My Programming Autobiography, Part 10
Now, getting back to my prejudices about Easterners. In the movies, they are often portrayed as blunt, rude, and impatient. I know that Ohio is more mid-west, but my prejudices didn’t know the difference until I moved there.
One night, before Barbara and the kids joined me, I went to a grocery store. On the way out to my car, the very young man helping me with my groceries carried on a conversation with me. I was pretty stunned. I started see that everywhere I went, people actually talked to you.
I hadn’t noticed it before about Portland, but if you sit on a park bench and someone sits down and starts talking to you, you usually get up and move somewhere else. In Portland, the culture seems to be, “Speak only when you are spoken to.” That keeps everyone pretty tight-lipped. Even when someone talks to you, it is very superficial.
In the East, they may sometimes be a little blunt and to the point, but they’re uncommonly friendly. I discovered that I would rather have someone be rude and open with me than be closed and suspicious. Church was the same. We fit right in and they treated like us like old friends from the very first.
My job in Columbus was for a large and old food firm, you know the one, with a cow on the label. It has since went the way of all the earth. I’m speaking of Borden Foods. You may remember Elsie the Cow and her husband, Elmer, of Elmer’s Glue fame.
You may have noticed up until now, that I haven’t been using the company names much in this narrative. Mostly, that’s because I don’t want to ruin my chances getting a job there again. The two I have mentioned, Volt Energy Systems and Borden Foods, are gone into history.
My job at Borden Foods was what I always have wanted to do but don’t get enough chances to do–database administration (DBA) work. The database I supported was for an accounting system related to deals. I never knew it before I worked at Borden, but it’s not just a matter of a manufacturer selling product to grocery store chains for a price that gets marked up. There is an elaborate system of offering the products to brokers along with deals to encourage grocery chains to feature those products in conspicuous places in the stores.
My database was part of that system. It had an enormous throughput. I was astounded at how much food that company was producing and selling, even more astounding when I considered that they had already had one major financial crisis and were being bought by a larger conglomerate.
The work was fascinating, but it was the people that really made it a great place to work. Again, my biases about people of the East proved to be unfair.
Meetings at Borden Foods were markedly different than those I had experienced in California. They were fun, not because they didn’t get down to business. It was just that the Eastern forwardness made for wonderful connections between people.
While living there, I tried some facial hair for the first time in my life. I’m old school Mormon about things like that. Well, maybe more like middle school. Somewhere along the line, we Mormon men went from being bearded to clean-shaven to the point of it being a mark of orthodoxy of some kind. If you sport a beard, you’re not really priesthood leader material. In fact, I had been told once that they wanted me to be a Seminary teacher, but I would have to agree to remain clean shaven. That’s when I decided to grow a beard.
I worked in a half-height cubicle. Next to me was another contractor from another company. He called my name, intending to ask me a question. As soon as I stood up, he busted out in a raucous and long laugh. It took him a few minutes to settle down.
He said, with other people gathered around, “When you stood up, you looked just like some giant mutant prairie dog from hell coming out of its hole.”
Personally, I’ve never known this to be true, but people say that if I don’t get fed at regular intervals, I can become quite belligerent. It problem has something to do with hypoglycemia. We worked on the 16th floor.
This same character who dubbed me the Prairie Dog also started telling anyone new to the group that if I looked hungry, to quickly invite me to lunch. He said, “The consequences of not doing so would be that he will rip your arms off and throw you AND your arms out into the street.”
This legendary reaction to not eating became known as “pluck and chuck.” I pluck your arms off of your body and chuck the whole mess into the street. What else would you expect from a giant mutant prairie dog from hell? If you see me looking hungry, remember that.
It wasn’t just the one delightful fellow that marked the culture there. There was such a friendliness and enjoyment of each other that existed in that town, and not just at work.
I had been offered a full-time position. Although it didn’t make my employer, the consulting company, very happy, it was a raise in pay I very much needed. Borden Foods, as a company, was sinking fast. There were lots of rounds of layoffs within a few months of me being hired.
They divested an entire division and it became a new company. I was still with Borden Foods after that. Then came the news. I had exactly six months left, at which time I would be given a six-month severance package. Until then, I was also given a spending allowance to go out and get training. The company would pay for my tuition, travel, and hotel accommodations.
At that time, the internet was starting to really grow up. I had been on the internet since way back at Volt Energy Systems, thanks to Steve Willoughby. I was doing email before most people.
I spent some of my training allowance on learning HTML, Perl, and MySQL. I registered my first domain name, springsofwater.com, in 1999. Using Perl, HTML, and MySQL, I created my first bulletin board system and operated a couple of forums on the site using my own software. I finally had a job title that sounded like something from a medieval fantasy–the Webmaster!
To be continued in Now THAT Is a Mountain!