Friday, May 8, 2015

WYL #14b Jobs and Careers

This is my rewrite of Jobs and Careers. I tried to put more emotion into it, as well as hive off some of the technospeak. I’ve been a bit unfair about some of my dealings with the developers and project managers as there were some that were right on board. Collaborating with these people was fun and saved my sanity (oh wait, I did lose my sanity, perhaps there weren’t enough of them!). Anyway, at the end of the day I loved my job – I must have as I was there for almost 30 years.



As the bus lurched through the traffic, I talked and laughed with my dad pretending that this was a day like any other and that I was used to sitting on the express bus to downtown.  A pounding herd of butterflies crashed in my chest, reminding me that with just a summer job at a boarding kennel I was ill prepared for my first day of work with the government. 

Stepping off the bus and bidding my father adieu, my sweaty hand grasped the slip of paper telling me where to find my new workplace. The instructions seemed strange: get on the west side elevator on the lower floor and press 3. What? West? Lower floor? When I saw that the glass fronted elevators were double-decker the instructions started to make sense and I stepped closer to my future. Checking the paper again, I got off the elevator and turned left.

The tension in my stomach loosened a notch when I saw Mr. Jenkins standing at the end of the hall.  He was my friend June's father. A few weeks earlier June and I had been sitting at her kitchen table sipping tea when her father happened to pass through. I was lamenting my indecision about the next year. I had just turned 19 and had planned a gap year but had no idea what I was going to do. Luckily for me he had sharp ears and an opening for a clerk in the contract he was soon to start with Industry, Trade and Commerce. And so there I was, bewildered in an alien world.

Dressed up in an unfamiliar dress and high heels, I tottered after Mr. Jenkins, trying to figure out what he was saying. The acronyms and technical terms were like Greek to me. But I paid close attention and eventually my pretty little blonde head started to put things together. In fact, I learned this new language remarkably fast, and found what it had to say fascinating. A computer geek was born.

Near the end of the contract I was approached by Jack Drawbridge, the government manager that had initiated the work. He needed someone for a permanent contract and thought I would be good for the job, if I took a typing class. My future was being formed, and the gap year was turning into the first of 30 years. By the way, that typing class has proven to be time well spent as the skills helped me through my whole career, and now, almost more so as I've taken to amusing myself by writing.

Discussions with Jack, pen in hand and any handy scrap of paper between us, schooled me in the principals of data management. I learned how important the data in the application was and that it was crucial to structure it correctly, not doing so might corrupt the application and embarrass the department.  I quickly became a passionate believer and by the time I had a few years under my belt I was an expert in my field. My confidence grew when companies from Toronto and Boston tried to lure me away from Ottawa, providing a warm feeling of validation which boosted my self confidence. It was nice to be valued.

Listening, asking questions, reading and flying by the seat of my pants soon had me engrossed on the software side of the business as well. As the technical environment progressed from COBOL computer programming code on the mainframe to JAVA code on a PC I flourished. I got my kicks from writing programs to input data from an excel file, or creating web pages to dynamically display documentation. It was fun.

While I preferred playing with software, my job ensured that a stream of application developers would darken my office door. They'd sit down and lay out their documentation for me to okay. With a discrete sigh I'd review their half-hearted efforts and point out where changes and improvements were required. I'd had these conversations hundreds of times as the turnstile whirled with new developers, but nothing seemed to change. Fresh out of school they'd think they knew everything and fought with me over every change. They'd be angry when I'd point out that the new field they were adding had already been added on another table, a data corruption waiting to happen. Only by giving meaningful documentation would this be caught, possibly saving the department from a black eye.
I had the same discussions countless times over the years (think blue in the face), but never lost my belief that this was the right thing to do, although at times my shoulders slumped at the weight of conflict.

Sometimes the developer would balk at my changes and escalate our argument up the line. Facing the the project manager, or worse still, the director, I'd stick to my guns, frustrated when forced to concede. More than once those concessions came back to haunt the project, but I'd bite back the "I told you so's".  By the time my retirement rolled around I felt I had done my time and more.

Almost 30 years after sitting at that kitchen table I left my job with mixed feelings: while I was happy that the arguments were over, my blood still rushes when the subject of data management comes up (which it doesn't normally!) and I hope that the people replacing me continue with the same passion that I had.


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