Anniversaries

It’s been a week of anniversaries. Wednesday was the tenth anniversary of the first London.pm meeting. And last night we had our tenth anniversary meeting. But for me personally, today is an even bigger anniversary. It was twenty years ago today that I started my first “real” job. I hope you won’t be too bored if I spend a few paragraphs reflecting on my career so far.

My degree from South Bank Poly (remember polys?) was in computer studies. This was very much aimed at people who were going to work in large data processing departments. We studied COBOL and CODASYL databases. SQL and C were seen as the cutting edge technologies. Interestingly I spent my sandwich year working on PC product releases for IBM. The documentation for these was in an obscure format called SGML – the weirdest things turn out to be useful in the future.

So I left South Bank with my degree in computer studies and got a job working for a company called Learmonth and Burchett Management Systems (LBMS). LBMS were big on structured development methodologies. They apparently had a big hand in the design of SSADM. They did consultancy and training, but they also had a CASE tool. That was where I came in. I was part of a team who was reimplementing their CASE tool. It was to be a Windows application (which in 1988 was a rather brave step to take). Over the next four years I became pretty proficient at Windows programming in C (Visual C++ wasn’t around in those days). I also, probably more usefully, learnt a lot about data modelling and databases as that was the part of the tool which I worked on. LBMS no longer exists. They went out of business soon after structured methodologies and CASE tools went out of fashion.

I left them before that though. In 1992 I decided to move to pastures new. I got a job working for a company called Comtext. They specialised in communications tools like telex. I was there to give their tools a nice Windows front-end. I was only there for six months. By then I had a CompuServe account and I could tell that email was going to kill off their business. I don’t know what happened to them. There’s no evidence of them on the internet now.

Early in 1993 I got a job working with Walt Disney. Actually it was with Buena Vista Home Video – their home video group. We were building a system to report on European video sales. I got the job on the basis of my Windows and SQL experience, but whilst I was there I moved to working exclusively on Unix. We implemented our system in a number of European offices and as part of the project I spent a few months working in Madrid.

Unfortunately for Disney, the technologies they were using (Sybase, C, Unix) were exactly the set of skills that were becoming popular in the City of London. And the City was crying out for contractors with that skillset. So in April 1995 I set up Magnum Solutions and went off to start contracting in the City.

For four years I worked for various banks in the City doing Bank-type stuff. I was during this time that I picked up my knowledge of Perl. In fact, by 1999 I was getting work purely on the basis of my Perl expertise. I was getting a little bored by banking though so I decided to try working for dotcoms for a while. Actually, it took a while for the change to take place and I spent eighteen months alternating companies like QXL and Sportal with financial work.

2002 started badly. I spent all of 2001 working for a single client but the contract finished at the start of 2002 and the jobs market had collapsed. I spent five months out of work before taking a permanent job with Bibliotech (now known as Spider Networks). That didn’t last long though. In November they went through a bit of a cash crisis and made a lot of staff redundant. Including me. Luckily the market seemed to have picked up a bit and I found a new contract within a week or so.

Following that contract, at the end of 2003 I made one of best connections that I’ve ever made when I spend a few months working on the Guardian web site. I’ve been able to return there a couple of times since.

2004 was another bad year. I was unable to find a contract to follow the Guardian so I ended up designing and building a new web site for Karma Download – a site for musicians to sell MP3s of their music. They didn’t make any money and closed down a couple of years later. In May of that year I took another permanent job, working for Outcome Technologies. I lasted until the end of the year before the call of freelancing became too strong and I left them.

Since then, things have been going pretty well. I’ve bounced between three different clients. Two of them are media organisations and the other is a bank. So I’m getting plenty of variety in my work.

It’s been an interesting twenty years. It hasn’t gone in the way I planned it at all. I was a Windows programmer. And now I’m a reasonably well-known expert in a language that I hadn’t even heard of when I started out.

I wonder what the next twenty years will bring. Retirement, with any luck.

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