Life Lesson Number 1: you need to have a sense of humor to work in this industry
Many people have speculated that HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey
was really supposed to be a play-on-words. HAL comes one letter before IBM. I guess that makes it "one better." Mathematically, the equation is...IBM (IBM rot-1) = HAL. The guy who wrote VMS was vehemently anti-IBM and when he ported VMS to WNT, which was the acronym for Windows NT before it was known as Windows NT, it is believed that WNT was "the next evolution" of VMS. Mathematically...VMS(rot 1) = WNT. That is a great sense of humor.
Life Lesson Number 2: Hard Work Pays Off
When I was in college I had a work/study job as a computer lab technician. Basically a lab tech is supposed to sit at the front of the "lab" and help people print documents, log in to e-mail, etc. This was a few years before computers were ubiquitous in every dorm room. I was the only lab tech that actually walked around and helped kids and didn't just sit there playing games. I'm serious... It was so bad that I was promoted to head lab technician by Thanksgiving of my freshman year.
I was promoted because I showed initiative and because I came up with snappy little "tricks" to make computers easier for the less
savvy. An example...our campus email was housed on a big VAX/VMS system. We had to either login from a VT100 terminal or use a program called Kermit to access our email on old DOS 286's. Kermit was actually a very popular communications protocol. It is a backronym for "KL10 ErrorFree Reciprocal Microprocessor Interchange Over TTY lines."
I digress. To say the least VT100's and Kermit were not user-friendly. Students would send email and it would immediately bounce if the address was not formatted perfectly. The syntax was "firstname.lastname@example.org'". And, yes, those are single quotes embedded in double-quotes. In those days it was not well known that smtp meant "simple mail transfer protocol". Lots of kiddies would type "stmp", "smpt", etc. The error message was beyond cryptic when the format was not correct. This led to lots of frustration. I always explained that it was very simple, "send mail to postman." People like when the difficult is distilled down to the simple. I eventually wrote a VMS "macro" to make the syntax even easier for people.
Just before Christmas break the VP of Information Services asked me if I would be interested in being the "computer operator" for the department, again, because I showed initiative. The job was simple, take the backup tapes off-site every morning, check the status of scheduled jobs, answer emails for special requests, etc.
I now had an easier job, could make my own hours, and was accountable to almost no one. As long as the job got done, nobody bothered me.
Hard work does pay off.
Life Lesson Number 3: When you fail, fail big. (But not too big). Or, your first intuition is probably your best intuition.
You always want your failures to be big enough that they get you promoted because you solved a big problem, but not so big that you get fired for them.
I had a part-time job while I was in college as the computer operator for a VMS system for a large, formerly monopolistic, telecom company. This was way back before email was ubiquitous. VMS has two e-mail programs…PINE and MAIL. Neither has the concept of a “sent items” folder. PINE is the “preferred” email program everyone used. To set up a “sent items” folder you did this:
…where fcc stands for “folder carbon copy”. It makes a copy instead of sending a copy. Cool right? In VMS, folders were not allowed to have spaces, much like the old DOS. So if you typed this:
customized-hdrs=fcc: SENT ITEMS
…you got the same thing, two copies of your email…one in a folder called SENT and another in a folder called ITEMS. With me? A comma and a space were the same thing.
In Outlook you have the “Outbox” which is the temporary holding area where your mail sits until you can connect to Exchange. VMS had the same thing but it was called OUTMAIL. So, I really wanted to have my “Sent Items” called “OUTMAILCOPY”. But I screwed up and typed this:
customized-hdrs=fcc: OUTMAIL COPY
Notice the problem? Every email was copied to two folders…one of course being OUTMAIL, and that caused an infinite loop and caused email to go down for a few hours.
So I crashed the email system by building my own little "mail bomb" macro. I managed to fix it myself but by then people were paged and wondering what was going on. I tried to hide what I did, "Don't worry it's fixed now."
And surprisingly, that worked. "Really? You fixed mail all by yourself? That's great Dave, we should promote you."
This is where hubris of the young takes over, "Oh, it was no big deal really. I know what I'm doing." But of course I didn't know what I was doing. At this point my failure was big but I had the opportunity to be promoted. The next morning management began investigating the logs and saw that clearly it was my mail account that caused all of the problems. Management's tone went from "let's promote Dave" to "let's fire Dave".
I was spared. But I was told I could no longer use PINE for email.
Sidenote: In VMS MAIL you use this command for “Sent Items”:
SET COPY_SELF SEND,REPLY,FORWARD
…which cc’s you on every mail you send, right to NEWMAIL (Inbox).
More funny stories to come...