Sunday, December 03, 2017

Hints and Tips For Passing the Amateur Extra 'Ham' Exam

Having just passed the Extra Class exam I have some tips for anyone out there who is thinking about upgrading their license or in the process of studying or getting ready to sit for the test.

One thing you should know is that this is not an easy exam. I have it on good authority that the current question-pool put into service in July 2016 is far more difficult than the previous one.

I'm told that there was a lot of push-back from 'old-guard' hams (especially the guys still upset over the elimination of CW!) who claimed that too many people were passing the exam... that it was too easy. When the new question-pool was created there was a concerted effort to make the exam more difficult, at least that is what I hear.

Thus, you are going to study the answers to a lot of questions that have only marginal (and sometimes zero) congruence to running a radio station. Your only option is to plan a lot of extra time to prepare for the exam as well as taking it. As I said, it is not easy.

I do not believe it is possible to cram for this exam unless you have advanced degrees in both quantum mechanics and astrophysics! While you can memorize some questions and answers, by and large you will have to 'know' most the material, or at least have the cognitive ability to 'figure it out' while taking the test.

There are some "tried and true" ways to make the process a bit easier and help insure success on the exam. I present the ones that worked for me (in no particular order.)

- The ARRL Extra manual is not a great exam study guide. I bought it and found it to be a college-level textbook on radio theory, semiconductor physics, and endless explanations for the many arcane FCC rules. I don't suggest buying it until after you pass and want to know in more detail advanced radio theory, etc.

- I'm told the Gorden West "Extra" book is good but I bought it for the General and was not impressed with it and so I didn't get it this time.

- I found that the 100 page "No-Nonsense! Extra Class License Study Guide" by Dan Romanchik KB6NU ( to be well worth the $10 PDF cost. Spend a few days with this after you have put in a lot of time with the online sites answering questions. I read it a few days before I took the exam and found it to be a good review as it answers all 700+ questions.

- I used, and found a good protocol to follow is to spend several weeks reading the entire 700+ question-pool, followed by another several weeks doing the flash cards. Finally take at least 50+ practice exams to where you consistently get 80% or better. (Make sure you are using the current question-pool: 2016-2020. Some sites have previous exams still online.)

- When starting out, tell whatever program you use to eliminate the "distractor" (i.e. the wrong) answers.

- The analysis that I did (subject to an unknown margin of error) is that 75% of the time the longest answer was the correct answer. So if you have to guess, choose the longest answer.

- Many times a keyword (like 'network' or 'phase') that is in the question also shows up in only one answer... and that is the correct one.

- Some non-common words only show up ONCE in the entire question/answer pool... like "astable" which is the right answer to the one question it is in:

Which of the following is a circuit that continuously alternates between two states without an external clock? 

A. Monostable multivibrator
B. J-K flip-flop
C. T flip-flop
D. Astable multivibrator

- When taking the exam at the VE session do as many of the 50 questions as you can and skip over the ones you are not totally sure about. Then go back and do them. Often the answer to them can be found in other questions toward the end.

- Give yourself plenty of time to study for the exam, but be consistent. Find 60 minutes or so a day to read text or flash cards or do exams. The week before the exam, allocate two hours every night to take practice exams.

- Try to schedule the exam for an afternoon or evening VE session. Spend several hours before the exam reading flash cards, preferably right up until they pass out the exam books. That way your brain is 'tuned' to "resonate."

- I passed the first time but I've been told by many VEs that if you fail by a couple of questions you should go ahead and pay another $15 and take it again as you may get a sub-set of the question-pool where you know more of the answers.

- For some questions you can create easy-to-remember mnemonics to give you a hint of the answer. For example there is a question as to whether a T-net is high pass or low pass. The answer is high-pass and you can remember that T stands for Touchdown in football and often is the result of a HIGH PASS from the QB. Another answer about meteor showers is Sporadic-E. "E" rhymes with "meteor."

- Another technique I employed was to make a list "word associations" that I simply memorized. A list of ones that worked for me are at the end of this missive. Memorize as many of these as you can and you stand a good chance at passing. (But you still need to do the studying!)

At the risk of being too repetitious, for most of you (us) this will be the hardest exam you have ever taken in your post-college/graduate school life. You can't 'guess' your way though this one.

====== EDITORIAL =========

The following is my opinion. Your opinion may be different and I'm OK with that:

Some people say that this version of the exam was designed to insure that Extra class operators would be the "best of the best."

I disagree.

At least half the exam consists of questions that have zero relation to running a radio station. They are overly technical, contain math that most of us have long forgotten, and encompass theory more congruent with academic pursuits than practical application.

It was designed to be hard.

It was designed so that you will fail, at least the first time... expecially if you didn't PUT IN the time.

Many say, and I believe it to be true, that it was designed so that the Extra class would continue to be an 'old-boy' club. If true, they did a really good job of it! If you want to gain access to this club, you will indeed pay your dues by losing a lot of sleep and perhaps some hair as well!

The lyrics Ringo Star once wrote are true:

"Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues
And you know it don't come easy"

One thing that I'm certain of (since I asked many many operators) is that hams who got their Extra 15+ years ago could not pass the exam today.

For those who are considering taking the Extra exam, I hope I've helped a little bit.

Alan Canton
Fair Oaks, CA



(Try to associate the word to the left of the dash with what comes after. Some will make no sense until after you have studied the questions.)

elliptical - notch
transequatorial - 5000
polar - positive angle - PoPA
33,50,10 - 7.12 MHz
undesirable - undesired
drop-out - min input to output
phase shift - least
BiCMOS - bipolar
RF vector - short, open, 50
Automatic - automatic
polyethylene - route 66
load coil - has a cap and reacts
NTSC - 30 rock
factor of 3/4 - interpolate the fac-a-tor
FET - left arrow simple
E9-1 - 14 or 9+1+4 = 14
hopping - rapidly
6dB - 2.15 - 3.85
Spread spec - room 222
multi-conductor - is common
aurora - code
boost - pre-emphasis
noise blank - wide spec
fraction of a wavelength - delta
multiple digital - logical
crystal oscillators - NPO
multiple turn loop - increase or
E74 - 38
forward gain - 21 Skeedoo
meteor - rhymes with E
1/4 shorten - high
Q RLC - resistance divided
JT65 - a minute (65 seconds!)
E7-3 - linear
E7-3 - current-handling
antenna gain - reference antenna
Direct FSK - VFO
APRS - gets the ax
L & S band - look for 3s
anti-aliasing - hi then low
multiplexing - base (ball)
vestigial - I "AM" a vestigial
class D - low passing grade
Normalization - impedance
Symbol rate - rate
blocking - 1 db around the block
liberation - flutter flutter
noise blanker - emission
long path - 20 miles home
bridge circuit - null, null, null
Semiconductor diode - heavy metal
total resistance - ohmic
electric motor - brute force
NEC - Electromagnetic
Toroidal - confine
two states - astable
flare - twice an ass
diodes - detector
pin - RF switch
phase lock loop - synthesis
Optical shaft - wheel
JT - and the monotones!
Sporadic - summer
beam width - beam 3 up, Scotty
emitter amplifier - half way to Saturn
taps - algor
baseband - components
SSB - see you at the QUAD
phase lock loop - FM
block FM by another - Capture the FM flag
Q 3.7 - 31.4
220 microfrad - 220 seconds
digital time division multiplexing - is discrete
idle PSK car - 30 miles an hour
opto-isolater - LED the parade
Pi - can be varied... like slices of appple pie
linear volt reg - 'shunt' up Reggie
50-J25 - it resists with a cap

