A Casual Career Narrative

February 2007

I began my interest in computers in a rather ass backward way. I found a terminal at my high school and became one of the four kids interested in programming. I never was a kit builder and my interest was always the software. Moreover it was the interactivity of working with the system. The ideal for me was ELIZA, the notable conversational program as well as SHRDLU. Artificial intelligence was the point, how could you fool the end user? I wrote in BASIC time sharing over a 300 baud line via TTY to a DG Nova a program called NUTZ. (Remember when all programs were in caps?) It was a perversion of ELIZA which told everyone that they were crazy, or attempted to drive them crazy. I didn't really find myself attracted to scientific programming, and interactive stuff was considered a waste of time and precious computer space. But if you could encapuslate formulae into computer systems, then all scientific programming would do is chase around scientists and get them to confess. Not my cup of tea. Besides, I had intended on being a French major so that I could follow my uncle's footsteps and work in West Africa.

French honors was cancelled, but the school added a couple computer courses. All the other times I had been writing up code was my own obsessive hobby. I really dug the logic.

I read about phone phreaking, followed the adventures of Fortran Man and made sarcastic comments about assembly code fragments in the journals of the day. I programmed IMSAI 8080 and PDP 3 by switches on the front panel. Boring but exciting. Finally we got a PDP 11/03 with the 8 inch floppies and an internal hard drive. Not only that, lower case on the keyboard. Nirvana! I learned Fortran with the other students so that we could fix the chemical distillation programs that the guy who lent the box to our school needed for his business. I also, having picked up an affection for CB radio, built a long-haul trucking simulation game. (Again in BASIC since Fortran's control of subroutines left much to be desired). This was FORTRAN IV by the way, before the 77 standard.

One day my social justice term paper was due and the DEC printer was broken. I had composed my paper on the computer and came up with the first 'my computer ate it' excuse the school had ever heard. I realized then (well after having receive an extension) that there was real social power in the metaphor. It only seemed that Seymour Papert really cared about the same things I did in the computer realm. But then again, high school kids aren't so well read. Be that as it may, I made up my mind that I would use computers to persue social aims, someday. So we computerized the high school elections that semester (I handled the input routines - which were the only piece of the system that really worked) and I was certain I was onto something.

Meanwhile there was no such thing as a Computer Science undergraduate degree. Electrical Engineering could get you into the right interdisciplinary master's program but that was all there was. I was no phreak and I sure couldn't afford my own machine so I had to tough it out with the kit builders. Unfortunately, I was a well rounded student and my B average didn't impress many scholarship committees. So despite the fact that I was accepted to USC's EE program (on early decision) in 1977 while I was still only 16, When it came down to it, my family didn't have the money. I suppose it's just as well because I really didn't like math. That's grunt work for computers as far as I was concerned.

So I worked like most ordinary black teenagers in retail and I partied for a year and a half. No more prep school stuffy hypocrisy for me. I did take one gig working for the school's computer benefactor, having mastered the intricacies of thermodynamic calculation routines in FORTRAN. He tried to convince me that I should change majors to Chem E, where he could at least guarantee me some scholarship money. I might have taken him up on his offer had I not gotten sick working in his chemical plant or if the other guy who worked there wasn't such a paranoid pyromaniac. But that was 1978.

By 1982 I had worked in at least a dozen odd jobs centered around banking and accounting clerical work.

including a few that included computer work. It was fascinating to me that I could make so much (relatively speaking) money doing such technically trivial work. I can remember envying a DEC dba over a 4 user system. Such is life. I finally wangled a gig at the County Health Department. It helped that my father worked there. I was to build an interim system (on Apple) to track medical records and capitation rates. It would serve until they got funding for MUMPS. It was then that I first got a peak at what computer management was making through open job postings which were required in government offices. Aha! Around the time I was consulting with these socially active folks and had my first business lunch (We did Thai) I convinced myself that this was the way to go. I was 21 years old sitting around a business table with folks twice my age and they came to me for computer advice. I read my fortune cookie. Bad news: you will never make a million dollars - Good news: you will be so comfortable being poor that you won't care. I always remember and resented that fortune.

My four years of fiscal independence were enough to convince the California Student Aid Commission that my parents supposedly equitable contribution to my education need not be considered. I went to Cal State majoring in (*now* they have it) Computer Science. My math was rusty and so, fortunately for me there was the Minority Engineering Program, I enrolled in Math 095. I recognized immediately that I had never, even in my college prep school, had a halfway decent math instructor. I aced the class without effort. From that point on, math was not difficult although everyone in the university resented that calculus was not being taught by native English speakers. As I became involved in campus politics, and knocked out class after class, I started thinking like a university student and not like somebody in career training. Scary thing to happen at a state school engineering department. Still I was, as it was easy to do in the Reagan Era, more and more fascinated by business and power.

