Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 1: Dirty Little Secret

Big Oil Is Cool

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Several things changed the un-coolness of Big Oil Company for me on the technology front. The first was the realization that processes, data and databases are not only important, but also way cool. Systems (technical aspects only) are composed of code, processes and data. Of the three, processes and data are more important than code. They represent the real world objects that we are attempting to model. They have a symmetry and a technological elegance all their own.

Relational technology was coming into its own, and Big Oil Company was an early adopter. I was still a geek at heart. I still loved to code. However, the importance of processes, data and databases loomed large. And they would continue to do so after the emergence of object-oriented technology took the industry by storm. Many developers who cut their teeth on PC’s completely missed this part of their education.

The second thing that was very cool was my discovery of the VM/CMS operating system and an IBM scripting language called Rexx. VM/CMS was IBM’s mainframe equivalent of Unix. It was almost entirely command-line-based, and rumor has it that it grew out of the IBM geek community’s personal computing needs.

The purchasing system that I supported ran on VM/CMS based IBM 4381’s onsite, at the refineries. It had a need to communicate with the central MVS-based inventory systems that ran in Houston. It was therefore a distributed system, possessing many of the needs and complexities inherent in today’s distributed systems.

One of the early unfilled needs was a convenient way to download production code (enhancements and bug-fixes) to remote machines. I filled this void by writing a source code control and distribution system entirely in Rexx. This was no small feat, since it involved asynchronous messaging and an event-driven programming model. The combination of Rexx and VM/CMS provided the necessary language and architectural support for the job.

My love affair with Rexx and VM/CMS rekindled a passion for coding, and it allowed me to network with the emerging rogue community of Rexx hackers that were popping up in nooks and crannies of Big Oil Company. My team would later leverage this architecture to develop a completely integrated and distributed EDI system that linked Big Oil Company’s purchasing operations with its strategic vendors nationwide.

About this time (1987), the quality revolution had already taken America by storm. Phillip Crosby was Big Oil Company’s favorite author (Quality is Free , Quality Without Tears ). His books were required reading and distributed to the entire organization as part of an internal quality program. Every employee was a member of at least one quality team. Each team was required to come up with a project that would save Big Oil Company money. The team I was on selected software reusability as our project, primarily because I pushed for it and volunteered to do most of the work.

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