Saturday, June 17, 2017

BEA Diary 2017

By Alan Canton...  with editorial assistance from Mayapriya Long and Alice Walker
[Note: Click on any pix to see it enlarged.]

Dear BEA Diary readers:

You've heard the expression "The way it begins is the way it ends?" That's how it was at this year's BookExpo.

It started quietly... and it ended quietly.

There were some good aspects of the show, but from what people told me, there were a lot of bad ones as well. When I saw this year's mundane (a nice word for ugly) show banner-graphic (above) I had a feeling that things were not well in BookExpo land.

(It did not go unnoticed that they dropped the "America" part of the show name: BookExpo America.)

There was a small change for me this year because I decided to wear big-boy clothes. Why? In the past I always went to BEA to cover the show for this electronic fish-wrap as well as other media that we contracted with. So jeans and a t-shirt were fine... what else would you expect a working journalist to wear?

But this year I wanted to 'pitch' some small and mid-size publishers as well as distributors on a new web platform we recently rolled out... Ecom sites for authors:

Our new service.

Here is the sell-sheet that we've been sending to authors and publishers (printed by the best book printer on the planet... Color House Graphics, contact Phil Knight. You will be glad you did.)

This was printed by ColorHouse Graphics. Contact Phil Knight.

As website developers, we've long known that authors and publishers leave money on the table by not selling merchandise branded to their books.

Obviously their books are going to be sold on Amazon and Amazon is going to take most of the book money. There is no way around that. You have to fish where the fish are and Amazon is the biggest tank of them all.

But t-shirts, hats, glassware, totes, mugs, and a thousand-and-one other things can and should be sold by authors and publishers who have titles with characters or content that can be 'branded.'

Any author who has a readership and who can get eyeballs to their site can make (serious) extra money selling items off of their website... as long as they can source items (locally?) at a good price. They have to buy wholesale and sell retail.

(And CafePress is not the answer here... way too expensive... we can help with sourcing: Contact Guy Achtzehn at The Promotional Bookstore, (guy at msgpromo dot com or 717-846-3865. ) Provide your Association of Publishers for Special Sales membership number for a 10% discount.)

Instead of hosting on the author's website we always recommend that they host with a secure, professional Ecom ISP. We have partnered with Shopify. We did a year of research and decided that Shopify is the best in the business. We're talking about $30 a month for their server. Who can't afford that?

Here is one pitch we make to authors of children's books:

Parents will buy character-branded items on books their children love. If junior loves (mythical) Ronnie The Rhino books, he will drink anything mom gives him in his Ronnie The Rhino cup. He will eat the vegetables (he says he hates) from the Ronnie The Rhino bowl. 
Avid adult readers love to buy mugs, totes, hats, shirts related to the books they love!

So to make our pitch,  I had to at least look the part of a serious business person (which I actually am) and so I wore a coat and a tie... and I'm certain that no one in the publishing industry (been around 30 years now!) has ever seen me dress like this (Note: the tie was handmade by Alice Walker Batik):

Not so bad for almost 70!
It has been two years since BEA has been in New York and in the interim the city opened a new subway station near Javits Hall.  That meant we could get there from the Upper East Side in about 15 minutes instead of an hour on the free cross-town bus that BEA provides for the two days of the show.

Having grown up about fifteen miles from Manhattan, I know the subway system rather well, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Well, what I didn't know is that the change from the "6" train at Grand Central to the "7" train is a half-mile walk in a steamy-hot underground tunnel that smells of urine and is home to many of New York's homeless. It is not a place you want to be if you can avoid it.

While the subway cars are jammed with people, they are well air-conditioned. However, the stations are not. In the summer you will think (and sweat) like you are in the Mexican jungle!

And then when you get to the Hudson Yards station it is a quarter-mile walk to Javits... and in the blistering hot summer sun, by the time you get there you are dripping wet. It is not so bad in cool, casual, summer clothes, but in a dress shirt, tie, and jacket, it is draining.

When I got in the door to Javits Hall I had to sit in the cool lobby for about fifteen minutes to cool off and dry off. I took the bus back to the hotel and again to Javits the following day. The subway is not a good option from the Upper East Side when you want to look good after arriving at the hall.

After getting my press badge (which took two minutes because there was no line) I went off to find the press room where I figured I could sit and have stale pastry, some coffee or a cold soda. In previous years the press room had food, soft drinks, computers, telephones, couches and all the amenities of a press office. If an event promoter wants to attract and keep press, a few day-old doughnuts and bad coffee go a long way toward accomplishing that.

Reed Exhibitions has a rep for putting on great shows... they have been doing it since the dinosaurs roamed the Bronx! Let me tell you how surprised I was to see the 2017 BEA press room:

Not even BAD coffee!!
This is BEA saying "Hey media people, we really don't give a damn if you come or not!" There was no (bad) coffee, no soda, no juice, no two-day-old pastry... and no media. Do you see the water 'cooler' in the back. It was broken... the water was tepid and tasted like Clorox. The press room was in the bowels of Javits and the escalator ride back up made you feel like you were ascending from the depths of hell!

Renegades? Nope. I had Dante's Inferno in mind here

I finally made it up to the exhibit floor. What do you see in this pix... taken when I got up there?

Where is everyone?
If you said "space" you win the prize. There was lots and lots of space at this year's show. In the past we'd see 20,000+ people show up and this floor would be mobbed. This year the show promoters claimed about 8,000 but it felt like 800!

This is my 21st consecutive BookExpo and we've never seen aisles this wide before. You could hold a basketball game here.

The NBA could have booked this space!

* * *

My traditional first stop is the IBPA booth. In the past they had a coveted central spot but this year they were way over in the "Outer Mongolia" area of Javits. And in past years they would resell a lot of booth space to members. This year I saw maybe four member booths. Terry Nathan, Chief Operating Officer of the association said that the show was a "ghost of its previous self" and he has seen more of these shows than I have.

