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Free at last, free at last. God Almighty, I'm free at last.
Modified from an old spiritual
When I told my father that I planned to become a computer programmer, he was not thrilled. He said that computers were a passing fad and that I would have no future in that career. Pop suggested that I become a school teacher: "It's a well-respected profession that pays well." He just could not see the real future of either teaching or computers.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***Attending UCLA in the early 1960s was quite different from today.
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I wrote disposable code for professors in the Institute to support their research in such areas as cosmology, seismology, and climatology. I would develop a program using the numerical analysis I had just learned, run it, and give the results to the professor. He would write a paper that would then be published in some scientific journal; sometimes I even saw my name listed in the acknowledgements. Often, I would teach the graduate students in the Institute how to do their own programming for their doctoral research, and I then helped them to debug the programs they wrote. The work was interesting and varied. The work also gave me time to attend non-classroom lectures and cultural events. I met two Nobel laureates and an astronaut (before the time of the space shuttle when all the U.S. astronauts could fit around a single table for dinner).
During this time, I finally graduated with a BA in mathematics (early 1964), got married (late 1964), and bought a house (mid-1965). While the work and environment were excellent, the pay at UCLA was not. When the professor who supervised me (the science advisor to President Lyndon Johnson) announced that he was leaving UCLA to take a position in the federal government, he informed me that I would be reassigned to another professor. I realized, however, that working at UCLA was a luxury that I could no longer afford. So I quit academe to work in industry.
At CAI, I worked with a team of programmers, developing software packages for the U.S. Navy. Some of the work was appalling, involving casualty estimates in nuclear warfare; but, having made a commitment to the task before fully understanding it, I clenched my jaw and completed my assignments. The work at CAI was not all so morbid; I worked on the software for the Voyager satellite project long before that satellite was launched. I also made a significant enhancement to a computer simulation of the competition between automobile dealers for the Ford Motor Company.
One day, I was assigned to a task that would require me to work six days a week, 10 hours a day, for a number of months. The location was approximately 60 miles from my home. I made the trip once. On the way home, a tractor-trailer jackknifed right in front of me in a freeway interchange. When I refused to make the trip again, I was called disloyal and asked to resign. About one or two years later, "creative bookkeeping" sent CAI into bankruptcy, liquidation, and oblivion.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***In the history of computers, SDC should be remembered as the one company that established computer programming as a distinct discipline. Before SDC, the only persons who programmed computers were the engineers who designed and built them.
When I started at SDC, it was a non-profit corporation. To consume embarrassing profits, the company provided generous employee benefits. Besides excellent health insurance, I received three weeks paid vacation at the end of my first year. Mail was delivered and picked up at my desk (not at a mail station in the hallway) twice each day. Coffee in the coin-operated machines was subsidized.
Competitive pressures forced SDC to convert to a for-profit company at the end of 1969. Through a series of complicated transactions, "old" SDC sold its business and name to "new" SDC, for which "new" SDC paid "old" SDC with stock. "Old" SDC then became the System Development Foundation.
However, the federal Internal Revenue Code does not allow a foundation to own controlling interest of a for-profit corporation for more than ten years. Three times, the Foundation was on the verge of a public offering of its SDC stock; and three times, the deals collapsed. Finally, with the ten-year deadline very near, the Foundation and "new" SDC found a buyer: Burroughs.
Shortly after Burroughs bought SDC, SDC employees were required to view a video tape presentation by the Burroughs CEO. In it, he asserted that SDC had a solid reputation for integrity and quality. When advising the Pentagon on technical issues relating to a military procurement, SDC could be trusted to be objective. This reputation had a tangible value, and Burroughs was not going to destroy that value. Instead, Burroughs was committed to preserving the autonomy of SDC.
That commitment did not last six months. Sic transit gloria mundi.
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For over 24 years, I worked in the same department on the same project through a series of non-competitive contracts with the U.S. Air Force. Other companies with contracts to develop software for controlling space satellites for the Air Force would deliver their products to SDC, where we performed independent testing and verified that software components from different contractors all fit together. We also performed system engineering tasks, audited tests performed by software developers, wrote user manuals, and conducted user training classes. We did everything except write the software itself.
The friendships I made with my coworkers endures. Although SDC no longer exists, an informal alumni association existed. Less than four months after I retired, Evelyn and I attended another of several excellent reunions of ex-SDC employees. Unfortunately, that group now seems defunct.
