My Career, the High Points, the low points, things not in my resume.
Spring of 1982 I was about to become unemployed and a friend told me about a company just around the corner that was hiring programmer trainees. I don’t know how she knew I was into that but grateful nonetheless. I stopped in at the office of Micro Business Software Inc, third floor of the Colony Building and met with the CTO, Scott Snow (maybe he was “VP Tech”, I don’t remember). I told him I was interested in the job, that I knew how to program, had taught myself FORTRAN and Wang 600 machine language. He was impressed and asked me for a resume so that night I typed out what was more of a cover letter since I had no professional programming experience. The bottom line (actual last line of the letter) was “I’d like to start work on Monday”. He read it over and said “OK”. And that was it! That was all there was to the hiring process. I was handed a book on CP/M and was started on editing COBOL programs. This is how I started my career in Programming.
MBSI sold COBOL accounting programs for small businesses to use and the source code for companies to customize for vertical markets. In 2002 I did a google search and found RealWorld COBOL source code I worked on in 1983 was still being sold!
And I kicked ass: I managed the DEC mini computers and did all the bulk editing jobs with TECO macros (I became a maistro), and did some bleeding edge development.
Once I was explaining to a co-worker what was wrong with a big complex ‘if’ statement and the right way to do it and he pointed out ‘you have real savvy’. I didn’t appreciate that as much as I should have.
Later, a couple years down the line, MBSI renamed itself RealWorld Software and moved around the corner. At this time we acquired IBM ATs running 286 chips at 6 megaherz (ooh aaaah) and I snagged my co-worker’s Turbo Pascal disk, loaded it on my AT and wrote my first program in Pascal a 3D graphing of mathematical formulas. I wasn’t shy about my work and would leave the graphs displaying on my screen.
About that time, 1985, the owner of the company, David Gale, spun off a Department of New Technology. They were interviewing other programmers to see if they wanted to join the group and learn to program in “C”. They didn’t even ask me, they just gave me a new computer, a new desk and Plum’s book on how to program in C and told me “Start”. I ate it up.
That new department became a new company, Practical Software, a small company. We moved up stairs. Shortly and through attrition I became VP Tech or VP Programming. I worked long and hard on developing DOS applications in C. We had our own UI and DB libraries. Now that I look back on it, we should have sold those as products, that would have been rich.
David bought the building next door and renovated it. Practical Software moved in and enjoyed a big comfortable space. I had a twelve by twenty foot office with a big sliding glass door looking out to the common area. Cool.
Money dried up and the products finished and out the door so I had to find new work. At that time, 1991, the newspapers were the only source of jobs and I quickly found jobs that fit my skills
Over the previous months I had collected business cards and had a three or four inch stack. It was just something I did. When I was out of work I just started cold-calling names in my stack of cards when I got to Gary Eng of Southern Datacomm. Gary had a shop set up in a store front even though they had no customer traffic, it was just an affordable location and I had stopped in to chat a couple of times on my afternoon walks. The call went like this:
“Yes, can I speak with Gary Eng?”
“Is this about the Programmer position?” (I hadn’t even mentioned who I was)
“Aaah, YES, this is about Programmer position.”
So I made an appointment to come in for an interview. One of the best interview processes I ever ran: every question they asked I had a “Yes, I just used that technology in the XYZ project…” kind of answer. The process went from manager to manager and finally to the President, Gary, he just waved me away with a “I don’t need to talk with Brian.”
This was before the days of cell phones so by the time I had gotten home the message was waiting for me that I had the job.
The down side (it turns out) that I was under very heavy performance pressure, my pay was dependant upon it, and my stomach was upset for the duration of my employment (to the very day). And I never got the review I was supposed to get (my fault for not pressing the issue). Anyway…
So its 1992 and I’m working at Southern Datacom, hating every day until the day I got the call: “Hi. This is Steve Palmer, I know you from RealWorld but now I’m with David Greenbaum here at Axiom and we’ve been talking about high powered programmers we could hire and your name keeps coming up. Want to talk?”
So I was hired, like that night. But everyone at Axiom worked at their own home, everyone. So I had to set up my own home office and that was cool. So for ten years I’d work at my little home office, crank out the code, handle support, write documentation and own my two products (CellManager and RefManager).
I learned MicroStation Development Language (MDL) and that put many a paycheck in my pocket. There are few MDL programmers and when one is needed my phone lights up. I’ve done work, several contracts, for Verizon using MDL and my knowledge of MicroStation.
The down-side of this was that I was locked into a procedural language writing event driven applications while the rest of the world was getting on the Object Oriented Programming bandwagon. I was behind the times. I didn’t get to play with OOP for years.
Sandia National Labs
“I’ve emailed you the specs for a project we’re doing for Sandia National Labs. We farmed it out to a company in India but just today they told us they didn’t know how to do it. It is due Wednesday after next and it is a government contract so if we screw it up we won’t get any more.”
Steve went on to give me ideas on how to accomplish the task, full go-ahead to work as many hours as I need and they would cover extra expenses as-needed. So I did.
I wrote a multi-thousand line MicroStation Basic ‘macro’ (I found out macros were never expected to be more than a dozen lines or so) that performed the tasks required within the constraints defined.
I got to chat with the people at Sandia National Labs and that was fun: “You guys make atomic bombs, don’t you…”
I delivered just in the nick of time. And I received a bonus. And the following Friday I was at a screening of an indie-movie and David Greenbaum, the owner of Axiom, was there too. He enthusiastically introduced me to his table “This is Brian, he saved our bacon.”
Pegasus Digital Imaging
Early in 2002 I learned a lesson getting hired at Pegasus. I called, made an appointment and took the interview, it went well enough but I got a call a couple of days later telling me they went with another candidate. OK, I kept looking. But two weeks later I called back and asked “So, how is that other programmer working out?” and I got hired, begrudgingly and the manager, Chris, asked “so what pay rate had we been talking” (money had never been mentioned) and I said $70K, he groaned and agreed. This was a problem and would never work out. I handled it wrong, he handled it wrong, it was doomed. The lesson is ‘if you aren’t the one they wanted, you aren’t the one they wanted, second place it the first loser.
Youngsoft / Integrated Health Plan
So I just finished the job with Corpus/Verizon and put out my feelers, starting to get some action when I get a call: “Hi, this is Jill from Youngsoft up in Detroit. We have you on our short list for a job in Saint Pete., actually you’re the only one on the list so don’t screw it up for us. We’re going to pay you $48 per hour and you have to work from home. Do you want medical/dental? You need to go over and meet with the Project Manager, Jennifer, she will get you started.”
So I met with Jennifer (Who used to be a guy named Ed!) she gave me an envelope with screen sketches on the back (yes, really) and a CD with a sample database; “We need it to do <this and this>. Call me when you have a prototype ready to show.”
So I went home and in three days had a running application that did what she had asked so I called her up and told her. “Great. Meet us at 10:00 Wednesday”
I show up Wednesday, I put it up on the big screen, the room has managers and clerks and everyone and I give them a show-and-tell. We order out for lunch. They give me feedback and I have a laundry-list of features and changes and they end the meeting with “Great. See you next Wednesday.”
And that is how it went for two and a half years.
The Great Recession
Aricent / Verizon Data Services
This was a doomed project: they intended to hire a team of MDL programmers in the Tampa area to work out of the Telecom Park building (F4) but only got me.
Insight Global / AAA
Price Waterhouse Cooper
Modis / Chase Paymentech