Terry Nathan (right) and the author of this fish-wrap
After a nice chat with Terry, I "walked off to look for (BookExpo) America" (with apologies to Paul Simon)

I've seen a lot of diet books in my day but not one for children who are picky eaters. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that the Pickey Eater Project is a one-of-a-kind book that will transform even the most finicky eaters into fledgling foodies. I wonder if it works with broccoli! Will it work on my cat?

Elyce Goldstein and Kathy Juhl of AAP

It takes a lot of guts to sink your hard-earned dollars into a poetry tome but Elizabeth Yahn has done it. I think this was the only poetry book I saw at the show this year... Haiku for an Artist. It had a terrible cover, but that happens so often when small publishers think they know cover design better than the pros (like at Bookwrights Design.) The poetry inside was nice and I hope it sells well for her and her publishing company, Hither and Yahn (cute name.)

Elizabeth Yahn and her poetry book

I saw a lot of good children's books this year and I will showcase some of them. One of the ones I liked a lot was by Christopher Neal. His retro-style illustrations in I Won't Eat That coupled with his easy-to-follow story is the perfect match for even the pickiest eaters — and the patient souls that feed them. (He should try to team up with the AAP people above!)

Christopher Neal, author and illustrator (I wish I was dressed as comfortably!)

When I saw the offerings of Obvious State I just fell over. Their stuff is just terrific. I wish I could have them source totes and things for our clients but that is not their biz model. They only sell through book retailers. I love their designs.... huge talent here.

Evan Robertson of Obvious State

Usually there are tons and tons of people around the Penguin, Random House booth and those of the other large houses, but as I said, the crowds were simply not there. You could set up a bocce ball court here.

Maybe room for a bowling alley?

I liked the illustrations in the MVP Kids Media books. Their mission is to inspire honorable character into young men and women through healthy mentoring relationships, preparing Real MVP Kids® to live responsible and meaningful lives. It would be huge if they can break into the school market.

Stephanie Strouse (illustrator) and Megan Johnson 

One of the few places that was able to draw a crowd was the large Ingram booth. They were not giving anything away (I checked!) and since I had a media badge on, the somewhat reclusive company would not talk to me. They have always been known as the "Tennessee Book Mafia" although these days their 'power' is not what it used to be. Amazon has cut them down to size so to speak. Now that they don't hold "life or death" over the publishing industry, people tend to like Ingram a bit better. It seems that Amazon has taken their place on the 'most disliked' list.

Standing room only!

(Sorry for the following pix being out of focus.) In the old days the autograph lines would spill out into the aisle and be jam-packed with people (mostly New York area librarians) seeking a free book from a favorite author (or a free book from any author!!) Even the local librarians didn't show this year!

Even free books couldn't draw a large crowd

I did not see a lot of pretty coffee-table books this year as I have in past years. The best one at the show was from Abbeville Press called Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees. Staking out some of the world’s last dark places, photographer Beth Moon uses her digital camera to reveal constellations, nebulae, and the Milky Way, in rich hues that are often too faint to be seen by the naked eye. It is a really nice book. Buy it so more like this will be published.

Nadine Winns of Abbeville Press

There are not a lot of self-proclaimed fairy tales written these days but Dundurn had one that I liked. Deer Life (due out in Sept.) is a "wicked" fairy tale of witchcraft, bullying, revenge, and a mysterious bowler hat and it includes the author's own whimsical illustrations.

Kate Condon-Moriarty of Dundurn

There is always something at the show that has nothing to do with books and this year it was the VeggieDome which is supposed to keep vegetables fresh on your table (not in fridge) for up to six days. How could anyone live without this?

Sara Grodensky of VeggiDome (love her hair!)

From time to time you will walk by some empty booths... the buyers just don't show or have travel problems. There was this one booth with no sign and no furniture and two women who were sitting on the floor filling in coloring books. I have no idea who they were. They saw me take their pix and held up a pix of some kind but would not talk. Maybe they thought I was the show-police? (Last year coloring books were all the rage. They are gone now... good riddance!)

Who are these women?

The very best booth at the show was run by The Canning Diva, Diane Devereaux. She is selling a book on preserving food as well as hawking canning gel and other items. Her booth was easily the most professional I'd seen. And it stands to reason since she has done a number of trade shows in the gift sector. If I ever need a marketing guru, I will hire Diane!

Dianne's booth was 'best in show'

Every year there is a puzzle company. This year was Pinkey Puzzles. ​Mary Overly and Sally Davis are a mother/daughter team that share similar interests in travel, architecture, art, photography and puzzling. They started their jigsaw puzzle company in late 2016 with five puzzle designs, all from original photos taken by the puzzle makers. Very cool!

Sally Davis and Mary Overly Davis (mom and daughter)

The next book is kind of special. Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined is sure to inspire you. Kilee Brookbank was severely burned in a house explosion. Kilee’s resilience compelled the family to create an avenue to bring to light powerful stories of survival with the goal of supporting charitable endeavors and organizations. This pix only shows her left arm. I could see her right arm and back which are also disfigured from the fire. She is a strong woman... huge inspiration here and I wish her all the best... she deserves it.

The author.... seeking to help others

I've never seen an illustration agency exhibit at BEA before and this one is from the UK. Lemonade Illustration Agency is a multi-disciplined, worldwide illustration company serving clients in many countries and timezones. Below is Lucy Quinn whom I wish lived in my timezone!!
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds???

Every show has someone playing music. But from Turkey? I have no idea who this is but he was very good playing whatever it is that he was playing! 

He's not The Boss, that's for sure!

There used to be a time when we all had something called "good taste," a time when some things were just accepted and not analyzed to death. But we are way past that and are now to the point that we are teaching kids about bodily functions that they don't need to be taught about. I leave it up to you to decide on whether or not we really need to kill trees for this book by Marty Kelley!

Rod Garnett of Sterling Publishing (wishing he didn't have to hold up this book!)

Having an eye-catching display always draws attention and this book from Britannia International about the BCCI scandal was one of the better ones. 

Great display

There are always new services that make their debut at BEA, as well as some that have been around for a long time that exhibit. I'm not sure what Submittable is all about and who really needs it, but it looks interesting. Most publishers get way more submissions than they want, but maybe this company is filling a need by getting publishers better content?

Madison Brooke from Submittable

In the micro-press area BEA sold tables for authors to show their books (see background below.) One table had a very interesting tome; I'd never seen such a title before... targeted to children... Someone I Know Lives in Prison by Rebecca Myers. This could be a big seller for her if she can market it well. I'm sure she could get on every talk radio and TV show. I hope she does.