During my later years at what was finally Unisys, the work environment became abusive if not outright illegal.
*** Begin Left Sidebar ***During my last year or so at Unisys, there were so many layoffs across our entire division that there were too few employees remaining in Human Resources to process further layoffs. Some employees who were notified orally that they were to be terminated were still working there six months later, not because there really was work for them but because of the backlog in Human Resources.
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When Burroughs bought out Sperry Univac to create Unisys, the combined companies had over 120,000 employees. When I retired (2003), Unisys employed only 36,400; today (2008), the company employs 31,500.
At that time, SAIC was an employee-owned company. When I went to work there (testing software for a major upgrade of a military space satellite system), I expected to find a family environment where the worker-owners looked out for each other. Instead, I found an "every man for himself" environment. When a project ended, managers and senior employees had financial incentives to avoid helping newer employees find other positions within the company.
When we completed our project, I indicated a willingness to relocate, to work on another project for SAIC elsewhere. However, when I requested relocation reimbursement for such a move, the company classified me as "unwilling to relocate". Thus, I was laid-off. But I had already started looking for employment outside of SAIC.
At the same time I received an offer from Omnikron, I also received a much better offer from Lockheed-Martin. However, the latter required that I relocate to the Silicon Valley area. (About this time, I had The Job Interview from Hell.) The closer I got to accepting Lockheed-Martin's offer, the worse my stomach felt with the thought of leaving my home and the community I love. I negotiated a higher offer from Omnikron and went to work there.
When I started, the company had three lines of business: technical recruiting, developing very large database systems (data warehousing), and independent software testing (which was my area). My assignment was to test the implementation of a data warehouse system Omnikron was developing for Transamerica Financial Services.
I should have suspected trouble immediately when the owner told me he was taking a risk hiring me; he generally never hired people whose primary experience was with military systems. In my first week, he chewed me out for my appearance: I was not wearing a suit with a long-sleeved white shirt and tie. Not only had I never worn a suit at work before (after more than 30 years of experience) except in formal meetings, but I had also followed his own example (golf shirt and casual slacks). I had dressed better than the example of our on-site manager at Transamerica, who wore jeans and a sport shirt when he interviewed me. At least I was wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt (no tie) and dress slacks. What no one explained to me was that the owner had a different dress code for the company's own office than for customers' offices and that I was interviewed at Transamerica on a casual Friday. (I had never worked in an environment that had casual Fridays; previously — and subsequently — in my career, every day was casual.)
Technically, the problems were worse than the clothes I wore. I was tasked to test a system for which no requirements existed — not even a list of planned capabilities. I was also supposed to test the result of translating the prior system's database into the new system's database, but no one had a current description of the databases (old or new).
The Transamerica work had been contracted through pure luck, through a personal contact of the owner. This contact called the owner to offer the work; the owner did not solicit the work. Omnikron had neither sales nor marketing personnel to obtain new work. Finally, when Transamerica hired a new chief financial officer who wanted to set a new direction, the work evaporated. I was the first tester laid-off but not the only one. The entire business line of independent software testing was abandoned. Omnikron has changed its lines of business at least twice since I left.
After about three months of unemployment, I interviewed for a job at TRW. (I wrote some time ago about the Recruiting Mistakes Made by Employers. TRW made none of those mistakes.) One or two weeks later, a manager called me from TRW and asked me how much the company would have to offer for me to accept. Thinking that the commute would be horrendous but needing a paycheck, I named a figure only slightly higher than what Lockheed-Martin had offered a year earlier, definitely higher than anything I had ever earned. I wanted to be compensated for the trauma of my commute. TRW mailed me a written offer that was $2,000 higher than what I had asked!
My four assignments during the six years I was at TRW and Northrop Grumman all involved testing software for various military space satellites. The government abruptly cancelled the first project, and TRW managers scrambled to reassign everyone. The government changed the scope of the second project and eliminated the need for testing for a year; again TRW reassigned me. (This was definitely not SAIC!) As all work for my third project slowly migrated to another state, all I had to do was ask; I was again reassigned.
