Another Career, Soon to Bite The Dust:
Once I had been in California for a short while, I was lucky enough to find a firm that was willing to train me, and spent three years working as a locksmith. First working at the shop, then, as I became more skilled, driving a van and doing various outside calls. Are we detecting a career longevity pattern here, or what?
While I was working as a locksmith, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in history. My typing was not too good at the time, and I had to get a computer to use for word processing. You might say I got into the business because of spell checking! I was hooked. These things were so much fun that I dropped the career as a locksmith, and began one in the PC field. And here I am today.
You mean they will actually pay me for this?
I started my computer career as a salesman in a small computer store in Berkeley California. The place sold, not only the typical PC compatibles, but Apple, Atari, and Commodore as well. Certainly gave me an interesting start in the industry.
Question: How is a computer salesman different from a used car salesman?
After six months of selling computers, I realized that I didn't like sales much. I told my employer that I wanted to get into the technical side, and after some initial argument, he allowed me to do so. So I learned how to set up and repair AT and XT class computers. In the meantime, I was still working on the advanced History degree. I finally left that store and went to a local VAR, where I got caught by a layoff a couple of months later.
Trade School. Or, Fun with Electronics:
I found it difficult finding a job after that. Things had gotten rough in the area, and jobs were scarce. So I decided to take advantage of a California program that allowed those on unemployment to take training programs. I enrolled in a local trade school, from which I emerged a year and a half later with an AS in Electronic Technology. Unfortunately, this was just after Desert Storm, and the job market in the Bay Area was very soft. I consulted, did pickup jobs, and generally scraped along (with the generous help of my parents) for almost two years.
Even though I was not working in the industry, I still read publications and made a serious effort to keep up with the trends in the computer industry. Also during this time, MS Windows was becoming the desktop operating shell of choice for most of the business world, and my old XT compatible just didn't cut it.
I was interviewing from time to time, and realized, from the attitude of some prospective employers, that I would have to learn Windows if I wanted to find a job. I saved for almost two years and finally was able to buy my first Windows machine, a 486/DX50. I then locked myself in my apartment for a couple of months with various books, and learned how to get around in Windows 3.1. I had been sending out my resume, and was registered with a couple of local temp agencies, but up to that point nothing had come of it.
The Media Vision Years:
In October of 1993, I got what was to be my big break up to this point. I was called to interview at a company called Media Vision, which was at that time expanding their Technical Support center. I got the job, starting as a contractor, and after about four months was brought on as a permanent employee.
I was at Media Vision for three years. During that time the company rose meteorically to prominence in the field of PC multimedia, and came crashing to ruin just as spectacularly. No one knows just what happened, and to my best knowledge, no one has been charged yet. However, someone, or a group of someone's, did something that caused the stock to crash, the company to go into Chapter 11, and lead to the eventual dissolution of their retail section. The case is still under investigation and that last I heard one of the former officers of the company has turned states evidence. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.
By the time that the company finally closed it's doors to most of us, I had worked my way out of the technical support department. I had joined the product support group, and was involved in a range of activities that included product testing and oversight of both new and continuing release candidates of hardware and software products. Thus, before a product could be released for manufacturing, it had to go through me.
This was an interesting and satisfying occupation. Unfortunately, technical and product support was part of the retail section, and when the company was reorganized after chapter 11 one of the decisions made was to close down all retail operations. My services no longer being needed, I found myself searching for a job again.
On to Philips
After Media Vision, I spent a short time contracting, but found no position that kept my personal and professional interest. Happily, that changed. From January 1996 until the first of January 1998 I worked at a startup company:
Philips Professional Solutions
There I wore many hats. I started as a technical support representative, with the spiffy title of "Senior Representative, Customer Support. My duties included answering email, administering our web page, some product testing, and training new employees. I also performed many other Product Support and Technical Support tasks.
I then was offered, and accepted a new and more satisfying position. From May 1997 until December 1997 I worked for our compatibility engineering group. My title was "Compatibility Test Engineer". The product managers propose, and I attempted to break. If a product survived my groups tender attentions, it was than be put into a package and sold to the public.
I was much happier as a tester. It is fun at times, frustrating at others, but never boring. In addition, I talked to our vendors and I didn't talk to customers. This is something of a relief, as I was getting very tired of having to be nice to unreasonable people, which is part of the requirement for a technical support rep.
