Graham Jones (Surrey, British Columbia, IT Pro)
Having decided that I wanted to work in the IT industry on a full time basis I went back to school at the tender age of 54! If I was going to have a chance I had to get some sort of qualification. I decided to do a “very” intensive 9 month diploma program (a typical 2 year program crammed into 9 months). Boy was that a shock! I hadn’t been in formal education for 33 years. I was in class and project teams with students who were younger (and some considerably less mature) than my own children. In hindsight a more relaxed 2 year program might have been better. However, at 54 you feel like your time is running out fast to achieve some financial security and I also had mouths to feed! It wasn’t that I couldn’t keep up technically or in terms of effort. It was more that I realized later that a 2 year program with a work experience component might have had better industry acceptance. Nonetheless I successfully completed the program which included web design, VB 6, Java and Oracle.
Unfortunately, fate was against me again. I graduated around the time of the “dot bomb” and suddenly the job market was flooded with well qualified, experienced people. What hope did a recent grad with too much grey hair have? It was almost impossible to get an interview and on those very rare occasions that I got past the HR “gatekeeper” I found myself sitting in front of a 30 something manager who had no real appreciation for the wealth of knowledge and experience that was in the skull under the grey hair. It was also apparent that it was incorrectly assumed that I might expect to be paid more because of my age and past senior positions. Then I finally got a stroke of luck. EDS had successfully recruited directly from the school where I had graduated in the past and asked for recommendations. It was clear from the outset that EDS was as much interested in what I could bring from my career as a whole as the fact that I had been a good student at the school. One 1 hour interview and it was all done! I had fully expected all along to be starting near the bottom of the ladder again, a somewhat scary prospect after so many years of working to establish yourself. In keeping with that I was now only making about 40% of my previous best salary, another scary situation.
When I left school I decided that it would be a good idea to join a Microsoft centric UG for networking purposes, and of course to further my knowledge. At that time the only gig in town was VANTUG, which has now been around for 10 years. Shortly after I joined, the Board asked for volunteers to help run the group. Being a glutton for punishment I put my name forward. It turned out that the position of Vice-President was vacant and the next thing I knew I had somehow agreed to give it a try! A few months later the President left to return to the US and suddenly I was President. That was almost 6 years ago and, since they keep doubling my salary each year, I guess I will hang around as long as they want me and I feel like I can be useful. Helping others, both personally and professionally, has been a big, and very rewarding, part of my life and running a UG is a great way to contribute to the technical community. Over the past few years Microsoft, Canada has provided outstanding support for UG’s. Their support has certainly helped UG’s to prosper and adopt an increasingly important role in the IT Community.
My first assignment at EDS was some pro-bono work (EDS deserve great credit for the attitude that they had to community help) for the Surrey men’s homeless shelters. My task was to move the data from a v1.0 Access DB, that was used to manage the shelters, to an Access 2000 based app custom written to be used by homeless shelters across Canada. The idea was to be able to have consistent and roll-up reporting to the federal government. I was told that the work had been estimated at 3 man-days. For those of you who have ever done any data transfer exercises even between different versions of the same DB you will know how “interesting” that can be. To say that the v1.0 Access DB app had been “designed” would be a gross misrepresentation of the term. Not only was it not normalized but there was a lot of duplicate and inconsistent (eg. BC and British Columbia) data. Firstly I had to upgrade through the various intermediate versions (even that wasn’t entirely trivial) and then I had to write several pieces of VBA to clean-up the data. Using action queries alone wasn’t going to do it. 3 days eventually became more like 3 weeks. Apart from the technical challenges this was my first experience at doing charitable work and I liked how it felt. Visiting the shelters was definitely a unique experience. Many of the people were drug addicts. At first they were very suspicious about who I was and what I was doing; too many years of bad experiences I guess. When they realized I was there to help it totally changed and some became quite interested in what I was doing and how.
My main role at EDS was intranet app development for major clients with managing the office intranet on the side. I also became interested in the server lab which was used to emulate client environments for project work and the next thing I knew I got the job setting up for the projects that I worked on. This usually entailed a complete rebuild so that the environment reflected not only the client OS’s but the service packs. A typical project might include a web server, a SQL Server and an Exchange server using 1, 2 or 3 pieces of hardware, and sometimes involving more than one domain. It might take upwards of a week to complete and test the setup in some cases. One particularly notable install that I recall was Site Server 3.0 with Windows NT. If you didn’t do the 12 steps (yes 12!) in absolutely the correct order and with the correct parameters you had to start all over again from scratch! As you probably guessed it didn’t work out the first time. Finding out the correct order wasn’t exactly easy. The complete process wasn’t written down anywhere; only parts of it. So some trial and error was involved. I seem to remember needing 2 aborted attempts before getting it right on number 3.
EDS was very keen for their employees to obtain certifications and whilst I was there I obtained my MCSD (VB 6 and SQL Server 7). I also studied for the PMP designation from the Project Management Institute and for the MCSE. However, before I could sit my PMP and MCSE exams fate caught up with me again. EDS failed to win several large contracts in a row and, although it wasn’t exactly LIFO, I joined the ranks of the unemployed yet again. Unfortunately I had only gained about 3 years of official “practical” experience and so I found myself facing a similar dilemma to when I finished my diploma. I did subsequently pass my PMP exam. Even my new found qualifications didn’t help overcome the problem because I didn’t have that “magical” number of 5 years of experience. In part 15 (the last part, which I am sure you will be very relieved to know) you will see some more twists of fate which bring me to where I am today. To round things off I will also list a few things that I believe are of value that I have learned over the years and that I hope you will also find useful.