My Introduction to the Business World
Copyright 2002 by Jon Bondy, All Rights Reserved.
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As my senior year approached at college, I searched for courses I wanted to take, and came up empty. As a minor act of desperation, I asked one of my favorite professors whether he would sponsor my teaching a course on computers, instead. The students would get credit for taking my course; I would get credit for teaching it. To my surprise, this astrophysicist, who only knew computers from the perspective of a keypunch, agreed. [Historical note: a keypunch: is a device consisting of a keyboard and card punch that allowed people to create punched cards with typed information on them]. I created a course outline and the course, Digital Computer Fundamentals (as I recall) was offered. Again, surprise reigned, as so many people signed up that I had to teach two sessions.
In the course, I described logic “gates” (circuits that embodied Boolean logical functions) and showed how one could arrange these circuits into structures which would create a digital computer. I built flip-flops out of gates, and registers out of flip-flops; I described how core memories worked; I designed decoders and showed how they could be used to implement computer instruction control; I showed how all of the major components of a digital computer could be created, from the ground up. A tour de force for someone who had never taken a computer course, who had learned it all by reading manuals and just thinking. There were few computer books and computer courses back in 1973.
My father was a physician, and my grandfather and uncle were successful New York attorneys, so as college graduation loomed, a year later, I began to feel the pressure to enter into one of those honorable professions. I didn’t give much thought to any of my other qualifications or interests. What would my parents care about my summers spent writing computer software, or the course I had taught that year?
To my surprise, they explained that they had always figured I would get a job working with computers, so, guilt assuaged, I set out to get such a job. This was not that easy, since I had no credentials. I spent the summer looking for work and jogging.
Then, an alumnus came to the rescue. For no reason except for college pride, he interviewed me and arranged interviews with a number of local companies. One of them, Burroughs, actually made a job offer. It was very exciting.
The group in which I was to work was the Advanced Development Organization (ADO), in Paoli, PA. This group developed technologies which were then used by the rest of Burroughs. Among their triumphs was a micro-coded computer called the “D-Machine”. This started out as a lab device, but eventually was put into production as one of the smaller Burroughs computers. Later, the ADO developed a single-chip D-Machine, called the Mini-D. The lab contained four of the original D-Machines, hand-wired and custom-micro-coded machines all in a big switch that allowed them to share devices and memory. Each machine took up an entire 19” rack of cards about 6 feet high. It was all exciting stuff.
When I presented myself for work, the first day, I was told that first, I had to take a physical. Being young and in good health, this did not concern me. I was given a long form to fill out, and then I was prodded and thumped. One of the questions ran something like “Are you crazy?” (I’m paraphrasing here: maybe it was more like “Do you have any mental illnesses”). I said “no”, but indicated that we should discuss this a bit more.
When the physician asked me about this, I said that while I was not crazy, I was seeing a psychotherapist. My family had brought me up to not feel guilty about such things, but I began to gather that the physician who was interviewing me had grown up in a different family. He asked how many days a week I saw the shrink (“him”), and when I said four (I was in psychoanalysis), he grew more concerned. He became more concerned when I explained that the shrink was a “her”, not a “him”. He than went right to the heart of the matter, and asked me if I was sleeping with the shrink. Despite my explanation that I was not sleeping with the shrink, I was instructed to go home, rather than go to work, and that afternoon I learned that I was not mentally healthy enough to work for Burroughs Corporations.
I was naïve. I thought that the issue really was whether I was crazy or not. Since I knew I was not, I asked Jack Lynch, the guy who had offered me the job, whether there was any way for him to give me a chance, to let him find out whether I could do the job, or not. He pondered that for a few days, and then offered me a consulting contract. As a consultant, I did not have to pass any physicals, but I also had no benefits: no health insurance, no holidays, no vacations.
I figured it was a great alternative to no work at all, and so my first job, straight out of college, was Consultant to the Director of Advanced Development of Burroughs Corporation. Honestly.
I spent a year learning about what it is like to work In The Real World. People talking about their kids, their bills, their lawns, their neighbors. I tried to be polite, but I was a full-fledged geek, and this part was more difficult than the technical job, which was challenging and fun. The people there were smart, the work was fun, and I managed to do a decent job.
At the end of the year, as my consulting contract drew to a close, I asked my boss whether it made sense to try to hire me again. I had proven that I could work competently, and I was even willing to sign away my rights to receive mental health care insurance benefits, just so that I had benefits for other things (like surgery). He found the name of someone higher up the Burroughs chain of command, and I wrote a letter, stating my case.
A month or so later, I was called into my boss’ office. He explained that
1) he had decided not to renew my consulting contract;
2) he was pleased with my work: I had done nothing wrong;
3) he would give me a good letter of recommendation;
4) and I should not apply for other jobs at Burroughs, since I would never be hired at Burroughs ever again.
I was stunned. All I wanted was to be treated like everyone else, but in asking for that “right”, Burroughs was black-balling me. Everyone in the group was shocked, but what could they do? Well, there were things they could have done, but none of them were brave enough to jeopardize their jobs over this minor matter of principle.
I packed my things and was out of there within a few hours.
I did ask the ACLU whether there was anything they could do about the situation, but whoever I spoke with was one of the incompetent attorneys at the ACUL, since he told me “No”. Years later, I saw a newspaper article stating that what Burroughs had done to me had been illegal, but by then, it was too late.
It is interesting to note that when I got my next job at a large corporation, I discovered that there really are corporate cultures. The administrators and physicians at Burroughs were real pricks; those at General Electric were uniformly caring, friendly, and helpful. I had thought that all large corporations were the same, but in fact, this was not true at all.