Look for her on The View one day

I saw very few authors pitching mystery books this year. It seems everyone had a kid's book instead. Barbara Nachman brought one of her books called Catwalk Killer a mystery genre in the fashion industry. She had a lot of personality and I'm sure she will get some exposure... although I've always said that it is crazy to publish fiction and compete against the large New York houses. Fiction is a tough game to win for small, independent publishers. I don't think there is an easier / faster way to lose money except maybe to give it to your wife (or husband!)

Author Barbara Nachman

I always look for someone in costume, especially dressed as a character from their book. This year I didn't see anyone except a young woman with a sci-fi/paranormal book wearing a great shirt. I don't know much about the book because her website doesn't say much... but it looks interesting: Enlightened.

Billie Kowalewski, Author

Every BEA since the dawn of time has an animal, most often a dog. This year's BEA dog is owned by Lynne Swanson, DMV, author of Smile, a book about dog psychology targeted to helping people train difficult dogs. Everyone stopped at her booth to pet her dog. Rumor has it that he tried to take out the Amazon rep! 😋

Everyone (except maybe Amazon reps) loves a booth with a pup!

One of the most imaginative books I saw at the show is a children's book... The Doll Cat. Shanthi Thiruppathi is the author and illustrator of The Doll Cat book series. She draws her inspiration from the real-life stars of the books, her cats. The Doll Cat books tell a story of a young girl named Fiona and her Doll Cat, and it is just so well done. If you have little girl, get her this book.

Shanthi Thiruppathi, author and illustrator

Every once in a while I meet someone roaming the (very wide!) aisles whom I just take an instant like to and Sam Glazer was that guy. Sam is a publicist who works with book authors and publishers to 'get the word out.' I don't know much about his work, but after some thirty years in the business I can can spot people who know their business and those who just talk the talk. Sam knows his biz and I'll be happy to refer people to him

Sam Glazer: I just liked him!

The last exhibit I saw was very interesting. It was kind of a "kickstarter" for authors providing for an unusual way for them to fund their books by selling pre-order copies and getting publishers interested. It is somewhat complex so I suggest you read about Publishizer yourself.

Tian Daphne from


I liked the show. It was way smaller in both booth-space sold and of course in attendance. But that was not actually a bad thing for those covering it because with less to see it was possible to spend more time at each booth.

I also saw about as much diversity in titles as well as sidelines as I've seen at the larger shows in the past.

What I didn't see was a lot of what used to be called 'blue badges' meaning bookstore buyers. I also didn't see all that many media people either. Most of my journalist friends simply didn't bother to cover the show. I don't know why, but I do intend to ask.

There has been a lot of criticism of this year's show... the best known published in Huffpost by Brooke Warner titled The Incredible Shrinking BookExpo: A 2017 Recap From An Indie Publisher’s Perspective.

Another notable negative review came from the influential CEO of IBPA, Angela Bole who said:

"The show floor chatter about the health of BookExpo wasn’t positive. Many people speculated that ReedPOP may, in fact, be phasing out BookExpo in favor of BookCon. Bets were made as to how long this phase out might take and where the industry would go for its B2B interactions should it happen."

Angela might have heard 'chatter' but I heard loud yelling and screaming from exhibitors asking "Where are the people? Why did I spend all this money?" I had no answer for them.

Even the popular speaker events did not draw large crowds... the show organizers didn't even bother to fill the space with chairs... that would not be filled.

Lots of empty space

In years past I would see twenty to thirty close friends. We would have dinners and attend parties. None of them came this year. I was the last man standing such that I found myself on Thursday night eating dinner alone at my favorite Chinese restaurant on the East Side... a few blocks from the hotel I always stay at when in NYC.

Will I attend in 2018? If they have it, I will go. I love the show. I get energized. I get ideas. I meet new people and make new friends. I get new web business for our company. But I'd be hard pressed to convince anyone else to go, unless they get the same energy jolt from the show that I do or who love New York City as most ex-New Yorkers do.

I do not understand why the large publishers spend huge amounts of money for floor space and expend a great deal of time and effort getting people and product to the show. What do they get out of it? If anyone knows please write and tell me.


Thanks for reading this... a lot of work went into it and I hope your time was well spent. Below are Diaries of previous shows, should you be interested.

* * *

You MAY (and are encouraged to) share the link to this piece or reprint any part of it without prior permission so long as you use the following attribution:

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner
NewMedia Create
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA

* * *

Per usual, if you have comments or corrections, please send them to bea-diary at adams-blake dot com

Sunday, March 12, 2017

EDS: My Experience In The House That Perot Built


SED = System Engineer (in) Development  ( a job program and title)

SE = System Engineer (a title)
Phase 1: about a year as a low-life SED doing studies and getting coffee
Phase 2: three months in programming school in Dallas... fully, paid... very hard.
Phase 3: like a ‘residency’ often a year... before earning SE status

It was in the early 70s when I got hired by EDS into the SED program. I was already a programmer but not at the level where I’d be a professional hire SE. I was somewhat of a ‘different hire’ for the company because I not only had not been in the military but I also had a MA degree and real life/business experience. I had worked as a teacher (you can read ) and while I was only 26 years old, I was not fresh out of the service or school like so many other young people EDS hired at the time. EDS was not my first rodeo.

I walked up to the security desk at 100 Northpoint in San Francisco, the large EDS Blue Shield Medicaid account and told the guard I was a new hire. A phone number was dialed and in a few minutes the SED manger, Hank Betts came down to meet me. He said nothing... turned around and motioned me to follow. I guess he was having a bad day because when we got upstairs to a large room full of people working at desks... he scowled and told me to first find a desk and a chair and then find something to do. It was a very strange introduction to a new job.

But that’s not what I remember the most about that first day.  After finding a desk and chair, but not something to do, I went down to the Blue Shield cafeteria alone for lunch. There were a bunch of SEs in the corner... you’d think that they would call over a new guy and maybe make him feel at home... but that was not (and never would be) the culture of EDS. I stood on line and got a sandwich, went to an empty table, took off my suit jacket and sat down.

About a minute later Mr. Betts comes into the room but I didn’t see him as my back was toward the door. But I did notice how odd it was that all of a sudden the room got really quiet. Obviously the SEs knew something was up... or was about to be.

I then hear this squeaky grating voice loud enough so that all could hear saying: “What do you think you are doing? You stand up and put that jacket on right now. We never take our coat off in a customer area.” He was red-faced and I thought he was going to bust a gut.

I heard one of the SEs say “Welcome to the NFL, rookie!”