As impossible as it is to condense four years of college into two paragraphs, I toured the nation as a student leader, made the dean's list a couple times, got incurably bored with digital circuit design, rejected ROTC enticements, pledged a fraternity, transformed campus politics, passed high on my upper division qualifying tests, failed to transfer to Stanford, started an entreprenurial venture, got cheated, went broke and dropped out. I also got a passion for writing, as if you can't already tell. But I do remember two important things that are worth mentioning about my college days. One was that the guy to whom everyone turned when they couldn't figure out how to finish their programming projects sat in one corner of the terminal room all the time. He was always ready and willing to help. One day I asked him how he knew so much about systems. He said simply, I have made all the mistakes that are possible withing the constraints of the system. Well maybe that's not so simple, but I still remember. The other thing I remember, besides loathing our CDC Cyber operating system NOS (which was about as commercially viable as the Edsel and we all knew it) was that in my last days there, I found a Sun workstation in a small room. It was some special day and corporate sponsors and grad students were standing around in shirts too nice for their personalities mooning over this bitmapped wonder. I begged my advisor to get me time on the box. No way.

I converted my third internship at Xerox into a full time job. So fortunately I did have some access to bitmapped wonders. I worked in the self-congratulatory personnel department manning their NOMAD2 databases. I wrote custom reports for high level managers some of which were gospel and some of which were ignored. My systems worked flawlessly, but it was very interesting to notice the politics surrounding computer abetted decision making. I documented everything and actually began to see the possibilities of having fully wrapped systems. Up until that point, the conventional wisdom was that business processing required mainframe power but that managers paid attention to memos. There were enough people in Xerox seeking convergence so that this common sense idea to me had implementable weight. I learned to recognize systems as tools and saw my future in their judicious employment. Over time, my intolerance for business inefficiency and inability to get the right resources to the right talent had grown so my prejudice was that AI programmers, like the one I was destined to become would suck dry the brains of corporate experts and management theorists and create the ultimate flat organization in a world wide web. (and of course beat up some Japanese) Hmmm. Some of that fantasy persists in America.

So I got the lucky break to attract the attention of Fathi Boctor who was Bob Adams' business systems guy from way back. He headed up a tiny organization which piggy backed on the idea that this controversial networked workstation technology could actually make somebody a lot of money selling to non-engineers. Seemed perfectly logical to me. So I became the one working in the trenches of pre-286 chip networked computing. I learned everything a non-systems programmer could learn about XNS systems and service, developed my own theories and practices as a WAN administrator and generally created what was widely accepted as one of the best run XNS LANs outside of PARC. Sometimes, I forget about all that. Writing is good. But if you don't believe me, ask Harold Pangle, or Wes Irish or any of the members of the Xerox CIN Steering Committee about my contributions.

As Xerox fumbled the commercial market for networked workstations, the dread idea of doing mainframes surfaced again. After all, that was where all the data was, right? So the Xerox Systems Group morphed into the Special Markets Group and I hung around for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that Sun Microsystems did not give a fart about business applications software. Not that they were going to hire a fatmouth like me who thought he knew everything simply because he had mastered XNS, a now dead protocol. So I was stuck, starting over and learning SNA and LU6.2. You can imagine the horror. I worked in a printing systems support group and mastered the intracacies of debugging print streams. I actually learned to code postscript by hand and got into big debates about markup languages, specifically Interpress vs Postscript vs HP's which I think was called HPCL. Real exciting stuff, not. But I did get to learn actual PC stuff, whereas I had only been working with mainframes, workstations and servers. I even channel attached one to a mainframe, and played with an Overland Data tape drive. IEBGENR was my favorite program.

In the meantime I was desparately trying to leverage my knowledge of Xerox' brilliant OS and windowing system in the days before Motif was real and OS/2 was just taking off. A cat named Tony Domit had a proposal to manufacture and sell a Xerox workstation on a board, so I spent a lot of time trying to get on his team. It never panned out. So I was stuck with a bunch of nice people in a technical no man's land. Fortunately, somebody from a company callled Pilot Executive Software remembered me from a presentation they had made to Xerox two years earlier. The plan was to build some commercially viable software on the Xerox workstation platform. It almost happened, but my guess is that everybody jumped ship and went over to Metaphor.

