My work, my ideas, my faith, my life

Prone to Wander

My Programming Autobiography, Part 8

By Rex Goode

Boeing 747-8

Just when I thought I would be relegated to quality assurance hell, I saw an ad in the paper that looked just like something I wanted to do. They wanted someone with experience doing database administration (DBA). I really like indices and queries. They are beautiful things.It was going to be a job with a computer consulting company. I would not only have to win over the consulting company, but also their client. Their client was a start-up company that had a contract to create a wafer fab in Taiwan. They weren’t expecting me to need to travel to Taiwan, but there was a possibility in the future of needing to do just that. I liked that prospect.

The interview with the project manager went well and I was offered the job based on my strengths in database administration and design. I spent my days with first-, second-, third-normal form, and denormalization. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I was denormalized a long time ago. So, it was no big deal.

The really cool part of the job was that this was going to be a fully automated plant. Most of the data I was designing had to do with the functioning of robots.

Water Robot

The hardest part of the job was that over half of the people I worked with were from Taiwan and were really struggling with English. They understood each other’s English, because they all had the same thick accents, but I was not getting it. Nonetheless, they were really fun guys.

Even though Sybase was the DBMS I had the most experience with, the engine behind this project was going to be Informix. At that stage of development, it really didn’t much matter. The DBMS to be used is mostly irrelevant in the early stages of designing a database.

Some of the earlier work the company did used Sybase. I remember one day, the DBA they had working with Sybase had a problem. It was his first project and he had learned it from a book. I stepped in and showed him how to do what he was trying to do. I liked being what some of my coworkers over the years have called me: The Rexpert.

I was really kind of concerned about my job. Most employees were grumbling about not having been paid for awhile. I was secure in knowing I wasn’t an employee. My consulting company, well-established, would pay me.

Suddenly, without any warning, I was told by my employer that my last day was at the end of the week. My new assignment would be at large complex in the Portland area. I would be working on a database design for a new customer service system that was being created.

I was there about three months when I was informed that I was needed by another facet of the same project in California. They didn’t need my database skills. They needed a C programmer.  I begged, “Are you sure you don’t need a C++ progammer?” They were sure.

It was a pretty exciting prospect. Instead of working on the database that collected the information, I was going to be programming an application that actually controlled the phone calls. I was given a mini-phone system, a manual, and a cage far, far away from everyone I worked with. Those who think I belong in a cage would be happy with the arrangement.

The type of technology is called telephony. Basically, it is all about making phones do things. It was my first encounter with callback functions. What is a callback function, you ask? Well, I asked it too.

A callback function is a function that takes as an argument, another function. Now, aren’t you sorry you asked? I wasn’t sorry I asked. It was cool.

Now, there are two things I hate in a computer consulting job.

  1. Spending too much of my time in a cubicle or cage.
  2. Spending too much of my time in meetings.

This was about the most disjointed and dysfunctional project I had ever, or have ever since, worked on. The other programmer was a cocaine addict and high most of the time he was there. The manager was a grouchy old cuss prone to tempter tantrums. The managers under him spent about seven hours a day in meetings.

I Hate Meetings!

Sometimes, they wanted me in those meetings. If I had attended every meeting that I had an invitation to, I would have been meeting as much as they were, leaving me one hour per day to work on the system.

You see, whoever said that it takes a really good meeting to be better than no meeting at all was my hero. I hate sitting in a meeting where only about 10% of what is said has even a remote relevance to my job. It isn’t just the world of information technology that does it. I’ve seen it in social work too.

Forgive me if you’re the kind who loves to sit in meetings, but in my experience, people who call a lot of meetings are doing it because they don’t want to be working at their desks. It isn’t because a meeting is the best way to get something done. It’s because they would rather talk than do.

Now that I’ve made all of the meeting mongers mad out there, I will admit that sometimes you need a meeting. When you have one, though, be a tyrant about it. Make people stick to the topic, get it done, and send people back to their cubicles.

The other thing wrong with my situation there was that my cage was literally about a mile through a sea of cubicles from where the meetings were held. So, put me in meetings for seven hours, and make me walk back to my cage for thirty minutes and you get thirty minutes of programming out of me per day.

Add to that the fact that every Monday, I caught a plane in Portland and flew to the Sacramento area. Every Friday afternoon, I went back. That didn’t leave a lot of time for coding.

As the delays stacked up, not just in my part, but in the whole project, someone decided to hire from my own company, a new manager. Yeah, that’s what we needed—another manager. This woman was crazy. She moved into the hotel room next to mine. She rented a sports car. Her room was so awful that the housekeeping staff refused to clean it. She hired her boyfriend to come and help her. And eventually, she fired me. Said I wasn’t “senior” enough for the project.

Well, she only fired me from the project. I still had my job with the consulting company. Quickly after that, I got my new assignment. It was in Anchorage, Alaska. I was to be “tried out.”

Anchorage, Alaska

Now, maybe you don’t know this about Alaskans, but I found it out. They like to drink. Really, just driving to work was fascinating as to how many places there were for getting wasted.

I got invited to lunch one day. Lunch was in the storage room of a liquor store. I thought for sure I was not going to pass my tryout if I didn’t drink, but I can still to this day lay claim to have never tried an alcoholic beverage.

I liked everyone there. As with many of my consulting jobs, the managers think they need to hire someone, but they usually aren’t ready for the someone to start working. Well, I was only there to be tried out, so I didn’t do anything serious. After six weeks, in frozen November and December no less, I got an offer. They like me!

I liked Alaska. I’ve never been a warm climate type of person, even though I’m a native Arizonan. One Saturday when I was there, I drove out and saw a glacier. The sea was beautiful. The whole place was beautiful. I wanted to live there.

The offer was a good one. My company would pay for the relocation of my family. They would help us find a house, but no housing assistance would be offered. The salary would be the same.

One morning, after I got the offer, I stepped outside of my apartment building. The lining of my nostrils crackled. My rental car almost didn’t start.

At lunch, which I took late in the day so as to see a little sunshine, I went to the store to buy some milk. I checked the prices of the groceries–about $5 for a gallon of milk, and that in about 1994. That was my reality check. On Saturday, drove out of town to check out a house that was for rent for $1600 per month. At home, I was paying about $450 for a five-bedroom house. This little hovel was only three bedrooms and they had to be no bigger than closets.

On my return to Portland, I wrote a letter to my employer saying that I couldn’t accept the offer at that salary. She urged me to reconsider. I asked her what would happen if they moved me up there and the job didn’t work out, for whatever reason. She said that I would have to pay to relocate back to the lower 48. That clinched it. I never returned to Alaska.

To be continued in The New Easterner

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One Response to “Prone to Wander”

  1. Rex Goode » If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing said:

    […] be continued in Prone to Wander. Like Unlike Posted by Rex Goode under Career,Creativity,Interests,Personal. « The Pebble, […]

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