I started my first “corporate” job on my 20th birthday. After a brief data entry position in Maynard (which I completed way ahead of schedule), I was hired at Digital Equipment Corporation in the Corporate Employee Communications Department in Concord, Mass. For the first couple of months I worked as an Administrative Secretary to the lead of the department. I was hired by one her liaisons, as she was on a one-month sabbatical at the time and the woman working in the support position had moved to another part of the company. After a few months I was moved to the position of “Department Coordinator III”. At 20 years old I provided tech support for the entire group of users. As communicators of varying degrees, they produced periodic newsletters, electronic communications, and other media based communiques for the entire company of over 200K employees. At the time, Digital was the 2nd largest computer company in the world.
I was hired into the position through the temp agency Manpower; I had aced their CBT, or Computer Based Training, in less than four hours. It was meant to be a week long course. They couldn’t believe I was finished with the course when I asked them what was next on the agenda during training week. They had me take a test and when I aced it they slipped me into the position that had opened up with the intent of moving me to a more technical position as soon as it became available.
At 20 years old and with little in the way of a college education, people were amazed at my “knack” for computers. In my spare time I had already written a point of sale program that ran on the Commodore 64, TRS-80 Model II, and the Apple III, and had made a little bit of cash by selling it as shareware on various Bulletin Board Services across the country. Even though I was a geek through and through, I had very little knowledge in the way of the corporate world. I knew I had to wear a tie, shave everyday, and be as focused and humble as possible. I look back and I was a mess. Once in a while I’ll see a rerun of “Murphy Brown” and her disasters of temporary secretaries and think that must have been based on me. I was much more comfortable when I moved into the tech support role, though I did set alarms off more than once by messing around on the server clusters after hours.
At Digital (we never called it “DEC”) the motto was it was easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. And I used that to my advantage. A lot. I still live by that today.
I can’t believe it’s been 30 years since I took the opportunity to leave the company and pursue whatever life had next on my agenda. Occasionally I’ll have dreams of living and working back in Massachusetts, settling into my old role in my old cubicle, armed with today’s knowledge but still using the old VT-330 terminal connected to the server cluster on the first floor. In these recurring dreams I’m often laughing with my former co-workers. I like to think that one of my strongest assets was to make my co-workers laugh, even when stress levels were through the roof. My weirdness wasn’t obnoxious, it was humorous, and if any of my former co-workers remember me, I hope they remember me like this: “He had a weird knack for figuring out problems by looking for patterns. And he was so pleasant to work with”.
A lot of what I know today as a corporate citizen in the 21st century is rooted in what I learned in Concord, Mass. in the late 1980s. I don’t know what happened to that old team, but if I ever get the chance, I’d like to say thank you to Anne, Jim, Richard, Jennifer, Meg, Ann, Janine, Kate, Dawn, Barbara, Ellin, Donna, Beth, Marilyn, Carol, Karen, Marie, Erline, and Marny for all your support, your patience, and your knowledge.
You helped me find my path. And even 30 years later, you make me smile as if it was just yesterday.