Paul, I thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and for letting me flip the tables on you. I hope it wasn’t too painful.

Paul: Ummm no but I still prefer to be sitting that side of the table than this so I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal- [Laughter].

Tami: Yes, well that’s it for today but you will hear again from Paul next week or next month I think.

Paul: Yup.

Tami: All right. Thanks, Paul.

Paul: No, thank you, Tami.

Tami Deedrick is the former managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Power Systems edition.

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