If you read this carefully, you might soon realize that — aside from the Ford Motor project at CAI (two months) and my entire time at Omnikron (seven months) — my pay always came from the United States Treasury. No, I never worked for the federal government. My salary at UCLA came from National Science Foundation and NASA grants. My salaries at CAI (other than the Ford work), SDC-Unisys, SAIC, and TRW all came from Department of Defense contracts.
Regarding my employment at Unisys, SAIC, and Omnikron:
Living well is the best revengeI am indeed living well.
George Herbert 
No, I did not leave Northrop Grumman because of the work. (I hardly knew what working for Northrop Grumman would be like. When I retired, most of the prior TRW employee policies and practices were still in effect.) Except possibly when I worked at UCLA, TRW was the most positive employment experience I had. My coworkers were friendly. My managers were technically competent as well as being good leaders. The company as a whole treated me as a valued professional. TRW recognized that a salaried employee was not paid by the hour. As a professional, I was never threatened with the loss of pay for not putting in a full day of work. (I have heard (2007) that Northrop Grumman does not treat its employees as well as they were under TRW.)
No, it was neither the work nor the work environment that caused me to retire. The primary cause was the commute from Hell. It was not unusual for my 42 mile trip home in the evening to take 2 or 2.5 hours (an average speed of 20 miles per hour or less). Also, after chasing bits and bytes for almost 41 years, I was tired of having to do things that others told me to do. And I had finally accumulated sufficient retirement funds that I could afford to retire.
My wife said, "Whatcha doin today?"
I said, "Nothing."
She said, "You did that yesterday."
I said, "I wasn't finished."
Contributed by my brother
Enjoying too much not reporting to any manager, I quickly abandoned any thought of seeking even part-time employment. However, I seem to be as busy retired as I was when working.
The first thing on my agenda was a trip to Canada to visit our daughter Heather in Saskatoon. We spent over three weeks traveling by train, up the Pacific coast of the U.S. and then across Canada. We planned a trip and had an adventure.
Until Evelyn retired early in 2006, I cooked dinner many nights and even helped with grocery shopping. I emptied waste baskets and sometimes did my own laundry. Even with Evelyn now retired, I continue cooking and helping around the house.
Some days I spend 2-3 hours in the garden; some days I don't garden at all. I read magazines and books, but not as much as I had planned. I spend too much time at my PC.
In 2003, I volunteered for four hours per week with OPEN, helping the unemployed use computers to prepare résumés and search for jobs. But the work I was doing was then assigned to paid Ventura County staff who would otherwise be laid-off. I also did some work setting up the used-book store at the Oak Park Library.
I spent about 3-5 hours a week attending to the affairs of the Community Foundation for Oak Park, for which I was President until I finally retired in February 2008 after 17 years in that unpaid position. I still remain a member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees.
I'm a docent twice a week at Gardens of the World.
In July 2005, I was sworn as a member of the 2005-2006 Ventura County Grand Jury. A year later, I was reappointed to the 2006-2007 Ventura County Grand Jury. While they paid me, the per-diem stipend — initially $20 per day and then increased to $25, less than minimum wage when I was involved 4-5 hours a day — almost qualified this as volunteer service. California law prohibits a grand juror from serving more than two consecutive years, so I was discharged in July 2007. I could apply for service in a later year, but this involved a very serious commitment of time and effort that I don't want to make again.
Evelyn and I go out to dinner and even an occasional movie during the week, leaving the weekend crowds to others. I would also like to take Evelyn to lunch, but our busy schedules generally make that impossible.
For a while, I took my mother to lunch or breakfast about once a month. This ended when Mom's dementia became more pronounced.
I played bridge when I was a student (1960s) and when I worked at SDC (1970s). I decided to refresh my knowledge of this very mental card game and started taking lessons in 2007. I began playing duplicate bridge regularly in 2008.
In 2009, we joined the Ventura County Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). I was soon made Membership Secretary.
Also in 2009, I was appointed to the Big8 Usenet Management Board, which controls the creation and deletion of newsgroups on the Internet.
Being with my grandchildren — Dakota (13) and Luc (2) — will of course occupy some of my time. I hope to have occasional visits from my granddaughter Sydney (1), who lives in Canada.
Originally, I described here how I invested for retirement. That included "Investments", "Social Security", "Unisys Pension", "Leave Some for the Children", and "But How Much Money Do I Need?". I have moved all that content to Financing My Retirement.
30 June 2003
Last updated 11 January 2010