Change of Venue:
The period at Philips also allowed me to bring a cherished dream to reality. I was able to buy a house.
During the years I have lived in California, I had always lived in the Oakland/Berkeley area. That has now changed. After years of saving for the down payment, I decided that this was the time to make the move. I and the bank now own a little house in Fremont. I moved in on July 2, 1997. This is much closer to the action in Silicon Valley, and eases what was getting to be a rather hellish commute. It is also going to be a ongoing project for the foreseeable future. I have plans! Watch this spot for news!
And the Wheel Turns Once Again:
To Ricoh we will go.
Philips was fun, but my part of Philips is gone. As a result of massive incompetence on the part of upper management, what could have been a significant company in the realm of CD-Recordable and CD-ReWritable has suspended operations and is no more. All the employees have either moved to other positions within Philips or been released. At least they did give us a pretty good package.
I had intended to use the money from my severance to take a month or two off. That didn't happen. I was offered an interview and subsequently accepted a position at Ricoh. The job involves supporting Ricoh's CD-ReWritable drives, so it was one that I could move into quite easily. It was only a couple of blocks from the last job, so at least the commute was no worse.
My mission was to collect data from support groups in the US and pipe them to the parent company in Japan. It was intended that by this process we would be able to improve current products and cause future products to be more robust and trouble free. I was all for that!
What will be next?
All good things must come to an end, and the post with Ricoh did just that. Ricoh has a major manufacturing facility on Orange county in southern California. It made good business sense to move their operations there. I had no interest in moving, so when my department moved, we parted ways. It was all amicable, with no hard feelings on either side. I was given a reasonable severance and stay bonus, and will now look for another job. This time though, I'm going to take some time off first!
The Wheel Spins On:
I had expected to take a couple of months off and then have an easy time finding work again. After all the valley is booming, right? Well, much to my chagrin, it was not that easy. I had a rather difficult time finding work after taking two months off. The vacation was wonderful, but when money started to get short, I began to worry. I stepped up the job hunt, although admittedly, I wasn't trying all that hard. I still had money in the bank, and it wasn't getting real close to the end. Still, I started feeling nervous when I continued to look and no new posting was forthcoming.
Finally, I began looking in earnest. A friend was working for a company that did contract software quality assurance, and I asked him to see if there was room for me there. Nothing much happened for a while, but finally, they ended up bringing me in. I worked for this company, Data Dimensions off and on for the next couple of months. They didn't really provide me with enough work to be comfortable, but the income extended the time that I was able to avoid a permanent posting until close to the end of 1999.
As things progressed and I had to begin dipping into my savings to pay the bills, I knew that I would have to get it together and go find regular work. At about this time, another friend, who was a contracting programmer, was doing work for an interesting Internet startup. This company, called CaregiverZone, was creating a web site squarely targeted at the growing field of elder care. The intention is to provide information and support for the growing population of people caring for the elderly, and the elderly themselves. They needed a QA manager, I needed a job. A good match! This should be good. Time will tell.
One More Turn:
Where From Here?
After working at CGZ for almost 10 months, things began to look less and less hopeful. The concept was good, but by the summer of 2000 the venture capital for web sites was drying up. We were running out of money, and as the summer progressed, the prospects began to look grim. We hoped for further funding to be found, but I think most of us knew in our hearts of hearts that the handwriting was on the wall. Finally, in later September it happened, as we all knew it would. A company meeting was called to announce that as of that moment, all employees were laid off. They couldn't even pay the currently owed paycheck! Oh well. Something else would come along. It was a good job while it lasted. I learned a lot. Can never complain about that.
An amusing aside to that particular event was that I had decided to take a vacation while I was still able. Thus, I was actually in Maryland visiting my family when the announcement was made. I had insisted in giving my boss their number "just in case" and I was glad that I did. I received a call after the first week of a two week vacation. Not only was I unemployed, but would not be getting the paycheck that I had expected would pay the bills for the trip! It was a good thing that I never allowed my savings account to dwindle low enough so that I didn't have at least six months of living expenses in the bank. Turns out I was to really need that money in the time that followed. (By the way, I must admit that management was eventually able to make good on the last paychecks that they owed us. Took them about 6 months, but the money was quite welcome when it finally arrived.