My First IT Job
My programming curriculm at Trident Tech was focused on mainframe computing, hence my first IT job was as a mainframe programmer. This was the early 1990’s when the personal computer was just beginning to be considered a serious business machine more than a toy. Our labs at school were setup with new PCs setup with mainframe terminal emulation software. In fact, when I started my first job, I had never even seen a real mainframe terminal.
At Westvaco, right before I arrived on the scene they had replaced their mainframe terminals with PCs. So my coworkers were a bit out of sorts about it… trying to figure out how it worked. This turned out to be a great “equalizer” for me. The other programmers had much more experience than I, but they had no experience on a PC. So I felt like I was able to immediately make a contribution to the team.
As projects came along that involved using Windows, they would pass them off to me, and I was happy to take them. I was ambitious and ready to learn as much as I could. The future of computing was going to be something other than mainframes and I wanted a piece of that. The IT department provided many learning opportunities some of which were about databases. The more I learned about databases and SQL , the more I enjoyed them. Database design is about organizing information in logical ways which lights me up. I believe my affinity for database work is directly related to the satisfaction I received when I organized the bins at the sheet metal shop. It is just part of the way I am “wired”.
Trouble in Paradise
After a couple of years, I was moved under a different manager. Little did I know at the time that this move would lead to one of the hardest moments in my life. I was young and naïve and I operated from a belief that I could get along with anyone. My manager and I weren’t buddies, but I liked her ok and I thought she liked me. At some point, however, our relationship took a turn for the worse. I don’t know when it happened or why it happened, but I found myself in a position in which I could not please her. This was a real blow to me because I operated from a belief that I could make the best of any situation and I could make other people like me. I now know that as a classic example of codependency (sometimes, I think I could have been the poster child for Codependency).
Much to my dismay, our relationship continued to decline. Interestingly, I didn’t tell Jeanie what was happening for a long time. I was afraid that she would worry about my losing my job and I was ashamed and embarrased. In my mind, I was responsible for getting along with everyone. If there was a problem with my boss, it must be my fault. When I could not avoid it any longer, I told her and she was a real trooper. She was less worried about my losing my job and more concerned for my well being. I was so thankful to be able to vent about the situation and so thankful for her encouragement.
Things deteriorated to the point that I felt ill just going to work. If I had a meeting scheduled with her, I was a complete bundle of nerves. During this time, my friend, Curt, was a great encouragor to me. I called him often and he built me up. One day in particular, she called me for a one to one meeting in her office. On the way to her office, I stopped off at a conference room (I worked in a cube with no privacy) and I called Curt. I was so upset that I literally cried. He reminded me that my value was not dependent on my job. He reminded me who God said I am and he prayed with me. I don’t remember the manager meeting, but I will never forget that phone call. Thanks Curt. You are a great friend!
Eventually, I could not take the pressure any longer and I resigned from Westvaco. I did not like the idea of resigning with no prospects for another job, but I trusted that the Lord would watch over us. It was quickly apparent to me that the job market for programming was poor in Charleston and the pay scale was low. Things looked much better in Greenville, SC or Charlotte, NC, but I didn’t have the qualifications to move into those markets. While I was at Westvaco, I had gotten experience programming in PowerBuilder, which I enjoyed. PowerBuilder was becoming the standard platform for businesses everywhere, so that seemed like the ticket to better a better job for me. However, I needed more experience with the latest version.
SPA vs The Pig
I interviewed with the SC State Ports Authority (SPA) and Piggly Wiggly about the same time. I really wanted the SPA job because they were just beginning to use PowerBuilder and they were very interested in me. The computer systems and languages at the Pig were comparatively archaic, which was unappealing. However, the SPA was very slow to respond and Piggly Wiggly was quick to respond. Getting more experience with PowerBuilder was a huge desire for me, but the Pig was actually going to pay me real money to come work for them. My choice was made. You might say I was Big on the Pig.
Fun at The Pig
Right after I started at the Pig, they issued pagers to those of us who supported the inventory system. These were the fancy pagers that would recieve messages not just phone numbers. We had a program on our Unix system our customers could use to send us pager messages. Because the program was overly complicated the system admin wrote a little menu driven program that gathered all the information and sent the page for us. It prompted for your name, the name of the person you were sending the page and the message. Then it put it all together and sent the message to the pager. One day, I got curious about this program, so I went looking for it. I found the program and opened it up to see what made it go. While I was in there, I couldn’t help making a slight modification. I fixed it so that the signature of the message would include “Love, ” + your name. So if I sent a message to Bob, it would say
Blah blah blah. This is an important message…
All of a sudden the Piggly Wiggly warehouse got just a little bit cozier (or uncomfortable depending on who you were and who just sent you a message). At first everyone was wondering why their coworkers were being so friendly. I didn’t take long before they realized something was up. When they found the little modification, they all knew it was me. Everyone took it in fun.
Just a month or two into my job at Piggly Wiggly, I got the offer I had hoped to get from the SPA. This put me in the uncomforable position of wanting to take the SPA job but feeling an obligation to the Pig. Although I didn’t particularly like the work I was doing, the company was great to its employees and I liked my coworkers. To make matters worse, the SPA job would be a slight reduction in pay! However, in the long run, it would give me more of the skills I wanted for my career. I decided for the SPA job and made the move.
At the SPA, the wages were way lower than the industry average, but the benefits of working with the latest version of PowerBuilder supported my longer term vision of getting a better paying job in a better market. When I started, they told me that they were in the middle of restructuring their pay scales and were hopeful that my position would get a substantial raise when they were done. It was several months before they completed the pay scale review and restructuring. My “substantial” raise came to about $200 a year. A real joke. However, I had not gotten my hopes up, so although I was disappointed, I was not surprised. The morning after I found out about the raise, Jeanie had gone to Krispy Kreme for doughnuts for breakfast. When she arrived home, I fussed at her (as a joke) for spending my whole raise on doughnuts!
I did enjoy the work at the SPA. I was learning a lot and building the resume I wanted. One of the ammenities I enjoyed, working for the SPA, was the location. We were in the brick building right beside Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston. If you have ever been out on the pier where the big swings are or at the Pineapple Fountain, you were right next to my office. It was a blast to go out at lunchtime and eat on the park benches and walk around downtown.
Next time a relocation to Charlotte…
Workin’ for the Man Series