MY BACKGROUND IN TECHNOLOGY
My I.T. career was largely accidental. It was launched and based on a love for technology and solving problems.
It still is.
HAIR METAL & APPLE BASIC
Okay, probably more classic rock & Rush but there was some Scorpions & Bon Jovi thrown in there as well.
It was 1983-ish. A high-school friend (Mike, this is you) was in one of the first programming classes offered in an LAUSD high-school. We had an Apple IIe computer and he showed me a simple program he had written.
It prompted you to enter your name and then, once entered, displayed the name in large flashing letters on the screen.
After he showed me the code, I sat down and started going through his textbook, "Basic Apple Basic." I began modifying the code. A few months later I'd written a horrifically inefficient database to track my books. But it worked.
I had a LOT of books. My goal in life was to become a writer. I had NO aspirations to build code or move into technology. I really knew nothing about it. But programming and technology came fairly easy to me. Plus it was utilitarian. I rarely played games on the computer - still don't - although, back in 1983, I spent a few all nighters playing Lode Runner.
Building utilitarian tools to help me made technology and programming pretty fun!
A year or two later, my father bought our first 286 computer. I ended up with a copy of dBase III and re-wrote my library/book tracking software on that platform. It was a FAR better system than what I'd previously written.
Learning programming & technology was a combination of books and bulletin boards. Who remembers BBS systems?
I still had no thoughts of technology as a profession.
THE BLUE CROSS YEARS
In 1989 I was hired by Blue Cross of California as a Data Entry Clerk.
I could type pretty fast. I started teaching myself to type in Elementary School to compensate for my illegible penmanship. My penmanship has gotten worse, my typing is still solid (60 to 80 WPM).
While doing data entry I started seeing opportunities to streamline what I was doing. We were entering data into a Clipper (xBase) custom software system. I found that I could batch certain commands to run various modules without requiring my input. This streamlined what I did. The guy developing the system worked in an office next to ours. He took a little time to show me some of what he was doing. Having developed in dBase III, I could see the similarities with Clipper.
I picked up a copy of Clipper and started learning it. At the same time, the developer took a vacation. While he was gone, one of the directors on the floor came into our area. He needed a report showing the status of various cost reports. Cost reports are what we were entering and tracking in the Clipper application.
My boss was at a loss. She explained that he would have to wait until the developer returned the following week.
"I think I can get that for you."
Both of them looked at me with some skepticism. I explained that I knew the database and could get the data out using dBase code. I wasn't ready to do anything in Clipper.
The next morning I delivered a VERY RUDIMENTARY report with the data he needed.
I spent the rest of my time in that department creating reports for management. It familiarized me with working with data and offered me a little practice in writing code.
NOTE: I still had no idea I would to technology professionally.
DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY, SPREADSHEETS & DATABASES
A month or two later I saw a job posting that looked interesting. The title was something like, "Database Reporting Clerk". The only software listed that I had experience with was Symphony, a DOS based spreadsheet program that I'd written a few basic macros in.
I applied for the job and was rejected due to my lack of experience with the software listed in the job posting.
Undaunted, I asked around, got the department's Director's name and called her.
I told her some of my background and that I wanted to interview for the job. She asked me to submit my job requisition. I explained that I had and that it had been rejected. But I emphasized that I was 100% positive I could do the work.
She told me she would pull my requisition from HR.
She did and I interviewed with her and one of her supervisors. During the interview I offered to come work for them for free for one month - no obligation.
They explained that they couldn't do that. They told me that they had a few more interviews and would be making their decision in the next two weeks.
When I returned to my desk, my phone rang. It was the Director. I was offered the job and I accepted.
My first week with my new department involved flying up to San Ramon, just inland from San Francisco, to learn their document assembly system from the person currently supporting it. I had been very sick for the prior week or so but did not feel it prudent to miss my first day on the new job.
Three days later I was flying home with what I believed to be a bad flu. Two days later I had an emergency appendectomy. My appendix had been burst for several days.
My recovery took 6 weeks and included a Demerol induced call to my new boss at 6am. I told her I would be back in two weeks. She told me to go back to bed.
When I finally went to work for Contracts Administration, they had a crude document assembly system built in Word for DOS 4.0. Over a couple months I rebuilt the system, making it faster and far simpler for the user.
