Bad Job Experiences, Number 2 in a Series

My first ever “real” job was at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. I started there as a co-op student (for four work terms) and came back to do two more years as a full timer.

The major cause of all the problems with this job were that the boss (IC) was a cheap bastard. Combine that with a civil service bureaucracy and an antiquated mainframe environment where your department was charged “funny money” for every CPU second you used, every byte of storage and every page you printed, and you’ve got the ingredients for being ground to dust.

The worst part of that job was that for the last two terms as a co-op student and my first year as a full timer, there was literally about 2.5 feet of space between my desk and the cabinet behind me. I couldn’t pull my chair all the way out, and because of that I couldn’t have an arm chair or I wouldn’t be able to get in. The wall of cabinets behind me were punch cards, containing a bunch of programs that nobody had used in anybody’s memory except the boss. (The boss had started as a summer student 15 years previous, so he remembered everything.) One of the jobs I did that got me some more breathing room at my desk was to take all these card decks and IEBDUP (I can’t believe I remember that name) them to tape. Once I’d duplicated them to tape, I had to run them through again to make sure the tapes were 100% accurate (or at least mis-read the same way both times) and then finally I could throw away the cards and eventually the card cabinets. If the boss hadn’t been such a cheap bastard, I’m sure I would have had to compile and run the programs from the tapes just to make sure they were correct. The tapes had an expiry time of 1/1/2000, so I guess they’re finally gone – I’m willing to be nobody asked for them back in all the time they were sitting in the tape vault.

I remember once he was going to a conference to give a paper, and he bragged about how he spent his Sunday driving down from Toronto to Buffalo so that he could take People’s Express (a discount airline of that era). The grateful Ontario taxpayers repaid his wasting a day of his own time to save them $100 by denying some of his meal expenses because they were over the allowed amount.

We never had enough resources. There were four groups in our office, and our group was the busiest. We had “customers” in the 5 regional offices of the Ministry and were always having to make changes to the program to accomodate them. And yet we were the group with the fewest resources – fewer programmers, fewer computer terminals (fewer terminals than there were programmers, believe it or not), and so on. We had an IBM PC-AT which, strangely for the time, had a Monochrome Display Adaptor (which do text only) *and* a very fancy graphics card (not IBM’s horrible Colour Graphics Adaptor) and two monitors so that we could run AutoCad. As soon as we got it, I told the boss that we needed some backup software, and recommended FastBack as the program that they used down the hall in the MicroComputer Lab. He said “yeah, well, someday we’ll get it”. And kept saying that for nearly a year after we got it.

I should point out that all the other programmers in our group, including the boss, were Civil Engineers with no computer training. I was pretty much self-taught on computers myself, but unlike them I actually knew something. TK wasn’t bad, being a very smart engineer who’d applied his intelligence to computers, but HH was terrible. HH couldn’t program his way out of a paper bag, and his understanding of computers was laughable – he once suggested that we strip all the comments out of the source code to save space in the executable, and archive the comments on tape.

Because I was the only person who understood even a modicum about micro computers (having owned a few of them), I was sort-of in charge of the IBM PC-AT. Except for when they didn’t bother to consult me. Like the day HH came over to ask me if I could help. I came over to find that HH had been “helping” a consultant, who had asked to use our computer because he didn’t have one of his own. Talk about the blind leading the blind. They had needed to format a floppy, so they’d put the floppy in the drive and typed “format” with no arguments. DOS at that time put up a warning that said (and I’m pretty sure about this wording, because it is burned into my memory):


And this brain trust obviously decided that reading warnings is something that only “other” people do, so they just typed “y” without bothering to understand what the warning was trying to tell them. And that’s when HH came to me to find out what could be done.

Fortunately the PC Lab down the hall had a copy of the Mace Utilities, which at the time was the only program that could “unformat” a hard drive. And by “unformat”, I mean it produced a bazillion little files with numeric names, and you could possibly piece together the text parts of some of the files if you were clever. For binary files, sometimes you’d get lucky and the whole original binary file would be in one file if you could only figure out what type of file it was and open it in the right program. (I think the files were actually contiguous segments of the disk, so a fragmented file would be in chunks.) I spent three days trying to recover files, and didn’t get much back. So thanks to IC’s saving $50 by not buying FastBack, we lost three days of my work to recover, and a whole bunch of previous work. He submitted the order for FastBack the day *after* the disaster.

The other symptom of his being a cheap bastard was in my salary. Even though I had 16 months of experience as a student doing exactly what I was doing as a full timer (and a hell of a lot better than the two other full timers, I must say), I got hired as a “Systems Officer 1, Step 0”, meaning at the bare minimum salary that the position was entitled to. After being there a year I was promoted to “SO-1, Step 1”. And a year after that “SO-1, Step 2”, and I was eligible to compete for a promotion to SO-2 Step 0. Meanwhile, other people who had been hired in other groups around the same time had started as “SO-1, Step 4” and after two years every single one of them had been made SO-2s, and some of them had already made SO-3. At that point I was making $36K, and people the same age as me sitting in the same office were making over $45K. There was a provision in the civil service where if you started with some special knowledge, your boss could get you a one time merit increment. I asked my boss for one of these to get at least to SO-2 Step 2, and he refused. And that’s why I took a pay cut to go to my next job, GeoVision Inc.

2 thoughts on “Bad Job Experiences, Number 2 in a Series”

  1. ITYM “got hired as”, not “got fired”.

    Sounds like typical public service/academia shit. 🙁

    And Fastback rocked!

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