My Programming Autobiography, Part 11
Do you remember the scene from Crocodile Dundee where some punk tries to mug Mick and his girlfriend? The mugger pulls out a knife and threatens them, saying, “Do you want me to cut you with my knife?”
Mick replies, “That’s not a knife.” He pulls out his considerable blade and says, “This is a knife!”As much as I enjoyed Columbus, Ohio’s friendly and outgoing people, I couldn’t handle the terrain. From my 16th story window at work, I could see a long way in all directions. The only interesting thing I ever saw out that window was a severe thunderstorm with what looked like the beginnings of funnel clouds, that and the way the other tall buildings were swaying in the winds.
It was amusing to us when someone would try to give us directions somewhere and say it was up in the mountains. “What mountains?” we wondered.
To them, the mountains were the little knobs you could travel to with slightly higher elevations than Columbus itself. To be honest, we just plain missed Oregon. Mt. Hood–now that is a mountain!
You can see it right out in plain sight from just about anywhere in Portland. Well, you have to get a clear day without clouds, but you always know it is there.
We missed the Columbia River Gorge, the trails, the ocean beaches, and the greenness everywhere you looked all year long. To be honest, some months aren’t as green as others, but there’s always green. Columbus has lots and lots of dull grey and brown.
Just as my severance pay was getting close to ending in Columbus, I got a call from a woman we knew in Portland. She was my mother’s Relief Society President. My mother was very ill and she felt I should come out and see her.
That is when we found out that my mother, Xyla Kelley, had pancreatic cancer. The prognosis was not good. She needed us there.
I flew out to be with her at a meeting with her doctor where surgery was being proposed. There wasn’t much hope it would help, but could have been worth a try.
While waiting, I saw a newspaper ad for a job using Sybase in the Portland area. I called the number and made an appointment with a recruiter. That same day, he took me to the client company and I interviewed there. Before I flew back to Columbus, I had a job offer complete with moving expenses. It was an answer to prayer.
The job was as a database administrator (DBA) project. I would be designing the database for a telephony and voice recognition system that would log the calls, times, and billing. It needed to be fast, fast, fast.
As before, I was an employee of a consulting company, not of the company whose cubicle I occupied. It was hard adjusting to the atmosphere. There just wasn’t the same Columbus friendliness that I had enjoyed.
Every day for the first four months, I would take the train home to Gresham and go visit my mother in the hospital and later, the nursing home. She passed away in April of 2000.
One day, we were treated to a team building exercise that included laser tag, miniature golf, and go-karts. It was fun. The people were fun, but I wasn’t clicking.
The contract didn’t last long. I completed the database and left. My next contract took me back to a place where I had worked before, but different projects and managers.
On my first day there, I got a call from the manager at the telephony company. He was upset because the last index I left on one of the tables was slowing the whole operation down. He wanted me to explain to him why.
I asked him to read the syntax of the index to me. It wasn’t the one I left running. It was one of the benchmark “wrong” ones I had created for testing. Yes, despite my hatred for quality assurance, I still did it. I created several versions of the index and then did stress testing on each one. I fired tens of thousands of records at each one and documented which one worked the best. When I left, that is the one I left live.
The others were still in my account somewhere. Someone applied one of the bad ones after I left, probably thinking it was the only one. To this day, I think that manager thinks I left the bad one live.
It’s funny how once someone makes an accusation, it sticks. Being defensive about it only makes you look more guilty. So, I stated that I left the right one running and left it at that.
My new position took me into the world of web pages. It was my first paying job working with HTML and a language called TCL (pronounced like “tickle”). It was somewhat like a language I taught myself for use on my own web pages, which had by then been growing in number. PHP is what I now mostly use to create web pages.
I wasn’t really even creating new pages. The system was already built. I was a maintenance programmer. I maintained a database of complaints from around the company about bugs in the system. My job was to start at the top of the priority list and try to fix everything of the highest priorities. I got through most of those pretty quickly and started in on the not-so-important ones.
I had to be careful too. Just because someone in the company thought something was a bug didn’t mean that others shared his opinion. So, I had to communicate with people and see if everyone agreed on something being fixed. There wasn’t a lot of that. Most of it was just sitting there fixing other people’s programs.
I don’t mind that, really. It gives me a certain sense of superiority to know that I have to clean up after other people’s mistakes. Honestly, though, it was a whole lot of boring.
For eighteen months, I sat in that cubicle doing that. Once in a while, I’d mosey on over to the manager’s cubicle, check in and say that all was well. I think twice in eighteen months, he came to my cube and inquired how it was going.
One day, one of my manager’s manager’s managers decided that I should start coming to team meetings. As you know, “meet” is a four-letter word as far as I’m concerned. I started attending these meetings. They had nothing to do with my assignment, but the manager two tiers up liked the fact that I was being part of the team. At least, I got to see faces and hear voices.
Actually, I heard lots of voices in that sea of cubicles. Each cubicle is surrounded by eight others. You’re close enough to hear every conversation. I knew when they had doctor appointments, were fighting with their spouses, or disciplining their children by phone. You would think I would have known how other projects were going, but of course, for that kind of information sharing they had to…you guessed it…call a meeting.
The highlight was when one early morning before many people were there, the guy down the aisle from me had a shouting match with his wife over the phone. Really, she shouldn’t have overdrawn their checking account like that, but he was definitely overreacting.
That company has a policy that you can’t keep a contractor more than eighteen months. I did the whole eighteen. The assistant manager told me that he wished he could keep me. With me gone, the whole thing would fall back to him. He paid me a nice complement, though. He said I was the best person that had ever been in that position.
Shortly before my last day, the World Trade Center was demolished by a terrorist attack. A recession followed. My consulting company couldn’t place me within a few days and laid me off.
To be continued in Flexibility.