I then built my first Clipper application, transforming a flat file tracking system where I entered everything, into a distributed multi-user database where the contract analysts I worked with entered their own tracking information.
This system would then be modified to generate the documents, sending data to Word for DOS (5.0??). Eventually, Windows hit the world and the system was moved to Word for Windows and the Visual-Basic for Applications pre-cursor, Word Basic.
JOB OFFERS I REJECTED AND CONSULTING
Over the next 6 years I built several iterations of the EOC (Evidence of Coverage) system and the associated contract tracking and reporting. I also built a number of solutions for other departments and executives that were part of Large Group Sales & Underwriting.
My boss, the Director I'd originally interviewed with, gave me a LOT of leeway in building technologies. She was super-demanding but also gave me a LOT of credit. My personality garnered some notoriety.
I loved innovating and building solutions. This fact was not lost on others in the company.
Between 1992 and 1995, I was offered a couple different jobs in the I.T. department - specifically as a Clipper developer.
However, I also knew that I was going to leave Blue Cross to start consulting at some point. I'd made that decision back in 1992 when a local company hired me to develop a database for them in the evenings and on weekends.
My role in my current department allowed me to meet with vendors, company executives, provide training to users, and work across multiple disciplines. Plus I was treated a little like a rogue, hero, pirate - meaning, I ran pretty free. I turned down those developer jobs because I felt the current environment was a consulting boot camp. I would take less pay and spend my time learning everything I could.
In 1995, my boss spoke at a electronic document assembly conference in Texas. I had built her presentation slides, outlining our current document assembly system.
During the presentation, she was asked how long it took I.T. to build the solution and how they supported it. She told them that I.T. hadn't built it, someone on her staff had. Apparently, she mentioned my name.
She spoke on Thursday morning. Thursday afternoon I received a call from a head-hunter representing a LARGE law firm based in Los Angeles. I was offered a 1 year contract.
When my boss returned to work on Monday, I handed her my resignation letter.
I was a now a consultant!
FROM DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY TO DATA ANALYTICS
I worked for the law firm, building document assembly systems and other automation for six months. I was then offered two additional contracts and left the law firm. They would remain a client on and off for a few years.
Initially, the bulk of my consulting work was building document assembly for insurance companies and law firms. It was an easy fit and still is to this day.
However, on many projects, clients struggled with disparate databases, data kept in spreadsheets, and financial analysts tasked with bringing that data together.
I started building reporting systems - automating the aggregation, presentation, and distribution of financial data.
A RETURN TO WRITING
In 1999 I had a small consulting company. We built web-based databases, primarily Microsoft ASP & SQL Server.
I'd written a few white papers but was missing writing. On a fluke I wrote a couple FREE articles for a local paper. Both were published and I was asked to write a few more.
Then I wrote an attitude heavy piece titled, "Why Technologists Must Learn to Speak Business." I submitted the article to, "California Technology Magazine."
To my pleasant surprise, the editor called me a week later and told me they were going to run my article as the cover of three of their publications. He asked whether I could write a monthly career article and voila, I was now a professional writer.
My next article was a piece on scripting with Kixstart, a login script processor for Windows networks. It was published in Microsoft's Scripting Journal. This led to several other articles about automation technology and careers.
Eventually, I would write, "The I.T. Career Builder's Toolkit." After turning down one publishing deal, due to how long before they would publish it, I self-published the book.
I sold a few copies and one of them was purchased by, Mary Beth Ray, a former executive editor (now Yoga instructor) with Cisco Press. She contacted me and, ultimately, offered me a publishing deal. This would lead to my next book, "Building Your I.T. Career" published by Pearson.
Note: Cisco Press was an imprint of Prentice Hall - which is also part of Pearson.
This is one of my most exciting and proud professional accomplishments. Being recognized by a top big name publisher is gratifying. Finding your book on the shelf at bookstores and libraries is a rush. Being asked to speak for colleges and professional organizations isn't bad either.
TODAY & BEYOND
Most of my work revolves around helping clients find innovative ways to manage and report on their data. I still build document assembly systems, automated reporting systems, and other tools to streamline how my clients work.
I'm also developing a couple software products - specifically some tools to help with Google Workspace Security and a prototype of a CRM - because every CRM is miserable. 😉
If you got this far, you have too much time on your hands. Also, thank you. I hope you found it interesting and that it provides some insight into my background.