1985 – Rice University Department of Computer Science

The notice on the bulletin board in the Mudd Building said simply that the instruction for COMP 210, the introductory programming course, was looking for labbies for the semester. Responsibilities including grading labs, and having 4 hours of “office hours” per week, where you could help student figure things out.

You had to call a phone number and leave a message (How quaint now). So I did.

Two days later, I had an answering machine message which told me the time and date of the orientation session.

No interview at all.



Well, that’s the job search related portion of this story, but I can’t help actually telling a story around this job.

The course work was being done on Macs. This may or may not have been the first semester it was not taught on the Vaxes, but it was awfully close. The Mac was introduced into the Mudd Lab almost immediately after it was announced in the spring of 1984. This was fall of 1985, and the Macs had mostly been upgraded to the 512K Macs. The assignments were using a product called MacPascal. Whatever.

My office hours were Sunday evenings after my jazz radio shift, 7-11. Labs were due on Monday, so I kept busy.

One Friday night, I actually had nothing to do, and about 6:45, I got a phone call:

(Woman on other end of phone with very loud background music): Hello? Is this the labbie for COMP 210?

Me: Yes. I can barely hear you.

Woman (trying to cup mouthpiece of phone): Hi. Was wondering if you could help me with my lab?

Me: My office hours are Sunday, 7-11.

Woman: I know, but I can’t get to campus on Sundays. I have to work. I was wondering if you could come to where I work and help me when I have downtime. I have my Mac here…

Me: Where do you work?

Woman: I am an exotic dancer at the Boobie Rock Club, at Westheimer and Montrose. I dance 20 minutes, and then have 40 minutes to work on school work. I work until last call at 2:00.

At this point, a couple of thoughts went through my head. First, I thought that this must be some kind of prank, and somebody was going to take pictures of me at the club and try to humiliate me. Suspecting it was a joke, I was tempted to go. The humiliation, if any, would not actually be effective. While I was not a patron of those establishments, being seen in one would not ruin my life.

Second, I thought that this could actually be somebody real, but that it was a setup to try to rob me. Well, I had no car, and no money. The danger then was assault. I thought that this was a really low risk.

In the five seconds before I answered her, I came to the conclusion that this might be legit. I was intrigued, but…

Me: Well, I have no car, only a bike. And it is 30 degrees outside. It would take me a couple of hours to get there, and even if I were willing to ride my bike in the cold to the Curve, I don’t know that there is a place I could lock it up. Not to mention the fact that riding home in the middle of the night in Houston is not appealing at all. I think you are going to have to find somebody else to help you, or come by the Mudd Building during my office hours.

Woman: Well, I wish we could work something out. Sorry to bother you.

She never gave me her name, and I never figured out if I knew any Rice students who worked as strippers.


NASA – 1986

Most of my posts won’t be too long, but I think I need to lay down some background.

I was going to be a musician. I was in jazz band in junior high, and I went to a performing arts high school. I was good at saxophone, decent at other woodwinds, and good with arranging, with a smattering of composition. So I went to the University of Miami to study jazz on scholarship. The music was awesome…

But music was never the only thing in my life. I attended enrichment summer school at Rice University before 7th grade, and took an intro to computers course, where I learned some BASIC. My junior high had a teletype with a paper tape reader, and I wrote programs to calculate factorials, prime numbers, and perfect numbers. I took FORTRAN on punch cards one summer at Rice. And starting in 9th grade, I started doing some serious hobbyist work on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model II that both Lanier Junior High and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

I thought I was hot stuff.

Scholarship music students at Miami were required to work the desk at the practice room building, handing out keys. They had a grad student in computer science as an actual employee who worked shifts when we were not. I used to talk to her for hours about programming.

Music school was hard. I practiced four to six hours a day just to keep up. I was doing OK. I was doing better than OK in theory and composition. But I spent a lot of time reading science fiction, playing D&D, and missing math.

I went home at spring break, and visited high school buddies at Rice. And instantly felt at home. And I started to think. I looked at my classmates at Miami. The ones I hung out with, for the most part, were not musicians, or were in the process of changing majors. I did an honest assessment of my music, and I knew I could make a living, but I did not think I was going to be a jazz star. I thought that I could make it as a studio player or Broadway player, and could work on composing and arranging, but the economics were not lining up. I was going to have to buy more than $20000 worth of saxophones, flutes, and clarinet, and synthesizers, and all of the accessories, and I was going to need them in the next three years…

So, I decided to take advantage of the other thing I thought I was good at. I applied and transferred to Rice to study computer science.

That was almost the biggest mistake I ever made.

I was mistaken as to how much I knew. I won’t go through the blow-by-blow of my first two years of Rice, but due to family problems, financial problems, health, and not actually knowing anything about programming or studying, I almost failed out of school.

My third year at Rice I started turning it around. Family issues were slowly resolving, we figured out finances, and I dated somebody in Differential Equations who would not do anything fun until all of the homework was done (taught me how to study!) I found that I did have the ability to code, but I was behind on the theory and the other courses I had to take to graduate. I was catching up, but I was really far behind.

I had worked food service the previous five summers going back into high school, and knew I never wanted to do that again. When it came time to figure out what to do for the summer, I went to the Rice Placement Office to find a summer job. The only posting on the bulletin board was a piece of paper from the Johnson Space Center, advertising for an internship. I called them that afternoon, and left a message.

They called me back, and asked me to come out there. It was a 30 mile drive, so I had to borrow a car…

I showed up, and discovered that one of my classmates was also there. This person had become the Systems Administrator for the Rice Computer Science Department, and had much better grades than I did. They interviewed both of us at the same time. We each had an individual interview session, but the rest of it was combined.

It was not hard to predict what happened. With not much of a resume and bad grades, I had no chance. The other guy got the job, and I got a job doing data entry that summer.


Introduction – Ground Rules

Hello. I am a veteran software professional, working in all aspects of software development. This blog is about my adventures of getting a job in tech, or in being recruited for jobs in tech. It will mostly be chronological, starting in the mid 1980’s, and eventually catching up to whatever is current. This is a journey still happening. There are highs and lows. There are funny stories. There are frustrating stories. And there is the downright absurd.

I hope you enjoy them.

Some ground rules I plan to follow:

  • I will not use personal names.
  • I WILL use most company names, when I can remember them.
  • When talking about technical screens, I will not be disclosing the problems I had to solve.

Any exceptions to these rules will be noted in the posts where they appear.

I am going to stay somewhat anonymous during this process.

Let’s see where we go!