Now do understand that Betts and I were only a couple of years apart in age, but I was in tip-top shape and he was a short, fat, balding guy, way out of his physical prime, assuming he was ever in it. And I’m from New York... and well... you f—k with me and I’m going to f---k you back (and you are going to think you were f—ed by an elephant!) so it was all I could do to check my temper and not ‘take him out’ right then and there. I think I heard a voice inside my head say that it probably would not be a good idea to be arrested for assault and battery on your first day on the job!

I swore to myself that I’d get even for that humiliation. The SEs were laughing their heads off... it made their day. Mine, not so much!

Remember the book they had us read before our final job interview... “Tough Minded Management?” I was to soon learn that at SOME of the lower levels in EDS it was more like “No Minded” management. I found over the years there that if you could not code and you could not sell, you were made a manager of the coders and the sales people. Perot followed the military system where most people rose above their level of incompetence!

Above Betts on the management food-chain was Dennis Schafer. A lot of people didn’t like him and I never knew why. I didn’t have much contact with him, but he knew my name and was aways nice to me and I rather liked him.

Everyone liked Schafer’s boss Ken Hill. I used to volunteer to take large reams of sysout to Sacramento (about a 100 mile drive) .... leaving in the late afternoon... anything to escape Commandant ‘Clinger’ Betts. I’d get gas money (cash) from Hill’s secretary, Beryl Kay whom everyone loved and respected as they did Ken Hill... I didn’t know about demons he fought with substance abuse until much later.

Betts thought his job was to be the DI “Sergeant Carter” of new “Gomer Pyle” recruits... and maybe it worked with guys with a military mindset, but the few of us who had been recently hired without military experience, found him unbearable. He didn’t ‘ask’ he ‘ordered.’ He thought he was still in the military.  Most of the SEDs longed for the day that Betts would be gone and Jim Hienitz would take over. Everyone loved Jim.

Betts was not really a bad guy... I think he was just rather shy, somewhat overwhelmed by his job... and it was obvious that he didn’t have much management training. I’ll bet that if you asked him today he would admit that he could have done better. All he really had to do was maybe show some appreciation to his SEDs... perhaps take us a lunch or bring in a pizza or something trivial. Stuff like that goes a long way. If you be nice to people they will be nice to you. Many managers at EDS never learned that lesson. They never understood that giving orders is NOT motivation.

“Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.” - General Dwight D. Eisenhower

I loved being an SED in San Francisco... there was a large contingent of us since it was a large account. It was great working with Barry Ross, Mary Ann Gunderson, John Amoa, Mark Sadler, Dennis Strange and a bunch of others whose names have receded too far back into my memory to recall.

These were good, smart people whom you could trust to carry their share of the work... and there was a lot of it. We worked long hours, but we were young and for the first time some of us had some real “walking around” money in our jeans... and we loved to ‘do the town’ together... drinks at Ginsberg Pub dinner at the Top of The Mark, crawl the single bars on Union Street. We were a good group... and enjoyed our own little clique knowing it was temporary and we’d all be sent to Phase 2 school and probably scattered around the country after that.

EDS did not have too many rules but there was one we all broke. You know the rule about not having a drink at lunch and coming back? There was a Chinese SED who knew the back streets of Chinatown and once a week we’d take the Stockton bus down there and he would bring us to a tiny restaurant that no one could ever find and we’d have dim sum and Tsingtao beer... and lots of breath mints afterward.

Besides trying to learn the MIO system and stay out of the way of the SEs who treated us with a level of disdain... to them we were a time-sink with endless questions about how the system worked... like what was the big MAMU, we kept busy with tasks trying the make the workflow more efficient.

Most of the customer people liked our SED team. Blue Shield had some deadwood managers at the top, but some of the middle people were quite good. Smart or dumb, they were all nice people and the company had a supportive culture... totally different from the militaristic EDS. I enjoyed working with Bill Cathcart, Kay Fields, Laura Durant, Cliff Hong, Bob Pollard, and others.

Because I had experience working with people (unlike many of the SEDs and SEs right out of the military) I was popular with the Shield staff, much to the distain of both Betts and the SEs.

We were not supposed to ‘fraternize’ with the customer, but most of us were young and single and often we would end up at the same bars on Union Street. And of course there were secret liaisons.

I did my best to keep out of Hank Betts way, but I never forgot that first day of humiliation. About five months after that first day he was sent to run an account in Tacoma, Washington. It was a plum assignment... everyone wanted the job... and Hank got it. I never found out why or how. Perhaps it was the “People who can't code...” rule?

Instead of Jim Heinitz as a replacement SED manager, in came a guy named Ray McKinney. With his red hair and chubby cheeks and mostly good humor, Ray was OK.... not the best manager by most corporate standards, but a decent guy... he had a pretty good personality!

The first thing Ray did was send a bunch of us to learn industrial engineering (IE)... in a week. The class was taught by PK Agarwyl whom everyone loved. EDS at the time was not keen on minorities... there were not many of them... Bal Berde and PK were the only ones I knew in semi-management positions. (As for woman... well EDS... along with most of the IT community... had a saying... that women had a very important position in data processing... on their backs! Outside of Ruth Kamina who ran the the online system, I can’t remember any other women in senior positions.)

So we all went to IE classes held at a hotel on the Fisherman’s Wharf for a couple of weeks to learn Motion, Time, (MTM) Management... from these red books they gave us... I think I still have mine. They expected us to learn in two weeks what would be taught in two semesters at any engineering college. I doubt we met or exceeded their expectations!

After the classes ended, Ray came up with what he thought would make his ‘name’ in EDS management. It was called the Performance Improvement Project... or PIP. The concept was to do in-depth studies of every workflow in the claim shop and instigate new procedures. He probably didn’t know that SEDs had been doing that for the past couple of years... and there really wasn’t much more cost-saving efficiency that could be wrung out of the manual processes. But we went ahead anyway.

There was a rather elderly woman named Mary Hyatt who was the manager of the Blue Shield microfilm research section. She had been with Blue Shield since the dinosaurs roamed The City. She was known as a ‘terror’ and most of the EDS (and Blue Shield!) people were afraid of her, but since I once taught under a school principal like her, I knew how to be deferential... and we got along fine.

She told me about all of this microfilm that was sent up to her area... maybe 40 boxes of the stuff... it was stacked up in a corner, stayed around for a month... and was taken away to be replaced with another forty boxes No one ever used it... because they had the same data on easier-to-use microfiche.

So in good SED fashion I did a study and learned that Shield would save about $100,000 a year by not making the film. And having been taught that in EDS you got just enough rope to hang yourself, I made the presentation to Shield’s second-level managers, who then presented it to Bill Cathcart and his senior managers (all hoping to take credit for it!) I didn’t consult anyone at EDS. (“The first one to see a snake, kills it....” Ross would tell us.** ) It was a big hit and EDS was a big hero and for a week or two as the word got around... everyone loved us. “Wow, EDS actually saved us money... for a change” people said.

