Tuesday, September 08, 2009

28th Anniversary of My Brilliant Career

Well, today marks the 28th anniversary of my brilliant, post-business school career.

Sure, I had worked before I went to Sloan, but those jobs were just jobs, paychecks, line-items on a hapless résumé heavy on oddities (boot polisher in a shoe factory) and glorified nothingness.

On September 8, 1981, I had an MS degree in management, and an ideal job: it was in Cambridge, the people were brainy, the company was funky, and it paid $30K, which was the median salary for my graduating class. So what if I had not yet heard the term 'career trajectory', or maybe even 'career path.' I had a business degree. From a Top Ten-nish B-School, no less. Mattered not that I had no idea what I was going to be doing, other than "something" to do with "consulting."

I'd got me a career!

Unfortunately, I'd neglected to ask what the hours were. Since every job I'd ever had was an 8 o-clock-ish kind of deal, I showed up at 8 a.m., only to find the doors locked and the lights off.

By 9 a.m., someone had shown up, and I was shown to my office, which I was to share with someone who was quite hard working and intelligent. Unfortunately, he was also a control freak obsessive-compulsive who no one wanted to work for. A few scant years later I was to be the target of a mildly threatening poison-pen letter (or, rather, poison e-mail) sent to the company's president. Without naming names - his or mine - the e-mail attacked me for getting ahead while people with far superior technical skills were languishing as individual contributors. 

My ex-office mate - he was my "ex" by then - never admitted that he'd sent the note.

However, the tone, language, and details - not to mention some of his past history, as well as the flat out fact that no one else who could have provided those details had the technical acuity to use our mainframe e-mail system to send an anonymous e-mail - combined to make a dead giveaway. When I was shown the note, I knew immediately who'd sent it, as did the company president and the HR manager.)

No wonder he was so ticked off.

At the time the note was sent, I was clawing my way up the managerial ladder/totem pole: I had all of one person reporting to me. And I was also the only woman in the company with a window office.

At the time the note was sent, the company was a few short weeks from imploding, and having its remnants sucked up into the company that had acquired us shortly before I'd joined.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

On Day One, once I was shown into my office, I asked around for a Sloan alum who was supposed to be in our group.

He was nowhere to be found.

"Where's A?" I asked one of my fellow consultants.

"Oh, he was fired so that they could hire you," I was told.

So that's what the hiring manager said when he told me that he'd "found the money in the budge to hire you."

I was given two large volumes of documentation for XSIM, the company's mainframe forecasting and modeling language, to study up on. The tomes each weighed about 50 pounds, were covered in tan leatherette with gold lettering, and were the heft of a Gutenberg Bible.

With nothing better to do, I paged through the documentation - Volume One: Commands; Volume Two: Functions, in hopes that, when I did get a project, I would at least know where to look to figure out what to do with it. (XSIM was how us consultants created the models that our behemoth corporate giant customers - AT&T, GE Capital  -  paid us big bucks to develop and run for them. Ah, the world of time-sharing, the cloud computing of its day!)

I was told that, until I got on a modeling project, I was to fill in my time slips with "GNA" - whatever GNA was. It took me a few weeks for someone to tell me that I was supposed to be writing G&A (for General & Administrative tasks).

But I wasn't on G&A  - or GNA - for long.

By Day Two, I'd already absorbed the prevailing sense of the corporate culture - "we" loathed the company that had acquired us; "we" felt that we'd all been screwed by the buyout; "we" openly and vociferously sneered at the stunning incompetence and trickery of senior management. (Sample: a paper bag tacked to the wall in a public area with "manage your way out of this" scrawled on it. Did I mention that I was soooooo happy to be working with all these brainy people?)

On Day Three, I was asked to help out on a project, writing reports for Libby Owens Ford.

After spending eight hours creating reports - which were all variations on a theme - a row changed here, a column added there, redo some headers - the project manager asked how many I'd completed.

He was delighted when I told him that I'd almost gone through his entire list.

He was less delighted when he asked what I'd come up with for a naming convention.

Naming convention? Say what?

I'd called them all LOF for Libby Owens Ford.

Thus, on my first non-GNA day, I had nothing but one report to show for 8 hours sweating over a hot terminal. (That day, I gave new meaning to the words 'dumb terminal.')

In the end, I stayed at that company (or its parent) for almost six years, learning tons, and making some of my closest friends.

I can't say I loved every moment. (In fact, I left in a huff, ticked off at my boss  - a genuine nice guy - for a temporary lapse into jerk-dom.) But I did love most of it. Unlike those folks who learned everything they needed to know in kindergarten, I can say that I learned pretty much everything I needed to know about business at Dynamics Associates - what makes a company tick, what makes a company work, how to treat employees well, how to treat employees poorly, how to manage a product, how to manage a project, how and when to communicate to customers, managers, fellow employees, underlings, etc., etc., etc.  I learned through a combination of observation - and screwing things up on my own. Both excellent teachers, by the way.

Twenty-eight years ago!

I just looked up the gift idea for a twenty-eighth anniversary.

Oddly, it's orchids, which is what my old office-mate and his wife raised for a hobby.

For the heck of it, I googled him. He's on LinkedIn and is interested in hearing from people who want to get back in touch.

Well, I doubt I'm one of them, but you never know.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary to Me.


Padmanaban said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

&Statespace was my favorite. Next to &poolreg

Maureen Rogers said...

Hey, anonymous. Nice to hear from a fellow Dyanmics alum. Who else would know about poolreg?

MikeH of NH said...

Finally came in from the cold. My favorite was &this, which SW Bell did not appreciate.

In any case, fortune has smiled on us, as we have saved entirely for retirement.

Assuming a two week life expectancy...

Maureen Rogers said...

I almost said "is that you, Holdo" when I typed my earlier comment. Give me a shout - maureenrog@gmail.com - I'd love to catch up.