Saturday, March 25, 2006

NDC and beyond. . .

It’s taken me some time to write this next part as it’s dredged up some fairly painful memories. That’s all they are though... memories. As I’ve thought about it, lamented what might have been, could have been… in the end, it is, what it is. I didn’t get where I’d thought I was going, however, in the final analysis, I’ve discovered I got exactly where I needed to go…

Cryptic enough?? Ok… here’s what happened.

Early in 1993, January I believe, I got a call from some folks in Nashville about a project there that someone had told them I’d be perfect for. At the time, it was not exactly an unusual thing for me to get this kind of call, after all I was on Microsoft’s original FoxPro beta team, had been on Ashton-Tate’s dealer advisory board, and most folks in the ‘xBase’ world had either heard of me, of my company.

They were offering a fairly sweet deal for me to come to Nashville and join the team on a commercial software package project. I thought long and hard about it, went through all the technical interviews and so on, but, when they offered the gig to me I just wasn’t ready to give up on the business yet. I was still holding out hope we’d reach “critical mass” any day now.

Three, maybe four months later, I was nearly out of money and we were no closer to the prize than we’d ever been. I’d cut Ken from the payroll, cut overall expenses to the bone, even taken some out of town onsite client work to make ends meet, but, things were still sliding downhill, and faster, rather than slower.

I built an estimator for a shutter company in Naples Florida that was about the slickest thing I’d ever done. I’d placed all the rules (and there are some fairly rigid rules in shutter manufacturing) in a database and applied the rules based on the measurements, style and appearance selection the sales person entered.

This application could be used in the field to give a customer a quote, that same quote once accepted became the full work order for the shop floor…. Right down to defining the spacing for the holes the slats would fit in… the paint, assembly times, material lists… It was very cool for 1993.

Once that job ended however, and I’d wrapped up another couple small ones in Miami and Ft. Meyers, it was back to the office, and the cash outflow, rather than inflow.

In late June, the contract house called again… this time they were offering more money an hour and a better ‘perdeim’ package as well. Once again I talked it over, thought about it, and eventually, decided I’d just go ahead and give it a shot. Hell, it was a 40 hour per week guarantee, for 3 full months at nearly what I was billing clients on my own. It seemed perfect!

I remember the morning I left to drive to Nashville, I was an emotional wreck, I was leaving everything ‘comfortable’ behind, my wife, my company my entire support structure and heading off into the unknown. I had more than a little self doubt, what if… sort of stuff.. what if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? What if their team was stellar, and I was just average? What if… What if… What if…

By the time I got within an hour or so of Nashville, I’d pretty much resigned myself to letting things just work out, however they worked out… I think I stopped for the night in “Elizabeth” Kentucky for the night figuring I could find a motel, a steak and a beer, and head out fresh in the morning, rather than hitting Nashville in the dark and trying to find a place to stay.

I got a hotel room, and the recommendation of the desk clerk for a great steak restaurant and headed out for dinner.

Imagine my surprise, when as I told the waitress I wanted their best steak and a nice cold draft beer, she looked at me as though I’d said something profane! In short, I’d stopped for the night in a ‘dry county’. Hell, I didn’t know such a thing still existed in the good old USA… so, instead of a beer, I had an ‘unsweetened’ iced tea with that steak, which respite the absence of the beer was still quite good!!

The next morning I headed into Nashville, found the contract shop, got acquainted, filled out forms and headed off to the client site. “Network Data Corporation”, or NDC, was involved in writing a commercial application for convenience stores (C-stores), as I recall their biggest backers were “Hess” and “Circle-K” stores.

This place was a programmer’s dream shop. There were close to 50 programmers there, 15 or 20 in the FoxPro group alone. They were using source code control, scheduled builds, formal testing, bug reporting and tracking… all the stuff the “big guys” had always done… and here I was, in the middle of it!

I should mention here, that up until this very day, my actual exposure to “FoxPro” had been to install it, and launch it a few times. I was definitely an xBase guru… dBase, FoxBASE+, Clipper, FoxBASE MAC… I was the go to guy… this shop however, had just moved to FoxPro 2.0 and the entire team had been to George Goley’s seminar and training classes… in all honesty, I was in way over my head.

Luck however, despite what I’d been thinking, was still with me.

I turned out that they’d brought myself, and another fellow from Richmond in to do ‘bug fixing’. You see, I can ‘fix’ almost anything, regardless of the language it’s written in, as long as I have a few basic tools. What NDC provided was far beyond basic… it was a full on tool chest!

They showed me my cubical, and there in the in box was a three, maybe four, inch stack of bug reports. My job, as it was explained to me, was not to develop anything “new”, but instead to track down the ‘bugs’ and eradicate them. I was now, officially a highly paid exterminator.

The work went well, I was knocking the bugs down faster than they were arriving, my stack was shrinking, and, best of all, none of my fixes were causing problems in any other areas. I was doing so well, that when they decided they only needed one of us (me or the fellow from Richmond, Mike) they chose to keep me!

I remember feeling bad for Mike, as we’d become fairly good friends, fairly quickly. We’d more often than not, go out after work; catch a sandwich and a cold beer at the “Cross Corner Tavern” before retiring to our separate apartments for the night.

The Cross Corner was an interesting place. A mix of locals of all sorts, from the unemployed, to record industry executives. It was there I met Paul Lucks, former head of Mercury records, a couple of dozen aspiring singer/songwriter types, and a wide assortment of colorful characters.

Paul and I had some common interests, and many evenings we’d sit and chat about life, work, and about everything in between. I had no knowledge, or interest, in the music business… he knew nothing about what I did, just two guys passing the time, it made what would have been pretty lonely evenings, enjoyable.

The work, well it was rockin.. I felt almost sad knowing it would have to come to a close at the end of October.

NDC made me a job offer in early September, even paid to fly my wife in so she could see Nashville for herself. I turned them down though, as they were offering quite a bit less than the contract money, and for whatever reason, I thought I’d land something at the end of the contract.

I did, and contract will bee the next part of the story!

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Trevor Record said...
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Trevor Record said...

You were buddies with a former head from Mercury Records? They had some pretty big names signed to them, especially back in the days... KISS, Thin Lizzy.... The Village People (heh).

Actually, even today some of their artists are pretty big (Mercury UK, anyway).

Bill said...

Trevor - Yep... well drinkin buddies anyway! But he was a former exec with Mercury when I met him. He'd opened his own talent agency and was promoting bands as I recall.

One of the things I remember he liked about that tavern was that almost no one knew him there. It was the waitress who clued me in, and told me I should stay away from music talk, unless he brought it up...

Interesting experience for sure... I called him once, in the mid 90's to tell him about a singer I'd heard in a club.. I hope he hooked up and they made some cash!