20 Years at the Day Job

Last week, I started receiving congratulatory messages from folks I’m connected to on LinkedIn. They were congratulating me on the fact that this month, I’m have my 20 year anniversary at the day job. It reminded me of that fact, and indeed, this Friday, October 17, 2014, will be exactly 20 years since my very first day on the job with my current company.

I understand that these days, it is pretty rare for someone to work at the same job for 20 years, especially someone in IT. I’ve had people tell me that they are amazed by this, and I’ve had people tell me it is the worst possible thing that you can do in IT. I happen to fall into the former camp: I am rather amazed that I’ve been with the company for 20 years. But I’m even more amazed at how quickly that 20 years has flown by, and all that has happened during that time.

I started with the company just shy of four months after graduating from the University of California, Riverside, fresh with a degree in political science. Naturally, I went into IT. When I started, the position that I applied for was called a “Microcomputer Support Consultant” and don’t let the “consultant” part fool you. It is not what we call consultants today. Basically, my job was to work on the corporate help desk (I’d never even heard the term “help desk” at the time) and fix people’s computer problems. When I started I’d never used email before, had no idea what the “web” was, and had no experience with networking. I learned quickly.

For the first few months, it seemed pretty touch and go, and I can remember thinking that maybe this wasn’t the right job for me. But I stuck it out. I had a pretty good first year, and things got better. By 1998 I’d become an IT manager and continued in that role through Y2K and until about 2002 or so. 2002 was probably my peak in terms of sheer success. I was on the fast track at that point, and when time came to announce the company’s annual President’s Award, I discovered, much to my amazement, that I was a recipient.

I worked my first 8 years for the company in southern California. But I’d wanted to come back east for some time. In the summer of 2002, I had the opportunity to do that, and I’ve been in the Virginia office ever since. Not longer after I moved, I changed career paths. I went from being an IT manager to being a software developer. I’d burned out on the management side, and needed a break from the politics. I learned that there’s a lot of politics in software development, too, but as I was the only person on my team in the Virginia office (and still am today) I could avoid a lot of it.

It’s also amazing to realize how many people have come and gone in the time that I’ve been working for the company. I lived through the Dot Com boom, and the bust afterward. I lived through Y2K, and 9/11, and two government shutdowns. I have a mousepad in my office that I got back in 1995 or so, and it has photos of a bunch of us who worked on the help desk back then. Here it is, and you can see the 23-year old version of me circled on that mousepad:

Mousepad

Of all of the faces that appear on the mousepad, only mine and one other are still at the company. I’m in regular contact (via Facebook or email) with four others. Two people on the mousepad have died in the time since the photos were taken.

When I started at the company, on that very first day on October 17, 1994, I was given a desktop computer in my office. It was a Windows 3.1 machine with an Intel 386 processor, 16 MB of memory (which was an astonishing amount for 1994) and a 40 MB hard drive. Twenty years later, I have a Dell Laptop running Windows 7, with 8 GB of RAM and a 300 GB hard drive. Times change.

For me, the Golden Age was the years 1997-2001. The Dot Com boom was in full swing. My career was in high gear. I got my pilot’s license during that time, as way of reducing stress. I worked long hours back then, arriving at the office at about 5:30 am, and sometimes not leaving until 8 pm, in order to avoid the horrendous L.A. traffic. We had a great team during those years, and we did a lot of good stuff. The camaraderie during that time was unlike any other time I’d experienced, and I occasionally turn a nostalgic eye on those days and wish things could be like that again.

But they can’t. People evolve and so do companies and organizations within then. When I started in 1994, “IT” was not even a buzzword. Today, IT is one of the biggest players in the service industry. Companies can’t live without IT. It is become very process-driven, and that has its pluses and minuses. Truth be told, I prefer the days when the processes were less formal, and the quality of service to internal customers was the priority. There was a lot more personal interaction, and I think people felt like really cared about helping them.

I was 22 years old when I started at the company. 20 years is a significant milestone only because it is a round number, a multiple of 10. For me, a bigger milestone is 22 years, which will come on October 17, 2016 The reason this is a more significant milestone for me is that is marks the day on which I have spent half my life working at the same company. Half my life!

I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t generally like what I did. Mostly, it is the people I get to work with that keeps me at the job. That, and the fact that, even after 20 years, I am still learning new things almost every day.