There was only one small glitch. Guess who made the microfilm? You got it. EDS Federal had some little company they owned that made the film... and so I ended up costing the company a 'hundred large'... and that was a lot of money in those days.

Someone had to be blamed.

Guess who it was?

Ray called me into his office and said he had the famous “One-time, good deal” for me... they would send me to Phase 2 school early if I left for Dallas tomorrow and ‘play’ industrial engineer for a few months. They had signed two new states and needed to know how many people to bring in for a claims processing shop. And with a whole two weeks of IE training I was supposed to tell them!

Ray and Dennis basically sentenced me to Dallas so that I could not do any more damage! Since I didn’t have a choice, I had nothing to lose... so I told then I’d go ONLY if they paid for my housing in Dallas (like they would if I were in school) AND my rent for my apartment in Daly City (south of San Francisco... a low-rent area at the time.) I guess they really wanted to get rid of me... and they could not fire me without a lawsuit, so they happily agreed and two days later I was haulin’ ass to Texas... travel expenses paid... and I did NOT stay at the no-tell motel nor did I eat fast food. I was on expense account, baby! I was livin’ high!

The home office (7171 Forest Lane) had a great culture... it was way different than the Shield account...  they had managers there who actually knew how to manage (with one glaring exception.) I was assigned to Dave Guild (guy-uled) who was terrific. I got to know Les Alberthal, Mort Myerson, Dave Beede, Tom Marquez, and of course we all saw Ross on a regular basis.

Unlike San Francisco, the home office boys valued guys with college degrees and brains and so I fit in quite well. I also made a good friend named Don Fried (who ended up with EDS in Europe.)

I didn’t know squat about industrial engineering, but I could draw elaborate flowcharts with circles and arrows and write parapraphs of (academic sounding) verbiage to obfuscate what I didn’t know! (I learned years later that the numbers I pulled out of a hat... where surprisingly accurate... like the number of mail sorting people and data entry people needed for expected volumes of claims. I guess I paid attention in IE class although I don’t remember doing so!)

Dave’s team was tasked with providing research to the sales guys seeking new Medicaid processing biz in states across he country. We also helped to write the RFP responses. Dave was a great boss and the guys who worked for him (names I don’t remember) were first-rate. Dave and I put on a bunch of successful dog-and-pony shows to senior management (there is nothing like teaching the 8th grade to train you for making presentations) and so they knew us well and we both had influence “upstairs” with Ross and Les.

It wasn’t long after I got to Dallas that EDS won a contract in some crap state.. maybe it was Alabama or Arkansas... wherever it was no one wanted to go there to manage it. But I knew the perfect guy.

I remembered (and have never forgotten) the humiliating incident in the Blue Shield cafeteria my first day on the job and I thought that if anyone should have to move to some s—t hole account it should be Hank... because he deserved it... and so I pitched his name to Les (who was the decider) and in no time at all Hank was selling his new house in Washington and moving his ass to someplace no one wanted to go. I felt pretty good about it. What goes around comes around.

Life in Dallas was good. For those who have never been to the corporate compound of the day, Ross had bought a country club. He kept the pool and nine holes of the golf course and built the office building and datacenter on the rest of the land. It was a fortress with fences and at least one security checkpoint, but I think that there might have been two. I never played golf there, but I would use the pool each day to keep in shape.

Dallas had lots of good bars and dance clubs and incredibly beautiful girls. The workload was nothing like it was on the accounts so we actually had weekends and evenings off. For an SED (there were a handful of us) it was good duty, until Phase 2 started.

With all the new biz that EDS was signing, partly due to the work that Dave’s team (and I) did, the company was running low on SEs and needed to pump out some Phase 3s in a hurry. Every account was clamoring for them. So in the summer of 1976 I was sent into KS4 ... the class ID of Phase 2... run by the wicked warlord of the west.

The class monitor or sponsor or whatever the position was called was a man named Vern Olsen. Remember when I said that everyone in the Dallas office was first-rate? Well, not Vern. Vern had worked on and traveled with the 1972 Nixon campaign and was the Halderman and Erlichman of EDS. He was roundly feared and  disliked by all the students... we were all warned ahead of time by the outgoing classes not to cross him. I don’t know why Ross kept him around... I guess every company needs a ‘bad ass’ for certain functions... and Vern was that guy.

The first day of Phase 2, big, bad-ass Vern comes in and tells us to look at the person sitting to our left and to our right because one of them would washout and probably end up flipping steaks down at the Golden Coral not far from the office. I give him credit. He was an intimidating guy... even a hard-ass, New Yorker like me could feel the chill he radiated... and wondered just what evil he might be capable of.

I already had a good background in programming, and except for the first two weeks on assembler language where I did put in some extra hours, after that when we moved into COBOL and JCL and procs and macros, it was all pretty simple to me, I was exceptionally good at programming, and I didn’t spend near the amount of time on the programs that others did. For some reason that fact really irked Vern. I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me... and I knew it was not going to end well.

Attendance in class was mandatory but it didn’t have to be because EDS had the best teachers I’d ever seen. I had been through a zillion years of school and had been a teacher myself and I knew good educators from bad. EDS instructors were great. We all loved going to class.

I hardly ever participated in class. I knew most of the material being presented and I didn’t want to sound pretentious... like a know-it-all, so I kept to myself and kept my mouth shut... except for once.

Every week or so during the three months of Phase 2 Vern would come down from his office and hold these PPDs or Policy and Procedures Discussions... which was pretty much basic company propaganda and served to rationalize some of the dumb-ass rules that the company had... like white shirts and short hair and not revealing salary... and of course there were the fantasy-land  stories about being offered free vacations if you did an outstanding job. The PPDs  spent a lot of time telling us why we were being paid 10%-15% less than prevailing wages and why we should be happy about that. It was all B.S. and we all knew it.

Vern would call on people asking them if they agreed with whatever he was pontificating on and the smart people would say yes and that would be that.

Well, in one of these two-hour indoctrination sessions I got irked by some stupid thing he said and I got into it with him on some subject or another... and I simply took his argument apart piece by piece, word for word.

OK, it was not a fair fight... I was far more educated than he was, and far more erudite than he was. I had done his job (as a teacher and manager) and I was better at it then he was. I could argue with devastating logic while all he had on his side was a nasty disposition that intimated everyone... but me.

Yeah, it was not the smartest thing I’d ever done. I didn’t like the guy and he didn’t like me... we were both type-A personalities, and so it was no surprise that one day we would go at it.

