How Did I Get Here?

(a history of my career)

X I started growing up near Scottville, a town of 2,500 people in rural western Michigan. Wayne Hanson, a local high school teacher, received a large grant from the government and suddenly my high school had an IBM 1130 - with a card reader/punch, a Selectric-type console, a printer, and an actual hard disk drive. How rare and wonderful this was in 1969! I immediately became a computer junkie, writing programs (with a pencil) for recreation.

After moving to my mother's home town of Monroe Louisiana in 1973, I picked Northeast Louisiana University (now "University of Louisiana at Monroe") because it was cheap, local, and offered a BBA program in Data Processing. I learned something about accounting and marketing and management while taking all the Computer Science courses as electives. I graduated cum laude in 1978.

One of my professors, Dr. Bob Canterbury, was evolving his side consulting business into a real company. In my senior year, he asked me to come aboard and help, so I became employee number 2 at AIMS, Inc. We worked 60-70 hour weeks routinely, and I learned a lot about starting a small business and about growing a software company. We also had a tremendous amount of fun delivering systems to oil jobbers, medical offices, and other small businesses who'd never used a computer before. I learned how to program in COBOL, how to build for re-use and for later customization, and how to deliver real projects on time for paying customers.

By 1984 I had begun to feel that the computer industry and technology were passing me by. A friend and former employee put me in touch with ISC Systems Corp, a booming home-town company in Spokane. I joined the International Operations group and moved to Spokane in August of 1984. At that time ISC made all the hardware and software for Z-80 based intelligent banking terminal systems programmed in assembly language. They were great terminals, but customers were already starting to demand more.

Over the next few years, I worked as contributor and team leader on a number of international projects. We did foreign currency exchange applications and adapted US retail banking software to practices in different countries. In 1986-87, I spent 6 months co-leading a team in China developing a branch banking system for ICBC Tianjin which converted branches from paper ledger cards. I coded in Z-80 assembly language, making changes to a base product and often significant new developments for customer-specific needs. I also got re-acquainted with Unix, as we used Unix servers to deliver branch processing in China. I learned about international business and how to work with multi-national teams separated by language, great distances and many time zones.

By 1987-88, the company was designing and building new state-of-the-art hardware and software systems with servers and diskless workstations based on Motorola 680x0 processors and Unix with realtime extensions. I played a leadership role on the software side, working with the internals of memory allocation and coding for efficient use of virtual memory in a relational database engine. Here I learned to program in C and continued my education with Unix and shell scripts and started learning Perl as it emerged.

This was a very tough time for ISC, and we all learned some things about massive hardware/software projects. After a number of false starts, we did deliver that new product - Pinnacle Plus - to the market. It began enjoying some modest success, and I became the group leader for the banking application team. We scrambled to accommodate our customers' and salespeople's demands, all the while establishing a track record of delivering quality product on a dependable schedule.

In 1992-93, it became clear to some of us that it was time for a technology change. I helped build the project that convinced the company to take the first step by migrating our software solution to Windows NT and inexpensive commodity PCs.

That bought us some time in the market to take the next necessary step. In 1993-94, I was central to the team which convinced the company to complete the strategic commitment to Windows NT. We began building a new product for the new environment. Management asked "how long?" The team said "twelve months." Management said "Make it six months!" - and so we did. In early 1994, I put together and managed the team which trimmed and re-defined and adjusted and re-scoped and delivered the first release of the "Mosaic OA" product on time - in six months.

In September of 1994, I became the manager of software development for the company, which by now was called Olivetti North America. From then to 1997, we made enhancements and expanded the product and delivered new releases of technology as fast as the company could absorb them.

This was a time of stabilizing and of filling in the gaps, rather than rapid innovation. My development group focused tightly on building a reputation within the company and with our customers for communicating clearly about what we were going to implement, and then delivering product on reliable, dependable schedules. I became convinced that I couldn't manage and program at the same time and do justice to either, so I decided to give up programming work.

Starting in mid-1997, the company renewed commitment to investing in new product R&D to address new, changing market needs. The "Systems and Services" company was split from Olivetti at the end of 1997 and became "Olsy". My team began work on a new generation product.

Around this time, a great friend formed as a hobby, and I tagged along, creating I needed a way to keep some technical and programming skills, and this provided a creative outlet. So I managed to stay fairly current with Unix systems, administering e-mail and Web servers and learning technical stuff in my "spare" time.

Olsy was acquired by the former Wang Laboratories in 1998, and we all became "Wang Global". 1998 was a very eventful year which saw strategic re-investment in our team and our product vision. My role evolved to strategic technology direction and investment in application development, as my well-prepared protege took over day-to-day management of product development. The team presented a very well-received early product at the industry's major trade show (Retail Delivery) in December.

1999 saw another acquisition, this time of Wang Global by Getronics. A re-alignment of management presented the opportunity for me to become Vice President of Software Development. My responsibilities expanded to include Knowledge Management (technical publications and technical training) and the Quality Assurance function, as well as Product Management and of course Software R&D. We continued our multi-year investment in Globalfs, building the famework from our core competency in branch automation and leveraging experience in customer care through partners in Customer Relationship Management.

