What is the best job you've ever had? What made it such a good experience?
In the early 1990s, I was promoted to Mead Corporation’s Manager of Network Services, part of an organizational realignment as personal computers had become a predominant technology. I had global responsibility for the corporation’s voice and data networks and quite a large budget. There were about a dozen people on the team and we were living through some of the biggest technology changes ever including the Internet, local-area-networks, and mobile phones. In addition to all the new stuff, we had to maintain the legacy technologies including coax-connected mainframes, multi-point AT&T wide-area networks, and voicemail systems. While there was a lot of new technology to absorb, I enjoyed the bigger challenges of getting the group to embrace new ways to approach their work. A few examples, really smaller in scale, demonstrate the type of challenges that made this my all-time favorite job.
Our CIO gave us the assignment of correcting, and then owning, the company’s pocket phone directory which had been published very poorly by the previous ownership group. We quickly figured out where the disconnects were and republished the directory, but for the next year’s version, I was determined to fix a lot of other issues with it. I was very insistent that we would publish the best directory ever and the team changed almost everything about it. Instead of printing it on glossy paper, they used a matte that was easy to write on without smearing. Instead of a hard, glued binder, they made it spiral-bound, making it easy to lie flat. Instead of portrait orientation, they made it landscape, much easier to fit names, titles, and phone numbers on a single line. Those were three of the bigger changes, but there were many others. When it came time to publish, I insisted, several times, to get the entire Network Services team together for a couple of hours, eat some pizza, and try to find errors. The first error was found on the first page, a mistake on one of our Board of Directors, shocking the project lead. After two hours we had made it through only half of the directory, found at least one hundred errors, and had to schedule another two hours to complete the review. I knew that our group because we interacted with so many people in so many locations, had a more broad knowledge of the organization than anyone, and would find lots of mistakes. It was a great team-building exercise on top of putting out the best-ever directory.
Another voice team story occurred during a PBX replacement project. Since the last replacement, we had built up a large closet full of handsets, mostly those that did not have a display on them or were unique in one fashion or another. I was determined not to have that happen on my watch. I told the group that we would only offer two phones, both being beige and having a display, the only difference was a larger one for inside sales, administrative assistants, or others that needed lots of buttons. They thought I was crazy, that I didn’t understand that the executives had a lot of preferences, and having only two selections was going to bring their wrath down on them. But after we held an open house so everyone could see the phones and make their selection, they found that no one cared. Everyone was fine with only two choices, even the executives. They really had more important things to do.
As part of Corporate Information Resources embracing the challenges of the PC/LAN future, somebody would have to pick up responsibility for shared printers, and with every other manager clearly not wanting it and its history of problems, I volunteered Network Services. I figured this would be a fun challenge and our group had the distinct advantage of being able to monitor and capture all the data flying back and forth to the printers, giving us plenty of information to get to the root cause of most problems and implement fixes. We quickly upped the amount of RAM on the printers based on our insights, and that resolved the largest number of issues. But we also tackled the human side, the biggest one being that nobody could walk up to a printer and know how to print to it. So for every printer, we attached a clear plastic pouch to its front, then inserted a printed label that contained the printer name, model, and other information the typical end-user would need to know. Sometimes just listening and doing the simple things based on those insights makes people trust you. And that goes a long way.
There are so many other stories, trips to IBM’s networking center in Raleigh to tackle some big network design challenges and trips to Europe to install networks that involved long and intense days to accomplish. We endured several extra-long return trips to the U.S., heading to California or Utah for a conference or meeting, making for some very long and tiring days.
Lots of work, loads of fun. Funny how those go together.