17 years (and counting) at the day job

I graduated from the University of California, Riverside on June 18, 1994. At the time I graduated, I was doing computer work for the dorm cafeteria, automating their budgets in Excel, developing reports, that kind of thing. I continued to do that work through much of the summer. Sometime in August 1994 I applied for a job as a “microcomputer support consultant” at a public policy think tank. I didn’t give much thought to it when I applied. It was one of several places I’d sent resumes.

On September 7, 1994 I was calling in for an interview. It was a grueling, 8 hour interview that lasted from about 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon and included a lunch interview. I met with all kinds of different people and they grilled me on my computer skills, people skills, pretty much everything. I’d never been through anything quite like that before and I was a limp reed by the time the interviewing was over. I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it.

Time passed and I heard nothing. I figured that I probably didn’t get the job, but then maybe a month after the interview, I’d heard from the people at the dorm cafeteria that they received a call to check my references. I figured that was a good sign, but I continued to wait. Shortly thereafter (I don’t recall the exact date, alas) I received a phone call offering me the job. I accepted and we agreed that I would start on Monday, October 17, 1994.

I arrived on time on Monday, October 17, 1994, went through the sign in process and some introduction, and was given a temporary office (which had a view of the ocean) until my permanent office was painted. That took one week. A week later I moved into my permanent office. I was in that office for nearly 8 years, until I transferred to the Washington D.C. office. I’ve been in this same office now for more than 9 years. Today, Monday, October 17, 2011, I have been at the company for seventeen years. I think I have the fewest number of office moves for someone who has been at the company this long.

Seventeen years sounds like a long time. I can’t think of one of my friends or family members who have been at one company for seventeen years. Certainly I never thought I’d make it seventeen years. That first year was the toughest. I was constantly learning new things and trying to keep up. There were plenty of days that I felt I was in over my head and that the best thing to do would be to pack it in and find something different. But I stuck with it. The interesting thing is that seventeen years is not a particular distinction in this company. At our monthly division meetings, they post “anniversaries” and there are always people celebrating their 20th, 25th, even 30th anniversaries. This most recent meeting included someone who’d been with the company 40 years. And even that is not a record.

I started in 1994 as a “microcomputer support consultant” which is a fancy term for Help Desk troubleshooter. Eventually I became a project leader for the Windows OS and after that I became the manager of Desktop Development, with staff reporting to me and various other responsibilities. About 8 years ago, I switched career tracks moving into software development and was essentially the low man on the totem in that group. After 8 long years and a lot of hard work, I was recently promoted to a “senior” application developer.

Thinking about all of the people who have come through over the years is a little scary. But thinking of those who are still around is comforting. Cyndie, who hired me is still around, although I don’t get to see her much. Beth and Jim and Derrick are still around. They all started a year or two after me. In 1995, one of the staff took pictures of everyone on our hall and made it into a collage, which was then printed onto a mouse pad. That is the only mouse pad I have ever used and it is still on my desk today. There are 18 faces on that mouse pad. Only 3 of those faces are still at the company,  myself included. Two, sadly, have passed away (one recently). The others have all gone on to various other places. I’m still in touch with at least 4 of them.

Being at the same place for 17 years give you an interesting perspective on time. I have been at this company for the same amount of time it took me to go from a newborn, to a senior in high school. That seemed to take forever, but these last 17 years has gone by fairly quickly. The 17 years has coincided with the rise of the Internet. When I started, in 1994, the Internet was in its infancy and I have watched it evolve ever since to what it is today. My first work computer was a Pentium 386 with 16 MB of RAM (which at the time I thought was the utter dreams of Croesus ) and a 40 MB (that’s megabyte) hard disk. We were still using Windows 3.1 when I started with the company but would be soon embarking on a major upgrade to the multitasking OS, Windows 95. About 70% of the company was using Macintosh computers. Installing Microsoft Office consumed something like 18 3.5-inch floppy disks.

My oh my how things have changed!

When people find out that I’ve been at the company for 17 years, they inevitably ask why so long. The truth is there are several reasons. I like stability in my job and this company has been pretty stable. During the dot com boom in the 1990s, a lot of people would come and go, looking for better pay, stock options, etc. I never felt the need to leave, and in most cases, the jobs that people did leave for lasted a year or two at the most. Stability and predictability is important to me and that is certainly one reason I’ve stayed for a long time. Second is that the work is interesting. I am always learning new things, working on interesting projects and it’s pretty rare when I feel bored with what I am doing. (Although, in 17 years, there have been times when boredom has set in.) But the single most important reason for staying as long as I have is the people: I work with the best people in the world. They are all smart, usually funny, always helpful and it is because of them that I get up each morning and (generally) look forward to coming into the office.

The other question I get is: how long do you plan on staying? And my answer to that is however long they’ll have me. I have grown up here and I see no reason to leave. Assuming that I would retire around 65 years of age, that gives me another 26 years which would put me at a grand total of 43 years with the company. That sounds like an incredibly long time (and it is) but it is still not terribly uncommon. I’ve known several people who’ve passed the 40 year mark, and one who celebrated 50 years.

It is kind of cool that the calendars have lined up 17 years later and that this anniversary falls on a Monday as well. It reminds me of that other Monday, 17 years ago, when I nervously wandered the hallway, finding my office, sitting down at my computer and composing that very first email message (which I still have). That is a pleasant thought for a Monday morning.

One comment

  1. Congratulations; 17 years is a long time. Your employer has certainly benefitted from the relationshiop as much as you have during that time. I’m looking forward to hearing about how your workplace evolves during the next 17 years. It’s an amazing place.


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