I was not in fear of Vern. Look. A few days after I graduated college with zero experience in teaching I was in front of 33 eighth graders in a eight-room schools house in Diana, West Virginia. You want to know fear? That was fear. Compared to that, Vern was a pussy (cat) and while he might have intimidated the rest of the class, he was just an 8th grader bully to me and I had learned how to deal with that personality type. You stand up to them.

Three months after starting, we finished Phase 2 school and we all had to go through the exit interview where we were told what account we were going to be assigned to. And of course, we’d get the Phase 3 raise that had been promised.

Um... except for me. I’d made the earlier deal that, I was going back to San Francisco since EDS had been paying my rent there. And given our ‘history’ when I walked into Vern’s office, I was not expecting a raise... and I was not disappointed. He told me that he wanted to fire me... because I had ‘attitude issues.’  Yeah, right. Like he didn’t?

Actually, had he fired me, I would not have cared all that much. I had EDS on my resume and I could write my own ticket with almost any company in San Francisco. BoA, Crocker Bank, Levi Strauss, PG&E, and a whole bunch of companies were crying for anyone who could spell “C O B O L” or “ A L C.” My car was packed and ready to go no matter what Vern told me.

But what he did say did surprise me. He said that Dennis Schafer ‘saved’ my job. He said that Dennis had called him and wanted me (me?) back there. I didn’t find out until later that it wasn’t all about me... Dennis had been promised a certain number of Phase 2s and that I was one of them and he wanted me... attitude and all. Anyone who could code was a ‘hot property’ to every EDS account manager.

Vern said that if it had been up to him I’d be fired but that Dennis (being an account manager) overruled him and so  I was staying but was not getting a raise... because I didn’t deserve it. And of course he said it in his most officious German military officer style.

I wanted to tell Vern to go f—k himself, but I didn’t. It was five o’clock, it was raining and getting dark on a chilly November afternoon... and I wanted to get on the road and hit Wichita Falls where I’d spend the night. Dallas was nice, but I wanted to go home to where I had “left my heart” in my “city by the bay.”

Upon returning to San Francisco I was assigned to the Medicaid Provider System... a group of sequential VSAM databases of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., who could submit claims and receive compensation. It was not nearly as important as working the ‘front end’ or the ‘back end’ of the system, but it was important enough because each ‘end’ required the use of the provider files. The manager of the system was a wonderful man named Bill Bogges ... a terrific manager. He had a good heart and wanted his people to succeed. I was mentored by a woman named Yvonne Wong who was wonderful to work with as was another Phase 3 on the small team,  Andy Au.

At first all I did was WAAPDSUT programs but eventually I was allowed to start making changes to the system... which was a large group of spaghetti-code modules. No one really knew how all of it worked. It was written years ago in ALC by guys who were told by management “We don’t want it good, we want it Tuesday!”

The Provider System was not an area where you could really ‘shine’ as it was all maintenance coding... nothing new being needed or added, unlike the front and back ends of the MIO system.  After several  months I was bored and frustrated. I was a really good programmer (I still am!) and I had no opportunity to use my abilities. I figured I’d be a Phase 3 forever and it would be years before I would ‘make’ SE working in the backwaters of the Provider System.

But I caught a break. One late afternoon about six months after returning from Dallas the phone rang and I found myself on a conference call with several of the senior VPs in sales... the only name I remember was the well-liked Gary Fernandez.

Everyone had gone home and I was the last man standing. They told me that they absolutely needed a complex set of reports by 8AM (Dallas time)... that a huge account was at stake (they never told me which one) and that it was up to me to make it happen. (I think they actually said “Failure is not an option!")

This was before the days of SQL or even network databases (IDMS.) All we had were a collection of un-normalized sequential files. There was no email or fax machines... they told me on the phone the report headers and the break points and what totals they needed. It was complex as hell. They called the datacenter at 1 Beach Street and told them to give my jobs (compile, link, run) the highest priority.

//JOB-NAME JOB (ACCT-INFO),’PROGR-NAME’, CLASS=class-name, MSGLEVEL (M1, M2), PRTY=priority-number

(The datacenter people didn’t like to be told how to run their shop, but they did what they were ordered to to... I got a priority parameter... something  we poor Phase 3s never got from the datacenter people!)

Finally I had a chance to show what I could do. This was a very complex set of reports they needed and I guess the priority was very high because they  stayed up all night with me while I wrote the code and they reviewed the sysout sent down to Dallas. They told me the changes, I coded them, re-ran the system... there must have been ten iterations of this. I think I wrote 800 lines of ALC code in about two hours and spent the rest of the night tweaking it.

By around 5:30 AM it was all done (7:30 AM in Dallas) and the home office guys were happy as hell. They had no idea who I was. I told them that no one in the SF office thought that I could code myself out of an infinite loop and that it would be nice if maybe they might tell someone that I was a halfway good programmer. I didn’t expect that they would... but it didn’t hurt to ask.

I went home, went to bed for a few hours and took the day off figuring that if they needed me they knew how to find me (It was common back then to be called in the middle of the night to fix a production problem... usually a SOC 7 from some code you put in earlier that you didn’t test well. (We often ‘tested in production’... no time to do otherwise!))

When I came back to my cube the following day I got a call from Beryl Kay saying that I was to be in Dennis Schafer’s office at ten sharp. I figured I’d screwed up and I was going to be chewed out... it was going to be another Vern Olsen session!

I walked in and there was Bill Bogges, Dennis Schafer, and Ken Hill. Man, I must have really screwed the pooch on this one! I wasn’t going to be chewed out, I was going to be mustered out! I looked around for the Pinkerton security guy that usually escorted fired personnel to pack up their stuff and then lead them out of the office and on to the street. I was sure my ass was grass!

It turned out that the guys in Dallas from the other night were really major players in the company and that they had called San Francisco and told the senior managers about the all-night session and how I had saved their ass and that I was to be assigned to the group where my skills would be better utilized. It was a direct order, non-negotiable.

So I was told that effectively immediately I was classified as a SE, that I would be getting the raise I didn’t get from Phase 2, plus some extra... and that I was to be transferred to the elite implementation team down the street in the Acron Building run by the highly popular and highly respected Jack Gaither. His team were the ‘top gun’ of the West coast programmers. Finally... I had arrived!

I thought I was a good programmer, but when I got over to the Acron I learned that I was not even mediocre by EDS standards. Guys like Gary Wilson, Jim Ewoldson, Roy Swackhamer, and Bal Berde were the best of the best. All of these guys were terrific... supportive of the new people coming into the group, and were always there to help out. These men were great programmers and great guys, but there was one guy who stood above them... the ‘top gun of the top guns’ was Lou Everett. Unfortunately he was a world-class, arrogant asshole... the forerunner of the arrogant, millennial, Debian Linux programming or Google ‘dude’ of today. It was too bad because he could have been a great mentor.

