I said No

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

There weren’t any jobs. Nobody came to NDSU in early 1972 looking for engineering graduates. Well, the CIA was looking, and I talked to them, but they decided I wasn’t cut out for that business. I had a brand new degree in electrical engineering and nobody wanted me. The lack of job opportunities drove me to one of the best decisions of my life. I applied for and received a scholarship to go on to graduate school. It wasn’t much of a decision: unemployment or a full ride to graduate school.

The job market totally turned around in the next year. By the spring of 1973 there were dozens of companies interviewing on campus, looking for freshly minted electrical engineers. I was a candidate for a Master’s of Electrical Engineering, and had a good GPA, which made getting interviews and site visits relatively easy.

Many of the companies I talked to don’t exist any more. Who remembers Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? They didn’t make me an offer, which was probably a good thing. A company in Boston did make an intriguing offer. The Route 128 area was rich with dozens of startup companies. But it was too far from home, and the cost of living was far higher than the Midwest jobs I was looking at. Let’s stay in the Midwest, eh?

I’d been on several interview trips by the time the Texas Instruments people called me down. I’d already pretty much made up my mind where to go, but this opportunity was quite the plum. Some real possibilities. The clincher came when I figured out a way to visit my family in Denver on their ticket. I signed up and started making plans. Two things worked in my favor. I knew a young lady who worked in a travel agency, and all the airplane tickets were paper. Continue reading

Are you busy today?

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

The other day I ran into my friend Brian. “How are you doing, Brian?” “Over worked and underpaid. Terribly busy, this is my peak season you know.”

Almost everyone I know gives me a paraphrase of that same answer. It’s been the standard answer for at least a hundred years, and maybe through the entire history of Western Civilization. There’s always more to do than there is time. The boss always has something extra that needs doing. The family is always asking for something, and you know that the house and yard absolutely need to have that spring maintenance work done! Soon!

I don’t like the “So busy!” response. It’s too easy and really doesn’t say anything. Kind of like: “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” The answer bears no relationship to what’s happening in life. Our culture seems to demand that we be busy and fine. Sure, there are people who claim to not want to hear an “organ recital” from this old man, but sometimes “Fine” just isn’t the right answer, and if one of us needs help, advice, or an ear to bend, another answer is the right one.

That said, the main thing that irks me about the “Busy!” answer is that the opposite is probably the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Here’s my story:

This was a long time ago, within a year or two of my taking a job at IBM. They had hired me for a major project, and they even had to move us to a temporary expansion site to make room for all the new people on this project. Then the project was cancelled. If I remember correctly, there was some new technology that was essential for the product. The new technology failed, so that called the entire project into question. Continue reading

On entering the real world

June 19. September 10. December 5. August 13. Some dates hold emotional value to me. Recently a new date has joined the pantheon of days to celebrate, or at least to remember fondly. On a December 20 my life changed. Yes, I had an inkling of how big the change would be, but I had only hoped it would be a wonderful day of change, like a handful of other days.

Three years ago that day I walked out of IBM, using the security exit, not the regular door I used at the end of a work day. I was stopping at security to turn in the badge that allowed me to enter the plant at any time of day or night. Never again would they let me in unaccompanied. It felt strange to hand my badge to the guard behind the heavy glass window. I’d worked with this security guy several times over the years as I brought hundreds of customers on site, now he was the last person to bid me farewell. I said good-bye and walked into that December day, a day of blizzard, wondering what was ahead.

In some ways, work had been the center of my life. No longer.

Continue reading

What to do when you grow up?

There’s that question parents and uncles ask kids. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all ask it. Kids don’t have a clue. Parents aren’t much better at giving advice. The job choices I had won’t exist for my grand children. Today’s process of getting a job bears little resemblance to what I went through. What I’m trying to say here is that parents have no idea what a kid should do. In the end, I’m not sure anyone has very good advice. My mother thought I could be a good TV repair man. Judy’s grandmother thought I did something with telephones. What would I be when I grew up?

920911I rewrote this post several times. All I wanted to do was describe how I chose two jobs that were important to me. Describing those two choices was difficult, more than I thought it would be. It’s hard to find similarities between the two jobs. More importantly, neither job was anywhere near what I thought was a possibility, but both were exactly what I wanted to do. One relates to my many experiences with the medical establishment, but let’s start with my early time at IBM.

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The Challenger

If you’ve worked at a corporation, you’ve been to them. Meetings. Endless meetings. For almost all of my working life I was at IBM. Now that’s a big company. And we had meetings. It seems that I was always in a meeting. In 1986 I was a line manager in the computer design department. We were working on the next generation of midrange computers, to be called the AS/400. There was a lot to get done, and that took a lot of meetings. Meetings like the endless status meeting.

This Tuesday was no different than any other. One of my peer managers had a regularly scheduled status meeting right before lunch. There were only three or four of us managers in the meeting, and it was crushingly boring. “Tell me, Guy, how is your team doing on the floating point accumulator design.” “Terry, what’s the status on the problem with the ALU chip?” This would go on for almost an hour, with Harlan putting together a summary for the boss.

In 1986 there was no internet, barely any email, and nobody had a radio in their offices. If there was something important happening in the world, it could wait for the Nightly News at 5:30 that evening. When you’re working, you’re working. This Tuesday was different. Continue reading

Wow, Do I Love Lists or What?

Project plan for this blog - 40 items on the list!

Project plan for this blog – 40 items on the list!

Lists have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Most recently as we got ready for retirement, I made several lists. One was about finances, another was the invite list for the retirement celebration party. Actually there were several parties, so several lists. Another big list covered possible things to do with all that extra time after work was no longer part of the picture.

One of the items on the activities list was “write a blog.” For me, a thought becomes real once written down. Mere thoughts or spoken words aren’t enough. Saying it out loud for God to hear doesn’t nail it to my memory. That was good enough for the Biblical Israelites, but not for me. Adding that little item to my list two years ago planted a seed for me. It had been ignored for over a year. Then one day last spring the thought germinated. Guess what I did with that? I made another list. That became the list in the photo, and then this blog. Continue reading

What’s Going On This Weekend?

Have you ever sat around some evening and wished there was something to do?

In 1981 IBM selected me to attend a ten-week school put on by IBM in New York City called Systems Research Institute (SRI). It was a lot like college, graduate school. We chose among dozens of classes in computer topics; programming, artificial intelligence, finance, architecture and much more. Then we dug into classes about four hours per day and at least that much time assigned in homework projects and reading.

That school gave us a chance to meet high level people from around the corporation and we quickly learned that IBM was much more than a little lab in the Minnesota corn fields. The breadth and diversity of the company became clear as soon as classes started. Back home I knew lots of engineers, some programmers, and I’d heard about marketing and sales, but I had never met people from those esoteric professions. The class had all of them, plus finance, operations, manufacturing, and people working on dozens of products I barely knew IBM sold. The instructors were excellent, too, with great industry and academic credentials. Plus, there’s nothing like living in midtown Manhattan to get a real education!

Classes started immediately on Monday morning with an orientation and the first real sessions of the course. With only ten weeks, they had to start first thing that morning to get everything covered before we went home. Being a dutiful worker and a little shy, I dove into the readings and projects. That worked fine until Friday morning. The others were talking about where they were going and what events they planned to take in over the weekend.

That’s when I realized I had made no plans, no real friends, and had not even discussed what to do with those who would become my new friends. I don’t recall exactly what I did that weekend, precisely who I did it with, or where I went, but I do recall the empty terror of having nothing on my plate, no idea of where to go, and only a tenuous grip on how to find out what was happening in the city. Continue reading