Leader's almanac: What was your first job in IT?

My first job in IT was as a mainframe computer operator for a retail chain. I'll never forget the paper tape! We fed lawn bags full of this stuff into a reader, often by hand. The tape had this horrible tendency to snap. Our first inclination was to get rid of it; however, this tape contained valuable information from cash registers, and we needed to make sure that all the stores were accounted for. So out came the scissors, tape, glue and small carving knife. To this day, I get a little anxious when I see a lawn bag! • Richard Catalano, vice president of IT, Progress Software Corp., Bedford, Mass.

My first job was at a data center for a bank in 1979. I was the graveyard supervisor of the product distribution unit. This group microfilmed financial printouts produced during the nightly batch cycle and prepared them for distribution to the branch locations. Initially, it was simply a job to pay my way through postgraduate studies. I had no idea that I would look back on this as the first job in a career. • Steve Scott, vice president of information systems division, Vision Service Plan, Rancho Cordova, Calif.

I was a programmer in a research and design area of Chemical Bank, developing a novel ATM with interactive video, touch screen and proximity detector. This required device-level coding and interaction with emerging technologies. We also contracted with a military hardware designer for custom hardware and integrated a card reader, cash dispenser, paper cutter and drop box. • Joel Plaut, assistant vice president, American International Group Inc., New York
What was your first technology job? Post your memories in our discussion forum.

I started working in IT when it was called data processing. I was 19 years old and worked second shift as a computer operator running an IBM System 3 Model 8 computer. We used cards back then, and there were two keypunch operators. • Norman A. Thomas, senior vice president, Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.
I was analyst and project manager for revenue optimization and reservation systems at Continental Computer Service, a hosted computer services provider for more than 80 airlines worldwide. We designed and implemented a large data warehouse based on VSAM technology and Information Builders Inc.'s Focus report tool for statistical analysis. We took nightly updates from a TPF airline reservation system, converted the data from hex into another format, and held 12 months' rolling history for every flight, both pre- and postdeparture. • Alan Boehme, executive vice president, CIO, Best Software Inc., Atlanta
I was taught the business of investment banking and went through intensive technology training at Morgan Stanley. A group of us built an automated trader using APL, an artificial intelligence language. It became the No. 1 income producer in the firm. • David R. Guzman, senior vice president, CIO, Owens & Minor Inc., Glen Allen, Va.
I was an assembler language programmer at one of the now-failed savings-and-loan companies. I was responsible for the programs that ran all the savings/checking nightly processing systems for the daily transactions. This consisted of two programs, each containing more than 12,000 lines of assembler code. Job-control language streams and finalized programs were delivered via punch cards to the computer room. Testing was limited to one per day due to the number of removable disks that needed to be mounted for these programs, which required 16 of the 25 available disk drives and severely limited the capabilities of the other developers. • James D. Gibson, director of IT, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, Phoenix
I was a data center manager, leading a group of 400 employees. I led areas including policy operations, accounting, customer service and call center functions. After this assignment, my career transitioned to several key roles on the business side. This knowledge was invaluable to me when I returned to the engineering side of IT, as it gave me insight on how our applications needed to be structured in order to give our customers the extraordinary service they expect. • Cathy Brune, senior vice president, chief technology officer, Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, Ill.
I was a software customer engineer for IBM. I supported IBM mainframe operating system and system software, and I was a specialist in SNA communications software (CICS, VTAM, Network Control Program and TSO). • Richard K. Jones, managing director, CIO, Countrywide Home Loans Inc., Calabasas, Calif.
My first job in IT was at Midwest Power Systems Inc. I was a member of the team that designed, developed and implemented the management information system in the early 1990s. The main objective was to revamp the company's management reports by providing tools for center managers, and a complete view of costs for each unit and project, minimizing costs by using direct charging when possible, and providing the ability to analyze business unit profitability at the lowest level, thus having more people involved in managing the company. • Roberta Ambur, CIO, University of South Dakota, Vermillion
I was a developer for Allied Signal and was responsible for co-developing the Navy's air traffic control program. We converted it from assembler to C. We delivered on time, on budget, and most important, the software has never been associated with any air incident. • Scott L. Carcillo, CIO, vice president of IT and services, Digex Inc., Laurel, Md.
I was working here at Geisinger as a clinical chemist. I was hired by MIS to help install a $2 million clinical laboratory system -- because I understood lab operations, and I had some computer experience. I had a small operations and data-entry staff, which were totally new areas for me. Coming from a science background, I had a different idea about what computers were all about. To me, they were process-control or number-crunching machines, not the equivalent of large file cabinets. The implementation was a success, and the system was in use for about 15 years. • Frank M. Richards, CIO, Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.
I was a computer operator for a transportation services company in Seattle in 1978. The computer took up a large room yet had only a small fraction of the power and capacities of today's PCs. Still, we were able to run two companies on it: the main company and a food distribution company. To exchange data with the food distribution company a couple of miles away, we used "key to tape" machines and very slow (300 bit/sec.!) modems. This was an incredible introduction to IT, because a computer operator had to know what the program was doing on the computer when mounting tapes and disks or suffer huge consequences, such as irrecoverable data loss. In less than a year, I was promoted to my first management job, which was computer operations manager. • Steve McDowell, IS director, Holiday Retirement Corp., Salem, Ore.
Compiled and edited by Jean Consilvio, assistant management editor.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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