I started work at Big Oil Company in June 1984. I had my suspicions about whether the work there would be cool, but they offered me what seemed like (at the time) more money than I ever thought I would make. Cool be damned! I took the job! Before my first real assignment at Big Oil Company, I attended an eight week on-the-job-training program in COBOL I & II, JCL, TSO, and Mark IV. Mind numbingly, boring stuff, but I was getting paid to learn, and that was cool.
My first assignment was supporting procurement systems. I was more than a little disappointed to find myself in support. Didn’t they know I was a developer? However, this assignment turned out to be a great experience for me, and it provides some of my early anecdotes.
It didn’t take me very long to figure out that developers (support or otherwise) were, at best, second-class citizens at Big Oil Company. The real talent was headed for the management ranks. This technology stuff was something you just had to get through along the way. It was kind of like surviving boot camp. Don’t get me wrong, I had nothing against moving up, getting a bigger office, making more money, wearing nicer clothes, etc. (Business casual was still many years off.) The only problem I had was that I liked the technology stuff.
I knew that there was a fork looming down the road, and like Yogi Berra, I would take it. The fact that people were only tangentially rewarded for technical skills was not that big a deal, from a business perspective, when you lived in a more or less technically stable world where IBM always provided the answers to your questions. IBM would even answer questions that you hadn’t thought of yet.
Needless to say, the technology world did not remain stable for very long. IBM did not have all the answers. Everyone had a need to get smarter, especially the folks that were responsible for the technology. However, reward systems and organizational cultures utterly failed to recognize this fact, and still have not caught up more than 15 years later.