I was assigned to work in Roy Swackhammer’s ‘squad.’ The job of the implementation group was to bring up a new Medicaid system for the new business that EDS had written... and most often these accounts gave us only 90 days to do an incredible amount of work. There might be hundreds of major changes we need to make to our base-legacy system to accommodate the needs and nuances of the different states we would be doing claims for. And there might be many large new sub-systems that we had to write and test and integrate with the rest of the system. It was a total team effort and it was a hell of a good team. The pressure was intense... failure really was not an option.

I loved leaning from Roy (we became good friends) and loved working for EDS and Jack Gaither. I could not think of a better place to work. Roy was very popular in the company. I remember that after Roy’s wife had twins, she had some major medical issues that insurance didn’t cover. It was like $10,000. When Ross heard about it he had the company cut Roy a check to cover it... no strings attached. I was in the room. I saw the check. What a great company... even if there were a few Vern Olsen’s in it! (About two months later Roy left EDS to take a management position with Evans Products, a lumber company somewhere in OR or WA. I never heard from him again.)

Except for the arrogant Everet, life was great there... and it was good that it was... because none of us ever left there! At times we would work 15-18 hour days, ten in a row... code, eat, sleep, code... rinse and repeat. You could learn more in one month on the implementation team than you would in a year anywhere else. I got a break when I was able to spend some time with Ruth Kamena and the OLS team (EDS’s home-grown CICS system. I later became a CICS programmer and earned top-dollar as a consultant after leaving EDS... all thanks to Ruth.)

I loved working in the Acron Building with the men and few women in Jack’s rag-tag SE army... and of course everyone loved working for Jack... he was easily the best manager EDS had... he loved us and we loved him.

Next, of course, was the wonderful Bal Berde... an incredible programmer and a man who was always ready to teach the newbies better coding techniques. When your module did not run and you could not figure it out, Bal was the go-to guy. He could read the code and in an instant tell you where the problem was.

The only problem I had with EDS was the pay. And we all griped about it privately. Around 1978 opportunities in Silicon Valley were starting to explode and the corporate head hunters who got an EDS call list were telling us about incredible offers. Guys who were making $20K a year were getting offers of $35K to leave EDS... and SEs started taking them. EDS simply believed that they could replace senior talent with Phase 3s instead of paying us what we were worth on the open market. No one was a better capitalist than Ross, but he never ‘got it’ I don’t think.

Thus, guys were leaving, creating even more work for the rest of us... which was not well compensated compared to what they were getting (and yes, they told us about it.) In the SF area you simply could not afford to marry, buy a house, have a baby, and pay the bills on what EDS was paying. You can’t take company loyalty and job-satisfaction to the grocery store and trade it for milk, meat, and eggs!

I was reading the Sunday help-wanted adds and saw a huge ad for a company in Cupertino called Four-Phase who were looking for MIS people and said they were paying top dollar salaries and had great perks and benefit.s (The ad said that they closed the whole company from Christmas to New Year and gave everyone an extra paid vacation!) They were having an open house with on-the-spot hiring interviews on a Saturday morning and I decided to drive down there. What the hell, right?

I handed my resume to the young woman at the security desk in the lobby (with about six or seven other job-seekers... none thankfully from EDS!) and waited. After a few minutes out came... guess who... Jim Heinitz... the SED manager we all hoped we would get years ago.

I had no idea he had left EDS a couple years back for a management job at Four Phase.

How could it get better for me? I’d work for a company who would pay and treat me what I was worth, work for a manager I really liked, and could get an apartment for half what it cost in the SF area. After years of doing ‘impossible’ work for EDS at what I thought were slave wages, it was a no-brainer. Many of my SE friends had left ...some for other accounts or other companies... the demand for good programmers was there for us all across the country and there was nothing holding me to EDS anymore. The workload was impossible after so many defections... and the pay was terrible. Why stay?

I told Jack that I was leaving, what I was going to be paid, and whom I’d be working for. He said his hands were tied pay-wise and that he wished me well. I never saw him again, but I’m told he eventually landed in Sacramento with EDS where my wife (who was a Blue Shield girl... we kept THAT quiet!) and I ended up moving to some 35 years ago... and I’m still here... with the same wife... in the same house!)

I liked Four-Phase and loved working for Jim, but my fiancee lived in Marin and going back and forth  between there and Sunnyvale where I had moved to, was just not ‘working’ for us. She was a surgery RN and had a great job at a small hospital she loved. She was not going to move. Since I could get a job anywhere in San Francisco, I decided that I’d leave Four-Phase when my project was finished and installed. I owed Jim at least that much, if not more.

Back then most guys took full-time jobs at various companies... most with the hope of moving out of the technical arena and into a corporate management career. But ‘gear heads’ like me went down a different path. I learned that there were these “life forms” called contract programmers... the nice word for them was ‘consultants. but at the end of the day we were just ‘hired guns’ brought in to fix a problem. put out a fire, or do something the regular staff didn’t have the skills to do. “Have code... will travel” was the card of us all.

You could work as a self-employed, sole-prop 1099 and get $25 an hour. If you could bag 1850 hours that was over $46,000 a year. Do you know how much money that was back then? It was not a dream. Given the demand, it was very possible... guys I knew were doing it and they had no reason to lie about what they said they were making.

When my project was done with Four-Phase and I had a couple of weeks of vacation time to take, I decided to send some letters with resumes to various companies in San Francisco seeing if they needed a contractor. A day or two later I get a call from a manager at Pacific Gas and Electric (the utility company) saying that they have a huge ‘dinosaur’ Gas Control Accounting System in IBM ALC with hundreds of change requests that had been stacked up for a few years. Their management decided it would be cheaper to hire a contractor to come in and go through the stack and make the changes instead of re-writing the system in COBOL.

I went for the interview. I asked for $35 an hour. They didn’t even blink. I probably could have gotten $40. They said they would give me my own cube, my own workstation (a rare thing back then... we used to share terminals) and would leave me alone for a couple of years to do all the work.

I took that assignment. I never had another full-time job again. I married my nurse, and when the contract was over we moved to Sacramento where we could afford to buy a beautiful home, and I worked as a hired gun for just about every major state agency, as well as a number of private sector companies.

These days I am the managing partner of a web design company .

I’ve been rather successful and I owe a lot of it to the training I got at EDS.

EDS was indeed a “One-time good deal.”

 ** “I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes, and then you discuss it for a couple of years. The most likely course of action is -- nothing. You figure, the snake hasn't bitten anybody yet, so you just let him crawl around on the factory floor. We need to build an environment where the first guy who sees the snake kills it.” - Ross Perot