Thursday, July 28, 2016

Being lectured by the boss...

...for being too nice to the customer. In most companies programmers don't interact with customers; they have other people to do that (unless the programmer is the company.) Instead they have customer representatives if a long term service is being provided or just salesman otherwise. When I was a kid working in NYC, we had a customer in Ohio. I flew out there to install a system I wrote (in dBase II multi-user. Never heard of it? That's because we were a test site and the product was never released to the public. DOS 3.1 was the problem, not handling semaphores correctly. We worked around that problem.) Anyway one night the controller asked me, "can you write a liability analysis report." Being a bit of a smartass (a common issue with younger, and some older, programmers) I responded, "Sure. What's a liability analysis report?" I was just a dumb 20 y.o. after all.

He told me and I wrote it. Then I nurse-maided the printer all night while dBase churned it out (about ten hours.) When I got back to NYC I rewrote it in Bascom which produced the same report in less than half an hour. So then I got chewed out by my boss. Why?

"Ken, we could charge them for that report and you just gave it to them for free."

They did offer me a job and even tried to marry me off to one of their office girls. Where are those offers now I ask? Instead they hired some blowhard that claimed he could do better for them than some 20 y.o. kid. His first act was to hire me as a consultant so I flew back to Ohio to explain to this jerk what I had done. This guy had no idea how client/server systems worked. Ethernet itself was a new idea with major companies (3Com and others) jockying at the time to get their standards established.

Another time I talked with Mondo, a really nice fat Mexican (hey, you know the stereotype and this guy fit it.) He was our customer's fleet manager (he and an old PC were the entire department.) He asked me if there was anyway to get a DOT report required by the government. "Sure. What's in a DOT report." Now I was an older and wiser smartass! He told me and I wrote it with the flexibility to meet all our customers customized requirements. I worked with our DB manager for the DB upgrades required (no freebee this time.) That report became the first thing our salesman showed to potential new customers and significantly increased our sales from that time forward. I wasn't supposed to talk directly with customers. We paid the big guys to do that. BTW, I was a programmer, not a tech. support guy, so when Mondo asked for help with another problem I told him he needed to get a newer computer. He got his boss to buy him one and the problem went away.

One engineering boss once called me uranium, "extremely valuable but hard to control." He told me to translate all of my estimates from weeks to double months. So instead of telling his boss I could get a job done in two weeks (giving myself padding even) I had to say four months. Then that boss let me do pretty much anything else I wanted to investigate (we had lots of hundred thousand to million dollar toys to play with industrial machines to study.)

I was the definition of self motivated and self initiative (the FAA once gave me an award saying that right before they restructured the department.) I even got a thanks but no thanks letter from the human resources department two weeks after I got another job. I learned early to bypass personnel and go directly to the guy that needed me, usually for a job they'd never even mentioned to personnel.

That company owned a Canadian gold mine and made a limited number of these six inch beryllium oxide souvenir rulers with real gold markings. I was the only person not from corporate that got one. It later got broken during my travels.

PCS and NextPOS were also good stories where I got a chance to do some amazing things working directly with customers (our distributors in the case of NextPOS which evolved into a much bigger company and changed their name.)

I've seen a lot and learned a lot, but never had a lot of self interest. I just wanted to understand things and help others. Now that I'm old and decrepit, those amazing days are over. But still... I'm not dead yet (Close maybe, but still wheezing... and I never smoked in my life. I refuse to wear a 'portable' defibrillator. Both my feet are wrapped in bandages three times a week. Every month the eye doctor pokes my eyeballs with needles. I do have a housekeeper and nurse that visits several times a week. I still drive... I ignore the screams and bumps. What? Dad drives in slow motion and Mom should.)

Three things drop me to the floor if I over exert myself (like walking three feet.) My blood pressure drops from over 200 to unmeasurably low. My sugar level has been good, but can also render me unconscious. I forget the third??? Usually this seems to happen at Walmart's for some reason?

I'm the nice guy that finishes last. Often astonishing some that just have to let me know. I've spent a lifetime politely listening to people explain things to me I'd learned in more depth 30 years before.

I gave up a full scholarship at Harvey Mudd because I was destroying the lives of 60 A student Asians (who thanks to me and the curve were now C and D students.) Later I found out I would have been just a year behind my high school buddy Paul, that went there.

Life. Where did these last [almost] six decades go?

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