Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Being on the road for your employer: it can be an adventure, or it can become mundane


Business travel – it was an experience that I relished when I started “working” in 1970: the pre-security airline travel, the hotels, the rental cars (back in those days, rental car companies really did charge by the mile during the week, but “the company paid for it,” even on job interviews). It seemed like an adventure, running around New Jersey then on someone else’s dime. The first “business trip” to another part of the country, in fact, would occur in April 1970 with RCA with a day in Indianapolis. I would later have a 12-week assignment in Indianapolis (starting right after Kent State in Ohio), and be glad to be able to come back “home” to the Easy Coast. Then, the Midwest seemed “dumb.”

The travel would occur again when I worked for Sperry Univac, particularly with eleven weeks in Minneapolis St. Paul (especially Eagan, at the sprawling facility on Pilot Knob Road, still belonging to Unisys) on benchmarks. There were lots of all-nighters with sitting in computer rooms with card decks and panic dumps. That was the style of work then. This was the winter and early spring of 1974, during the worst of the Arab oil embargo gasoline shortage, but I had my own rental car, and it did not affect things much in Minnesota. I was glad to get “home” again, but the great irony was that I would move to Minneapolis in 1997 (with Reliastar aka ING) and spend, in some ways, some of the most interesting six years of my life. A downtown lifestyle in the Churchill Apartments, walking to work on the Skyway, with “social life” much of it a few blocks away (yes, Hennepin). The winters were not nearly as severe as they used to be (global warming?)

There was some travel around the country in the early 1980s with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Combined Medicare Project, headquarter out of Dallas. But that fell apart (because of the political fighting among the plans), and I had to move on to Chilton, a credit reporting company (now Experian after a couple of corporate moves). The data processing center was in a low rise, curved yellow brick building on the fringe of Oak Lawn (the “gay” part of Dallas), on Fitzhugh. Despite conservative Texas and the Reaganism, this was a place where you went to work, did your job as an individual contributor, supported your own work when it went into production, and lived your own life. Dress, even in 1981, was casual. (Even though culturally influential EDS was a few miles away on Forest Lane, heading for Plano.) I liked things that way. But the travel stopped, and life became really personal, and priorities changed.

But the little consulting company back in DC that I would start at in 1988 brought me back to the road, a little bit, back and forth to Richmond. We had been hosted at Healthnet (Blue Cross and Blue Shield) on Staples Mill Road, and also had used “The Computing Company,” (TCC) a Richmond contractor that in those days did Virginia MMIS. And there was one weekend in May 1989 that I recall particularly well, when the little company had been sold to what is now a significant healthcare consulting company, the Lewin Group (then it was Lewin/ICF). My job for the weekend was to go down to Richmond, back up all the data onto open reel tapes (with simple IEBGENER ‘s or SYNCSORT’s), catalogue them, and bring them back to DC in boxes, and leave them secured in a building in DC on Sunday afternoon. The physical safety of the little company’s work was in my hands. And it was in the trunk of a Ford Escort (mine) Sunday afternoon as I drove back to DC and watch the miles go back down from 100 to 0 along I-95. It’s interesting that something so critical (the future of a whole company) could depend on doing something so simple (and mundane) as multistep JCL; but you had to be careful to code the parameters for multi-file tapes correctly. I saved printouts of the JCL and put them under my pillow in the motel room that night; it was that critical.

That whole experience leads in to what I do today with my own “stuff”, keeping track of backups (diskettes, hidden sites, etc), security for computers, everything. It also reminds me of a now modern problem for businesses everywhere, with the proliferation of laptops, removable hard drives, and telecommuting, is the physical security of private consumer data, which I transported legally in my own vehicle in 1989. Yes, I was paid for my extra time that weekend.

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