Monday, June 27, 2011

Thirty Years Of Jobbers - Chapter 1.4


David's office was the kind where if you dropped your keys on the floor, you had to crawl under the building to fetch them. When you carried on a conversation, you either stood at the counter or sat on several cases of Rotella.

On a typical day in a small town like McGehee, Arkansas, the bobtail drivers spent a great deal of time loitering on the loading dock, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the next customer or for the phone to ring and Miss Wanda would call out, “Jimmy Beecher needs a load of fuel and some grease.” They always knew Jimmy took 500 gallons of farm diesel and six tubes of cotton spindle grease, and his order never wavered from one week to the next.

A ninety year-old man wrestled fifty-five gallon oil drums into the backs of pickup trucks with mud tires and gun racks. His hands so calloused, he passed his time killing wasps by pinching their heads off. Miss Wanda, brought in fresh turnip greens loaded with sand from her own garden, and that day she wore a plastic ‘pig bonnet’, because the Arkansas Razor Backs were in first place and had a championship game with Auburn that coming weekend. Bill Clinton was the governor at the time and David had been a student in his law class. David told me more than once the best advice Clinton ever gave him was ‘deny, deny, deny’.

Drexel wore a tie every day and ate lunch with the bank president. At precisely 2 PM, Mrs. Powell stopped by to sort out the credit card receipts, and an old black man came by once a day at around 4 PM to pump one gallon of kerosene into a tiny bucket he carried home to fill his heater. 

I was in the back, in my tiny eight by eight office. The silence was sometimes broken by a faraway train whistle or the squeak of a horse-drawn wagon taking a load of cotton to the gin just down the road. I was a self-taught computer programmer and knew nothing at all about accounting, and I had learned to program computers on a much smaller machine that used the same programming language. Up until that time, I had written a tiny payroll system, a word processor (you couldn't buy one back then), an inventory/sales tracking system for a small audio business, and an MLS program for several real-estate agencies who used their computers mostly to impress their customers.  

Back in Colorado, my partner, Randy Hummel had written a general ledger program for a couple of CPA firms who had been clients of ours, but how all those pieces of the puzzle fit together to make an integrated system, was a complete mystery to me. I was careful not to mention that to others, but I did tell David and he didn’t seem to care. We just assumed after we got done, it would all come together… and it did.  

In those days, computer programmers were a lot like yardmen. You told them what you wanted them to do, and when they finished that task, you'd find another chore for them. That's pretty much the way "computer code fixers" do their jobs to this day, but "computer program designers" can't operate in that fashion. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the world's computer programs were written by "yardmen" and not designers.

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