Wednesday, March 29, 2006

17 years

Stardate 59032.9
For 17 years, since March 29th, 1989, I have worked for essentially the same company. It seems weird if I think about it. I never applied for a job there, and I didn’t do an interview. I was working for a local game developer when a high school friend called me. He wanted to know if I would do some consulting work in the evenings; mainly wiring new terminals and printers. After about a month and a half, the manager was waiting for me one evening. He asked if I wanted to come to work for them as a full time employee. I didn’t even think about it. So here are a few items I have for memories.

First Job: Wiring new Wyse 50 character terminals for an Alpha Micro minicomputer. IBM AT personal computers with 80386 processors were still a novelty, although most of the ones I set up had Turbo switches.

First Technical Coup: We sold medical payment guideline data, distributed on 9 track reel to reel tapes. These are the big tapes often seen in old movies spinning back and forth when a director wants to show a computer in operation. We had two formats: our own, which was five relational files, and one used by a competitor that used one file where the information was repeated over and over. The first format could fit on a 720K floppy, but the second was 177 Mb. That’s not large today, but huge at the time. A new tape machine that ran off of a PC and did not require us to manually thread tape was a major improvement. My manager wrote a program to write out the second format from the first. It took three days to run in a language called Foxbase. I took a look at it, and found that he has a loop to look at each of the 1.4 million rows, and a loop inside of that to look at each of the 133 bytes of each row to determine if a zero was needed. I added a string to preset the zeros (the positions didn’t change), and fill in the amounts over the zeros as needed. That eliminated the need for the inner loop, which meant the program looped 1.4 million times, instead of 186.2 million times (1.4 million rows times 133 times for each row). It ran in hours instead of days. I still refer to Larsen Loops from time to time, although nobody is left that remembers this.

Employee when I started: 30
Employees now: ~ 34,000 (Parent company as a whole)

Number of Managers: 18

Number of CEOs: 8

Number of different names for company: 7

Highest pressure day: One morning around 6, I got a call that the accounting server was down. I found that the hard drive had crashed, and needed to be replaced. I can’t remember where I found a replacement, but I did. I reinstalled the SCO UNIX OS, and restored the accounting software and data from a tape backup. Payroll was due the next day, and I am sure to this day most of the 150 employees came by that day to see if they were getting paychecks the next day. I got it operational around 8 that night, and the HR manager was done with payroll around 2 AM. I feel more pressure about letting down friends than people I don’t really know.

Least favorite airport: Atlanta. There is nothing wrong with it, but every time I have been through it, I have had problems. One time on my way to Tampa to do a conversion for a new client, I was held up for 6 hours there as they located a new aircraft because the one we were taking had ‘mechanical problems’. I arrived at the client site about 4 AM the next day. Another time we went in for the landing, only to bank and go back up again. The pilot came on and explained that another plane was in the runway and he thought it best to abort and try again. I don’t think anyone on board disagreed. Kansas City comes in second, but I’ve only been there once. A storm was going on, and it was a roller coaster all the way in. I don’t like roller coasters.

Technical Achievements: I’ve written a couple of TSRs (Terminate and Stay Resident, for those of you who remember the MS-DOS 5 and 6 days) that did database lookups. I wrote scripts to automatically rebuild and deploy updates to a test environment as soon as an updated was checked it. This was a few years before I heard the terms Continuous Integration and eXtreme Programming (XP).

Graphs are the way to go: A client complained of slow performance in a server application. I wanted to be able to demonstrate improvements to both the client and the executives, so I spent a day or so putting together a group of programs and macros to read the server logs, collate the information, import it into Excel, and generate page with graphs and totals showing the gains. This was so persuasive that I spent the next few months generating graphs for various clients before crying uncle. The main reason I couldn’t keep it up is that the logs were coming to me compressed via email. For security, Outlook would not automate saving and decompressing the data. I did learn a lot about Excel and Visual Basic for Applications. The process was used for years after by various tech support personnel.

Fun times: I had an office next to the systems admin for about a year. He’s a LotR fan. We get along very well. Several times, he would come over and have me shut down unapproved services (FTP, Telnet servers, snoopers, etc), because corporate was coming. I set up some tripwire programs, and when they were set off, I would shoot an email off to him asking what day the audit was because he had run a port scanner.

Frustrations: Years ago, we were looking for a new technology platform. I spent about a week working with a vendor, and one day demonstrating the technology to the executive staff. The next day I found out the decision had already been made some weeks before, and a consulting company had started work on it. I’ve never understood why I was allowed to waste time on something that didn’t have a chance.

I also had a VP who called a staff meeting for input on an ‘important’ decision. The issue was what file cabinet drawer the floppies should be stored in. The staff was very irritated.

Worries: I am always concerned when I fill out job applications, and I come to the part about listing your job history for the last 5, 7, or 10 years. They provide 4-6 boxes, but I can only fill in the top one.

The obvious final question is how long will I stay. My final answer is: I don’t know. I didn’t anticipate staying this long. I do not subscribe to the grass is greener theory, and my employer does give me a lot of leeway and flexibility. There are a few other reasons to keep on going. However, if someone was to offer the same pay with a significantly reduced commute and a good technical challenge, I’d seriously consider it.

End of Entry