Former Fresh Faces Take User Group Leadership Roles
Kelly Mason and Ajay Gomez are leading efforts with WMCPA.
Image by Sara Stathas
By Brett Martin12/02/2019
Since Ajay Gomez and Kelly Mason were featured in IBM Systems magazine as Fresh Faces, the duo has been recognized at conferences.
“All publicity is good publicity. Many people around the country have heard the name Ajay Gomez because of Fresh Faces and the accolades that go with it,” says Gomez, who’s now a modernization and digital transformation strategist for Profound Logic. “Naturally, the more people in our industry who know about you, the more doors it opens.”
His resume notes the Fresh Faces honor, which he views as a competitive advantage. “If I’m going up against someone in the interview process and we have similar backgrounds, and they see Fresh Faces on one resume and not on the other, maybe that’s the thing to give me the edge.”
Being featured in the magazine also helped Mason elevate her profile among other professionals.
“Being a Fresh Face has impacted my career by helping me get recognized in the IBM i community,” says Mason, who works for Central Park Data Systems as a software engineer. “It’s helped me be known by top IBM i executives. When they come to events and conferences, they recognize me as a Fresh Face and talk to me.”
Sharing Expertise Via User Groups
In addition to attending other IBM i conferences, Gomez and Mason belong to and hold leadership positions in IBM i user groups, including the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association (WMCPA). It’s through this work that they help their peers better understand and leverage the IBM i platform.
Mason is the WMCPA conference director. She’s also active in the Women in IT (WIT) event that the user group holds on the first day of the annual spring conference. WIT members also presented at the fall COMMON 2019 conference.
“We help educate our members and keep them current on IBM i,” says Mason. A user group member and a user with platform expertise, Mason gives back to the community by speaking on panels such as the WIT panel at COMMON and at WMCPA events.
As WMCPA president, Gomez helps set the organization’s strategy and tactical goals.
“We focus on keeping members up to date on technology through education. Something that’s really important to us is leveraging our partnership with Gateway Technical College to introduce students to the IBM i community and to RPG,” he says. “This is something our members are really appreciative of because there aren’t a lot of colleges teaching this. There are a lot of people in our industry retiring, so there are vacancies in businesses that need to be filled.”
The organization has an annual conference and monthly meetings, with experts and speakers from around the globe sharing what’s happening with the IBM i ecosystem, he adds.
“We provide a social network for each other,” Gomez notes. “We’re a close group, so if someone is having issues with a system, they can reach out for help. We gladly help each other out when needed.”
Spreading the Word About IBM i
WMCPA also strives to promote IBM i in high schools and introduce students to the platform through outreach programs.
“Personally, I didn’t learn a lot about the IBM i world until I got to college,” Gomez says. “It’s important to get the word out because a lot of high schoolers think IBM is dead, and this couldn’t be any farther from the truth. We’re educating them by saying, ‘This is what IBM is doing,’ and telling them about Watson, the supercomputer.”
In March, WMCPA offers a dedicated day for students. The user group busses in students from local high schools to discuss IBM i and educate them about the platform. Next spring, the organization will offer an “escape room” for high schoolers. To get out of the room, the students will have to answer questions and solve puzzles relating to IBM solutions.
“The response from high school students we talk to has all been positive and eye opening,” he says.
Enabling Modernization for Clients
While their user group roles are important, the duo finds increasing value in gaining new skills and assisting their customers as they modernize their IT systems. Both Gomez and Mason are helping their companies’ customers leverage IBM i and benefit from modernization strategies by optimizing modern tools and approaches to empower their businesses.
“I’m working with business leaders and IT teams to develop business-centric strategies for modernization and digital transformation,” Gomez explains. “A lot of times, IT teams have a vision for where they’d like to be in five years, but they need help on the right approach on how to get there. That’s where I come in. I help fill those gaps and come up with a strategy that’s not only accepted by the business, but actually desired by the business.”
Mason helps customers use current EDI and implement more efficient data management processes. The companies she consults with are using IBM i, and she connects to their systems regularly.
“I set up EDI customers and migrate customers to run through our current process, which is a more streamlined approach where everything is in one place,” she says. “My main focus is working on EDI system migrations, configurations and making program changes to help the EDI systems flow seamlessly. Modernization is part of streamlining antiquated processes.”
Her job entails moving data from multiple sources to one place instead of having several locations to access the same data. Having data in a single place simplifies access and reduces storage costs. “It’s faster, easier and cheaper, all in one,” Mason explains.
Helping Customers Optimize IBM i
The day-to-day job roles for Gomez and Mason allow them to work with new technologies and show customers how the IBM i platform can meet their current and future needs.
“Working with emerging technology and learning about different businesses are all things that are very exciting. We are focused on the IBM i platform. We’re dealing with RPG and all aspects of modernization, including the user interface, which is what we’re known for, and modernizing the database and code,” Gomez explains.
He says many companies aren’t familiar with the full range of IBM i capabilities. This prompts him to educate customers about what the platform can do and how it can solve their problems.
“A lot of what I see is higher-ups in IT, at the CIO and upper management level, coming in from larger business that are running an SAP or Windows* environment. They have no idea about the capabilities of IBM i,” Gomez says. “They don’t realize it’s truly a modern system. That’s where we come in to help develop a road map and educate them on what the platform can do.”
Likewise, Mason works to make sure companies understand how the platform can deliver the solutions they need. “A lot of it is educating people about what IBM i can do,” she says.
Brett Martin is a freelance writer based in Shakopee, Minnesota. He’s been writing about business and technology for more than a decade.