In January of 2000, a new opportunity came along that I had to take. An exciting local company called Packet Engines, pioneering Gigabit Ethernet and high-speed networking, had been acquired by the French telecom giant Alcatel. Now the post-startup routing-switch company needed a Director of Software Engineering. After 15.5 years, I changed employers and industry segments.

This organization had some challenges making the transition from being a highly visible startup to being a very small outpost of a very big multinational conglomerate. Through the ups and downs and staff turnover, we still managed to deliver 3 very significant software releases and 1 massive hardware-software combined release pretty darned close to the projected schedules. We averaged over 90% achievement of the bonus milestones established by the Technology Development Incentive Program.

In this demanding environment in a very rapidly evolving industry, I had the privelege of working with a hugely talented and capable group of people doing leading-edge engineering. I learned a lot about the networking industry and technologies. Some things are common across very different niches of the computer field - especially the need to plan and manage to deliver quality product on a reliable schedule. Others are more specialized. I was proud to learn enough to contribute and be a co-inventor of "Dynamic Policy Based Routing", US patent pending: Application Number: 10/023,542

However, even the best of products don't last forever - least of all in the fast-changing computer networking field. The slipping economic conditions and "dot-com meltdown" made funding for new R&D too great a challenge for Alcatel to sustain. In August, 2001, Alcatel made a business decision to eliminate the Spokane engineering groups over the following 10-12 months. I agreed to stay on for a couple of months to help with the planning of the "last" product release and to begin the staff ramp-down. As of October 31, 2001, I became self-employed.

In one of those odd "life's a circle" happenings, Robert Canterbury had been thinking about the future of AIMS' products when he read my Christmas letter for 2001. Robert is Bob's son and now President of AIMS, and his plans for the future seemed to line up with my experiences since leaving AIMS, so he phoned me up. I didn't want to move back to Monroe, but didn't object to spending some time there. So I spent almost half my time in Monroe from 2002 through 2006, getting the project going and building a staff, running the massive re-design and re-development project and the add-ons and follow-ups and the first several client installations.

I learned a lot about Microsoft's .NET architecture and framework. I wrote a fair amount of code in Visual Basic .NET and ASP.NET from 2002 through 2007, plus several hundred design documents in the form of HTML and Sharepoint™ pages. My technical contribution is only a small part of the code for this project, which comprises nearly 3 million lines of VB code in the initial release of COMPAS Commander. As of mid 2007, my work on this project was completed and it was time to move on again.

During the summer of 2007, I decided that I should get the PMP certification. I joined the Project Management Institute, attended local chapter meetings, submitted my qualifications to PMI, did the exam prep and self-study. On November 5, I passed the exam. I am now a certified Project Management Professional. From 2009 to 2012, I served on the Board of the PMI's local Inland Northwest Chapter.

In the Spring of 2008, an old friend offered me a sweet telecommuting work-from-home job as Principal Software Developer for a tiny multimedia company near Philadelphia. So I got paid for doing much the same work as my hobby, developing applications in .NET C#, Linux PHP, Flash and other technologies as appropriate for Weatherbee Media's customers.

As sometimes happens with very small companies, Weatherbee Media suffered some difficulties and went out of business in the Fall of 2009. I maintain an ongoing good relationship with David Wetherbee, who's moved on to Big Advertising in the Big Apple.

After a stint managing telephone system rollout and upgrade projects for Cerium Networks, I was recruited by HRG: Healthcare Resource Group. HRG is engaged in healthcare staffing and outsourcing and consulting, on the business-office side. HRG's main line of service is doing coding, billing and collections for hospitals and their attached clinics. My group's work involved a lot of data transfer, ETL, database query and reporting. There were fruitful opportunity for efficiency improvement and management reporting through technology, in a business that started out working from green-bar printouts and green-screen terminal applications.

I served as HRG's Vice President for Information Systems, managing a staff of 9, and finding time to contribute some programming and a lot of design oversight and steering. A great place to work, offering great opportunity to feel good about contributing important and useful service to the communities of clients.

HRG and I parted ways in early 2014, mostly because of differences in perspective with the CEO about priorities and strategic investment in technology. I took a step back, had some elective surgery that I'd been postponing, and ended up taking on a somewhat smaller - though more diverse - role, still around healthcare, at WSU's College of Nursing in Spokane.

At WSU, I consulted with Nursing Faculty, Staff and Students on a wide range of service and support activities around technology and data. I have designed and built a data warehouse consolidating student information from the multiple internal and external systems, the custom ETL processes to feed it, and an MVC C# and JavaScript web app providing front-end access. I served the College of Nursing headquarters campus in Spokane and campuses in Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Walla Walla, and Yakima.

And now I'm retired! As of December 7th, 2022, I've joined the ranks of those with more time than money and nearly infinite discretion in how to spend my time. The only thing I've ruled out is looking for a job :-)

Five Things I'm Good At

  • Figuring out business requirements and translating them into technology applications.
  • Cutting through the fog and getting things done.
  • Building technology teams that use reliable, repeatable methods and practices.
  • Providing excellent customer satisfaction - for several meanings of "customer".
  • Understanding technology and knowing how to separate the important from the merely attractive.