1985-87 Ballistic Systems Division

Working at Vandenberg AFB and living out of a brand new hotel in Lompoc not far from where the "waterbuggers" were serving their time in prison was more than just going to work everyday in the silo.  It was a regular job with weekends and after-work time to do other things.

I decided to write a decent user manual for CP/M, with a focus on how to use the directory system, which was all but hidden from the user.  Twice I drove drive up to Mountain View via the coast highway and Big Sur to visit some of the tech companies and resolve some questions.  I was enjoying this kind of work.

As my stint at Vandenberg was nearing an end, the training job on the program was also nearly done and it was decision time:  Go back to auditing or find another job in Boeing?  Glancing through the internal job postings one day I saw an ad for a PC and networking specialist for the whole Ballistic Systems Division.  I applied and got it.  Auditing would have to wait a little longer.  This was networked computing work was too interesting to leave behind just yet.

In the process of moving into the new position, my HR representative decided that I needed to have my skill code changed from training analyst to something more appropriate for the networked computing work I was doing.  But, there wasn't an obvious skill code that she could see.  While I was sitting with her talking about it, she got called into a meeting, and as she left she handed me her big binder with all of the skill code descriptions and asked me to see if I could find something in there that I thought would work.  In this binder were all of the salary tables for each skill code and a chart showing how may grades or step ratings each one had.  The best one, in terms of salary growth potential that had something to do with computing, was Advanced Computing Technologist, which was primarily for the PhDs over in AR&T.  I suggested that, and she went for it.  And, the division HR director approved her recommendation.  That meant that each year during the performance review and salary adjustment exercise, my pool would be with the folks in AR&T.  This made me even more visible over there and assured a nice steady stream of raises.  So that became my skill code for the next 28+ years.

 

In my new job I had one primary assignment.  Boeing was bidding on a group of five "must win" contracts with the Air Force.  The division's computing director wanted someone to set a standard for networking PCs as a part of getting ready for them.  My job was to recommend the answer.  

By that time I knew everyone in the division who was playing around with PC-LAN systems, and we had at least one of everything on the market.  So, I called them all together and declared them to be my committee.  We took turns going to each member's site and having them each give a demonstration of their system, and explaining what was good about it, and what just didn't work.  The was one clear winner - Novell Netware, then in its 2.0 version which Neal Curtin had been working on.  Also during that time, I was tasked by my director, Bob Rose, to represent the division on a number of computing standards bodies, including the "Network Control Board" which had been setup to configuration manage our growing bridged Ethernet system.  That board would eventually evolve into the Network Standards Board whose influence spanned the entire Boeing corporation.

In Boeing on the defense side in those days, there was a common practice of sharing engineering papers.  Someone would get an idea and write it up, run off a few dozen copies, and put them out on a table near the entrance to whatever building they worked in.  So, one day I decided to make some copies of that CP/M user manual I had written in the hotel down in Lompoc and set them out to see if anyone was interested.  They disappeared almost instantly and suddenly I had requests for more.  Then someone asked me to make one for MS-DOS.  That took a couple of weeks, and when I put that out, the demand skyrocketed.  I must have put out around 500 copies over the next couple of months.  One impact of that was that I started getting visits from people who were just computing hobbyists, asking various questions about their machines at home.  I was on about my fourth home computer by that time.  I suspect that Boeing computer hobbyists accounted for most of the popularity of my little user manuals.  They also led to a lot more people knowing that I was someone they could come to for help.  For me, the real benefit was that I got to know a lot of people who knew things that I didn't about not just computers, but the company, our products, and out customers.  It was an incredibly rich learning environment.  My Boeing human network was growing fast.

While being a one person help desk was fun, it was not something to hold my interest.  Boeing won all five of those contracts we were after, plus a couple that the senior executives really didn't care about.  Ralph had made friends with Pete Downey, the program manager on one of those "who cares" programs and had talked him into another grand experiment.  Pete and Ralph were going to run the entire information needs of the program on networked PCs.  And, they had worked a deal directly with the customer to make Ralph's experiment into a contract requirement, complete with a specified budget.  So once again i managed to convince people that I was giving up what was seen as a great stepping stone job with lots of visibility.  Off I went to a dusty corner of the company where nobody was looking.  It was the P-3 Update IV program for the Navy, and it was great.