Little did I know that Metaphor's founder was also a Xerox guy. It didn't help me in my interview with Warren Thornthwaite. I had no concept about how software sales worked. So when I told them I wanted to build systems, they looked at me strangely. I wasn't a programmer but I talked like one. I was too techy to be in front of customers, they said, but not techy enough to be a developer. I didn't fit into the box they had. So while I was much more interested in Metaphor, I ended up at Pilot.

Pilot Executive Software was the best thing that happened to me, well that at my new girlfriend. Finally somebody started pounding into my thick skull how software was bought, sold and built out in the real world, as opposed to the internal world of Xerox. As you can imagine by Xerox' massive success in the software business, I was very well prepared by my experience. That somebody, Dyke Hensen, would save my bacon later as well. In the meantime, I became convinced that working as a field consultant for Pilot, I would rightly earn a reputation for building the best business applications on the West Coast. There was one small problem. The West Coast went broke in 1990. Aerospace, which had been the single biggest purchaser of this fledgling wing of the software industry, had all dried up and the other businesses were not quite prepared to put PCs in front of managers. Not before the IBM PS/2 anyway. I was sick of Los Angeles, which as a city was getting sicker by the day following the 'arrest' of Rodney King. So I packed my bags and headed to Brooklyn.

It was in NYC that I got the job that convinced me, finally, that all my fumbling had not been for naught. I was assigned technical lead for one of Pilot's biggest deals to date at Philip Morris USA on Park Avenue. The deal was worth over a million dollars in licenses and consulting, and boy did we have a nice closing party. It was in this position that I not only made a great friend in Alan Shalitsky, the PM guy, but was responsible for being a manager over a guy with an MBA. I think he still resents me to this day. Meanwhile, I learned that there were people who could do indendent consulting and make a pile of money for themselves. Me, I was not so much focused on money. I had my own two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with hardwood floors and an Eat In Kitchen. Who could ask for more?

One day in 1991 some people from Microsoft called me over to their offices on 8th Avenue and asked me if I wanted to get in on the ground floor of a new technology. I would have to move to Redmond where I would be a train the trainer kind of guy, then they would bring be back to New York where I could be a principal evangelist of this thing that was going to take over the world. They told me that this product was going to put folks like Powerbuilder out of business. I literally laughed in their faces and told them they were dreaming. The name of that product? Visual Basic. I'm not the brightest guy obviously.

Pilot promoted me to run their new client/server product support center. I enjoyed it very much and learned some valuable lessons, but on the whole I would have rather kept on consulting. Still, I couldn't pass up a managment job at HQ. So I went to Boston, the coldest city in the world, at least it was for me. After some time, some of the Pilot guys left the company and told me about this new product called Essbase from Arbor Software. They told me that I should check it out. At the time, I was trying to make a last ditch effort to get myself on an IT staff for a Wall Street firm, which was always in the back of my mind when I moved to the East Coast. They told me that this Essbase tool didn't have a front end, but worked wonders with Excel. I laughed in their faces and told them they were dreaming. Two years later Arbor stock was trading for $80 a share. I was not feeling very bright at all.

But at least I learned the lesson that independent contracting could be lucrative. So I began subcontracting for Pilot. Nobody in the world of headhunters, apparently had heard about Pilot. Nobody except Pilot customers evidently. The good news was that I left on good terms and managed to sign up for a $50/hour subcontract. This was way better than the $35 that HTML programmers were getting at the time in NYC. People told me that the web consultants would make more money than database consulting. I laughed in their faces and told them they were dreaming. And I was right, for about 4 years. So I subcontracted lucratively for two of those years, and learned everything about multidimensional databases and very little about the cgi-bin interface which was transforming the web. I had first seen Mosaic at MIT's Media Lab and it was definitely a wow moment, but nothing could compare to the fact that I was making close to 6 figures and I actually had days and weeks between gigs where I had nothing to do and lots of money in my pocket. My new wife and I moved south to Atlanta and life was good.

In 1996 I finally listened to my old friend at Dyke and gave Arbor a look see. When I saw Essbase, I was floored. It made doing what I had been doing since 1990 so simple that I went back and rebuilt applications just for the fun of it. I spent the next year and a half doing short term engagements all over the Southeast and Texas. In late 1997, I moved back to California and joined Pre-Sales.

