Why should a 52 year old midrange/mainframe programmer write a blog?

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Strongback Consulting

You know the guy. Mid 50’s, slightly balding. Never wears his reading glasses when he needs them. Always has his signature stained coffee cup with him that reads “Home is where my tools are”. There are pictures on his desk of him fishing with his grandkids. He’s a malcontent, and loves to complain about office politics. He’s also the only one who know your core business systems, all of which are green screen based. He’s still trying to figure out MS Word after 10 years, but on the green screen, he can type as fast as the emulator can render the screens. Hell, he’s still not sure what a blog is.
(*If the above description describes you then a blog is a ‘Web Log‘. You are reading one right now)

So…why should he blog?

What happens if Jim Bob get’s hit by a bus? Or… more likely drops over dead from a heart attack because he drove over to the barbeque pit for lunch every day for the past 20 years. What happens to all that knowledge? Do you let it get buried with him?

The answer is a corporate blog. Yes, a corporate blog. Most people think of blogs as being something that teenagers or political activists do, but a blog can be for really any purpose. I write mine to attract new business to my company, and share some of my expertise with my clients without rewriting documentation. Mine is a corporate blog.

Now before you think “oh..we should have all his information in documentation…that stuff is on the shelf in the manager’s office”, ask yourself “…IS IT CURRENT?”. As a rule of thumb, documentation is no longer current as soon as its printed. In some cases, there is no real place to document certain things. I’m not saying a blog is a replacement for proper software documentation. Actually, software should be self documenting (i.e. JavaDoc). But there are some skills that are learned through experience that really is not found anywhere in written literature. A corporate blog is a tool for capturing exactly that kind of information. It can also be a tool to allow Jim Bob to ‘vent’ frustrations that he may not feel comfortable venting in person. It allows the company to have access to his knowledge while keeping a pulse of the company’s morale. It also allows employees to share information on best practices, whether it be related to technology, accounting, or manufacturing techniques.

A corporate blog is also insurance against catastrophe. Let’s use a more positive example: Jim Bob wins the Mega Jackpot lottery of 42 Million. He promptly tells you what to do with his current job and moves to Fiji. You implemented a corporate blog about 2 years ago, and since then, he’s been adding 3 or 4 entries a week, most of which about special modifications that were made to your business systems on “just this once” occasions. He also wrote up how build the reports that only he knew how to do for the CEO. Instead of having a total catastrophe, you are able to continue with your business until you find a replacement. That replacement will have a much shorter ramp up time to get familiar with your systems. He/she will also be better prepared to deal with undocumented ‘improvements’ to your core business systems.

So how do you get started with a corporate blog?
First, evalate your needs for privacy, security, and usability. Do you care if your blogged information is shared with the public? Do you need to restrict data to only certain employees? Do you have a technical minded staff who can handle any user interface or does your staff need a bit more hand-holding?

If you are a small shop, and don’t need all the bells and whistles, you can get started with the open source Word Press. It takes a little time get set up, but its free. You can run it on Linux (also free), and run it either in a virutal machine, or an unused desktop. Word Press is one of the most popular free blogging software tools out there. There is also Blogger.com (which this site is hosted on). However, only use Blogger if you don’t mind your corporate information going out to the public, and you don’t mind directing users outside of your internet domain.

If you need something that is more ready to go out of the box. Lotus Connections is an excellent piece of software (full disclosure – I am a reseller for it). It does corporate blogging, but also does Enterprise Wikis, social bookmarking, profiling, and more. Its a leap from free to fee, but if you need security and interoperatiblity with your other systems, Connections is king.
Here’s an idea of what Connections offers:

And here is more of an in depth overview of Connections:

There are other software packages such as Atlassian Confluence which are excellent enterprise wiki tools. The point of this is that your organization can gain a lot of productivity and innovation from using some of these newer technologies. Don’t be afraid to break out of the mold. If your organization uses a share drive for collaboration, well you are not really collaborating. A shared drive is really like storing your tools in a junk pile, and letting everyone rifle through the pile. I hate the concept of shared drives myself. They drain productivity because they grow less usable as they increase in size and content, whereas social software increases productivity and knowledge as it grows in size. The same applies to email. A large mail box is just a large pit of information that only you have. Sure, its searchable – but only by you. Social software allows everyone to share in the ideas, and contribute to ongoing ideas. The concept of social software has been around for a few years, but its value is really catching on in the corporate world.

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