Programming in a Cubicle

shirt and tie
I was working for a small software company, a division of a large corporation, during the early 1980’s. I sat in a cubicle with an IBM XT and an inbox full of "incident reports," sent by our Technical Support department.

Incident reports listed bugs reported by customers. I reproduced the bugs and fixed them. If I needed help, there were 8 programmers nearby.

Incident fixes had two reports for management and two floppy disks for our sneaker network.

I sent Technical Support a new program with my fix on one disk, and another disk with the edited program.

Support tested my fix before sending the second disk to the Lead Developer, who merged my changes into the system.

I worked on new features, mainly custom reports, occasionally. New development was frozen, because we were supposed to create a new version soon.

Cubicle Paradise

I always arrived early, to an enthusiastic greeting from Gary, our department’s Director. Gary was usually printing really long PERT charts with our plans. These charts were taped across one wall of his office.

Gary had great plans. He wanted us to rewrite our BASIC system in C, after we learned the language at an IBM seminar in Florida.

All the programmers were friendly. Most of us ate lunch together in our parent company's subsidized cafeteria. I looked forward to many years at this job.

Paradise Unravels

I did not hear Gary's printer, when I cheerfully arrived on a frigid Monday morning, two weeks away from a week in sunny Florida. His door was open, so I stopped in his office. Gary had been replaced by Craig.

Craig was formally introduced to us by Louise, our company director. I remember Louise because she had the largest desk I have ever seen.

We assembled in a conference room to learn that Gary was replaced because we had few features and customers. Craig was going to lead efforts to increase sales by adding irresistible features to our system.

Craig cancelled our Florida seminars. He added time sheets to each incident report.

Major differences between Gary and Craig:

  • Gary was a software expert. Craig had no computer experience.
  • Gary was visible. He thanked everyone for their efforts. Craig stayed in his office.

Where Are the Programmers?

A few days after Craig arrived, I needed help, but was informed that my colleague was out having pizza. I investigated and found three programmers drinking at a bar, hidden from the street, in the back of a pizzeria.

They quit at the end of the week. I quit the following week with four other programmers, leaving two of our original group.

Gary's firing shattered our stability. Gary left detailed plans for the next few years. His leadership and attitude motivated us. He distributed a staggered schedule for our Florida seminar, which was pinned to a clipboard in every cubicle.

If the same situation happened today, I would find a new job before I quit.

What Did I Learn?

  • It is better to have a manager who understands my assigned programming tasks.
  • I could use a modem to perform the same tasks at home.

I worked for one of the programmers who quit, nine years later. That's another story.