During the time I was looking for work back in NYC I interviewed for Sybase and the leading document management company of the day Intergraph. Something strange happend in both of those interviews that I couldn't explain. I wanted a job as a field consultant and both of my interviewers suggested that I should go for pre-sales. I never put two and two together until after I had actually done pre-sales in Atlanta for Arbor. When I finally got the job in Los Angeles I realized about myself what others, perhaps all the way back to Thornthwaite saw in me. I'm a very good sales guy. I had only met one sales guy I had admired in all my years. His name was Bruce and he used to have big fights with sales management at Pilot. At Pilot, we got all the sales managers that couldn't cut the mustard at Oracle and they tried to bring their mahogany row tactics to our little company. We actually had a sales shark who brought a shoe buffer into his office. These were truly slimy guys. Until I met Bruce and the guy I closed the deal with at Philip Morris I couldn't believe that a software salesman could be honest, ethical and technically adept. But when I got to Arbor, all of them were. It was like night and day. So I gave up my reluctance to be associated with them and it opened up a new world. Besides all that, I was good.

Within 18 months of signing up to Arbor pre-sales, which had now become Hyperion I had managed the trial of the company's biggest deal of the year at 3Com. I became the first guy ever to put Essbase data onto a Palm Pilot and this little bit of magic help close a $2.1 million dollar deal. I can say that I learned a lot about Opus One Cabernet that year. But then that annoying thing called the web was catching up. In 1998, people started to wonder out loud if it made sense to stay in the BI business when all of the money was in e-Commerce. My own boss dropped Hyperion like a rock and jumped over to a company called ePiphany. Sales guys who didn't like their territories after the merger left in droves. Morale was low. Finally, in 1999 we got the OK to start our own e-Business division. My reputation for the Palm and my knowledge of Hyperion's only web enabled products made me a top candidate and I was asked to be employee number 3 in the new division. Now we're getting somewhere.

Hyperion's e-CRM Division, as it came to be known, was a dreamy place. We had the best of both worlds, the backing of a real software company and the appeal of a dot com startup. I was Sr. Business Development Manager (aka WW Product Evangelist), in charge of a group of junior sales reps. My work ethic reached new heights as I travelled the country and to Europe doing high level technical presentations and signing up potential customers based on my explanations of the technologies we were assembling with n-tier analytic applications. I was in the middle of doing a deal with Siebel, IBM and CGE&Y when the parent company pulled the plug on the division. Even though I had sold a half-million worth of software that was still beta, the company didn't see a future in it. Several years later, Siebel would document $147M in Analytic CRM software sales with tech that was inferior to what we had working. Meanwhile I was on the street. It was June of 2001.

I returned to the trenches of subcontracting. But by this time I had a massive back tax bill from some mistakes I made subcontracting the first time. The ups and downs weren't easy but I managed to get work before my severance ran out. It had been a while since I wore the coding geek hat, and man was it comfortable. I put both my feet into the technology. I learned Perl, Javascript and ksh, and had a great deal of fun working the back end. By September 11, I was pure geek. But I was still working W2 for the most part. In 2002 work started getting scarce. I soon found that I had to travel all over the country to get contracts. I ended up being a road warrior with a wife and three kids at home. I worked in Houston and Atlanta before I landed a solid gig close to home. By the summer of 2003 I had 7 contracts and was weary. So I looked to find a high level IT job with a big fat stable company. Universal ran me around for 8 weeks and 5 interviews and then said no. I was broke. Nobody anywhere was offering the kind of salary I needed to pay my tax bill and run my house. I was suddenly in trouble. It took more than 8 months before I got a job again. It was the absolute worst period in my career.

In the fall of 2003 I met a cat named Paul Kosir who invested several thousand dollars in me to keep me eating and train me in a front-end technology called ProClarity. He basically saved me, but not before I did some housepainting and other odd work including working at a test lab. All of this was a desparate new direction but it reinvigorated me into understanding how might work outside of the Fortune 500. So I incorporated and after several near misses I landed my own contract with a mid-market tech company. It was amazing to me that I could bill my high rates at small companies. I was much more of a one man show now.

I worked in this mode for several years and once again enjoyed the ups and downs of life as an independent consultant. Finally, after having enjoyed the ultimate luxury of making $125 an hour just for coding Excel macros, I decided to call it quits. I was bored and tired of the casual lifestyle and determined to do with the technology and experience what I knew could be done. But also part of this was the story of the China Deal, which is a long story itself. The long and short of it was that after the China Deal fell through, I knew without question that I needed to be working with a team I could trust.

So I started back into the fray. It just so happened that as I was moving back into the corporate world I mentioned that there were only two companies that I would consider if I was going to stay in BI and DW. Those two were Knightsbridge and Beacon. Knightsbridge was an excellent consulting group out of Northern Cal who used top notch technologies and have since been acquired by HP. Beacon was the brainchild of my old Arbor buddies and they were top dog in Essbase. It turned out that my headhunter actually represented Beacon which had been sold to Answerthink. I got picked up in relatively short order and was convinced, in coming on board that big things (especially big customers) were in store. That was music to my ears.