Sometimes I think back on my career path and it’s a bit…. meandering. I love what I do but how I got here was more luck than judgement. Still, in the style of Marvel’s WhatIf? there were a few key points where things could have gone in a very different direction…
Getting Games To Run Also Got Me My First Job
I left University with the same goal as I had going in; a vague “something with computers” without any real knowledge of what they could entail. I didn’t really want to program (which was what my University course was all about) so after a few weeks looking I found a job advertised for a role in an IT department and went for an interview.
It went well; when the subject of the Internet had come up I’d admitted I’d been “into JANET” and as one of the women on the team was named Janet that managed to derail any serious discussion for the majority of time slot.
On the technical front it was going to involve a lot of getting bits of software working on that new-fangled Windows 3.1. Due to the memory manager in DOS, that could be a bit of black art. Luckily, I’d cut my teeth trying to eke every last Kilobyte out of HIMEM.SYS to get various games working. Because a) it was cool and b) I was lazy I’d scripted it all with a menu system so once I’d figured it out once I didn’t need to do it again.
And that’s what I spent the first few months of my working life doing on people desktops while trying desperately to learn all the day-to-day working practices from the team YTS student.
My first workplace had it’s business built around old mainframes. That new-fangled Windows NT had just come out though and the development people wanted to experiment with the new shinies. I’d got a bit of experience with NT and Windows but there was a project to move people to the new messaging system Microsoft had brought out; Exchange 4.0.
The department had a policy of having at least two people familiar with any tech so when one of the two people with Exchange knowledge resigned the department head asked for volunteers. I leapt forward waving my hands in the air “Me me me me me me!” as everyone else took a giant step back.
It seems I’d volunteered for a poison chalice 😀
I’d got some experience with email servers on UNIX but Exchange was very fresh-of face (no Internet connector! X400 everywhere!). As tough as it was to pick up and deploy it relied on everything to work well so I got immersed in NT, Directory Services (the Exchange Directory was what Active Directory was based on), DNS, Networking, Firewalls, MIME, Email Routing, The Internet etc etc.
A trial by fire but I learned loads.
Falling Into Consultancy
The first two companies I worked for went through rounds of redundancy (they’re never pleasant but doing it from the IT side was grim as you were the one locking people out the day before…).
As is typical in these situations the companies tried to cut costs by letting some of the best people go and as this was the 90’s loads of them marched straight into start-ups.
Often the first thing these companies needed was an Email server and Directory Services. Luckily, they knew a guy!
So I started doing more and more of this work out of hours, away from my day job. At some point, I realised I could do this for a living….
Training my Way To Amsterdam
I’d been doing a bit of contracting and I saw an interesting advert for people to come in to run training courses on Exchange. It sounded interesting (I’d always fancied being a teacher!) so I signed up and got accepted. After being taught some rudimentary social skills (“Don’t stare at people! Don’t point at people! Don’t shout! Don’t patronise people! You’re done, good luck!”) I did a few of the training courses.
It was fun but pretty stressful the first few times I did it (lots of balls to keep in the air). I did meet the writer of the course and we got on really well. I only did a few courses and soon I went on to other things.
Later though the course writer got in touch saying he was working on a big project in Amsterdam and would I like to come and help? The project was massive, with lots of people from all the big consultancy companies involved so I leapt at the chance.
I worked over there for 3 months and had a great time (Holland is brilliant). They rented an apartment for me a short walk from work and even paid for my family to come and stay with me.
My oldest child was only one then and we missed our home so I didn’t stay as long as I could but it was great while it lasted!
I went for an interview for a contract writing the design for a big consultancy. The project they wanted me for was a big one and they needed someone with a lot of Exchange experience. I absolutely nailed the interview and the project looked really interesting so I was really hoping I’d get the job.
But I didn’t 😦
It was quite old-school and I found out later they wanted someone older (who probably had a bit more gravitas in a suit 🙂 ). At the time I didn’t know that and was quite disappointed I didn’t get it.
A few months later my wife was talking to a friend of hers. The friend mentioned her husband having trouble finding an Exchange consultant for a big project they were bidding for. Luckily, my wife recommended me (she’s cool that way) and soon I had an interview at his company for the new role.
It was a young company with a totally different vibe. I got the job and soon I got stuck into the design. It went really well and I helped build A Very Cool Thing.
Where the luck came into it (and I didn’t find out until later) was that both companies had bid on the same project but the customer had handed it to my wife’s friend instead of the first company. So if I’d got the first role the job would probably have dried up.