Thursday, December 29, 2011
Production support (and responsibility for live systems) makes the IT professional grow up
My “conventional” information technology “career” (as in the last movement of Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony, maybe) lasted about 32 years (1970-2001), and it’s instructive to see how much of that lapsed time I was actually responsible for stuff that ran in production.
The “first experience” with this didn’t really happen until early 1976, with the NBC General Ledger system, running on a Univac 1110, in “ASCII COBOL”, right in 30 Rock. (It must have been replaced by now.) To “get IBM” I moved to Bradford National, and from Nov. 1977 until I left at the end of 1978 I was responsible for batch MMIS end-of-month reports (called “MARS”, no connection to the Viking Lander). But at the Combined Medicare Consortium (CABCO, of Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans) in Dallas, there was no production from 1979-1981, in fact, a project failure (not good for the resume). I moved to Chilton Credit Reporting, in an Ahmdahl (like IBM MVS) environment with ALC, COBOL, Datacomm DB and DC (sorry, not IMS and CICS) in late 1981, but didn’t move anything to production until Labor Day weekend, 1985, with monthly billing. I still remember the Sunday morning drive to the office along I-30 to support the production run. Pretty soon, I had made changes to the daily system, and we replaced all the billing in late 1987. When I went to (effectively) Lewin in 1988 back in Washington, I was responsibl for COBOL and SAS reports (“tables”) given to clients (for health care lobbying support). And at ING-ReliaStar-USLICO, from 1990-2001 (Arlington VA and then Minneapolis in 1997) I supported a variety of production systems all the time, including a salary deduction billing system that ran all day. I have to say that in my “post-retirement” world managing an estate, knowledge of life insurance (and the details about how IT processing really works) has come in very handy, particularly recently. Sometimes I feel as if I had never left work. It’s déjà vu.
In sum, for about 19 of those 32 years I was exposed to production responsibility (including off-hours on-call support or “nightcall”), including the last 16 years in a row. Most of the time the exposure was daily and could impact weekends. But that leaves quite a bit of time that I was not (especially 1979-1985, and before 1976), and so some of that help explains why I wasn’t more mature about some things when I should have been.
We all have to pay our dues.