Saturday, March 8, 2008

Some Background

My technology dalliances began with an Apple II+ at school, and a VIC-20 I purchased with my own hard-won paper-route dollars.

The paper route leads me to a tangent.

In the old days (i.e., the 70's and 80's) a child could sell him/herself into contract slavery, whereby they delivered newspapers six or seven days a week, for what amounted to less than minimum wages. Nowadays these first forays into the world of work have been supplanted by adults that scoop up huge delivery areas and pitch papers from their cars, rather than having youngsters pitch them from their bikes. I worked hard for my money, cutting lawns and delivering papers. I learnt important lessons about work and people that have stuck with me always.

So what? So it meant that I very much valued my little Commodore computer. I hooked it up to the family TV (the one and only) and would get my coding sessions in when others weren't wanting to watch a program. My work was saved to the cassette drive, another important lesson in backing up.

I never saw myself as a computer guy as I was using the computer to get other things, mostly to get to games, or to automate some task. My interest was to be able to live off some form of artisitic pursuit, be it writing, drawing (cartoons) or music. I'd dabbled with writing (so-so at it) and drawing (not so good at it) and music (yeesh - don't go there) right up to graduating from high school. I never had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, though I made good marks. I went into university with a mixed bag of courses, including computer programming, English, creative writing, art studio foundation and math. When I discussed this with my father he sat me down and said simply "Todd, you are not going to live at home forever".


So, in the spirit of having to "do something" with what I was learning I did a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics where, again, computers were in there all over the place, but I did not think of myself as a computer guy. I also took all my pre-Commerce courses (organization behavior, various accounting courses, financial math, etc.). I got into geographic information systems (GIS) before I graduated, having a chance during a research project to work with one. When I graduated I had a few choices:
  • Take my Economics degree and get a government job, crunching numbers forever;
  • Continue my education and get a Masters degree, get a government job and crunch numbers forever; or
  • Take a contract working on a GIS for the electrical utility.
I went with the contract.

After the contract ended I realized I needed more technical grounding than I had and pursued a Civil Engineering diploma in GIS, wherein I learnt ferocious amounts about all the things that had been somewhat mysterious up until then, and I learnt C programming. My earlier exposure to Pascal in university saved me from the pointer-madness many of my classmates suffered. I graduated from the program and went to work in the oil and gas industry.

After four years and some contracts that depended upon the price of oil for continued funding I decided to look around for other opportunities less dependent on resource prices. An opportunity knocked and I relocated to Texas for a startup company gig. That experience did not last very long, but I again learnt some very important lessons. After that I tried to make a go of it on my own again but unfortunately chose the wrong market to try and enter. I took a job with Dell to get out of that experiment (again, more lessons learnt) and found out what working for a very large company was like (Dilbert became even more applicable).

I left Dell for the greener pastures of a hedge fund wherein I helped them move their desktop applications to the burgeoning web platform and again got some schooling in human nature and the nature of technology projects. About four and a half years into that I fell victim to some maneuvering and again moved on. A brief foray into retail web apps for Pier 1 was followed by going into the pharmacy processing field. For the last few years that has been my new experience, both in terms of industry and moving from a team lead / senior developer into a management role.

I have approached full-on management (not just team lead / senior) like any other role change I've had. That is, a lot of research, reading and looking for ideas. A lot of my old courses bubbled back up into my consciousness (clawing through the layers of API calls, hacks to get around IE versions and tweaks to make SQL run faster) and have helped. It's been an interesting transition, and part of that experience is why I wanted to start to blog again. I think that managing developers is somewhat different than other direct reports, in particular as it is often harder to measure what's going on, and the conditions for good code to come into existence are very tricky. Maybe getting all the ideas out and working them over will help.

So far, so good.

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