Imagine a World of Work

My Technology Journey?

I recently read an article titled: “What will the World of Work Look Like in 2035?” I had to laugh. Not because I’m going to retire later this year, but because of the arrogance in thinking that we can look ahead 16 years, imagine all the changes, and predict that future (even if they do hedge their bets across a lot of options).

I have spent the past 42 years in the world of work described by the term “Information Management.” That is, described today by that term. 42 years ago, I was hired as a Programmer Analyst into a Systems Development group. I switched jobs fairly quickly to become a Methods Analyst, and then a Project Manager and a slew of other titles. Throughout my career, I worked with and/or around computers and the systems that run on those computers. The one thing all of these jobs had in common is that my education didn’t specifically prepare me for them.

Let me offer three facts for your consideration:

1) For the past (almost) 25 years, my job has relied upon and interacted with the Internet

2) I graduated from college in 1977

3) ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet, was roughly 8-years-old in 1977 and was completely characterized by the drawing below:

Not a lot of room for WordPress.

The drawing isn’t important, but the fact that you could actually draw ARPANET on a piece of paper is worth pondering. I doubt very much if anyone in the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Business even knew about ARPANET. People across the street at Carnegie Mellon University probably did, but not Pitt GSB. That unknown project would become my future home in about 16 years from the day I graduated.

A few high school teachers and college advisors shared their belief that “computers are going to be important in your lifetime” – a statement my father had said to me in 1967 – but no one seemed to know why. In graduate school, I learned how business information systems worked, what they typically did and how they should be designed. I also learned why they were being built at a rapid pace, and why working with them would make for a good career.

Information systems were automating tasks that companies were paying lots of people to perform. Replacing people with systems saved money.

I entered the business world at the tail-end of the great purge of people from the kinds of jobs computers of that era did very well – processing the day-to-day transactions of business such as buying things, paying for things, counting things and reporting all of this to people who cared. However, computers were still large and expensive. My first job was to improve a payroll system to accommodate the fact that, beginning in 1978, Social Security withholding could exceed $1,000. In other words, the payroll system needed 4-digits to store Social Security withholding.

In my first bit of real-world education, I learned that the plant manager at the plant I worked at, would exceed that threshold in January. I didn’t understand the term “incentive compensation” and I didn’t yet understand how that plant manager was gaming the system. I just knew I had to work unpaid overtime in order to have that system ready before Christmas. I digress.

That payroll system ran on a computer larger than my garage. It gobbled-up time cards like candy, counted the hours people worked and calculated the pay of those people. Another system I was responsible for compared the hours those people worked with the amount of stuff they produced. If someone’s production rate was below the expected average, my program took note. In fact, my program produced reports on all such people. One master report for the guy maxing out his Social Security contribution in his first paycheck, and one each for his minions who had to go and speak with the problem-children in their department.

Other reports generated by my systems included people who were spending too much money, breaking too many parts, producing too many components that failed quality control checks, took too many sick days, worked too much overtime and showed up late for work too often. I hated that job; I seemed to be in charge of making people miserable. I didn’t like what I was doing for a living, but I was very good at it.

I moved onto a job designing systems to make peoples’ jobs easier. Automating the things they didn’t want to do and helping them do the things they enjoyed. I was also laying the foundation for machinery to one day do those same jobs, but that’s a subject for a later episode. In closing, let me add that no one imagined that machines would come along and perform those tasks. No one in 1979 could imagine that far into the future – all the way into the 1990s.

I don’t think we can imagine that far into the future today.


This post is the 2nd in a periodic series on technological change. The 1st episode is here if you’re interested.

100 thoughts on “Imagine a World of Work

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    1. I was told that no one had stayed in that first job I had for more than a year. I lasted about 13 months. The next job was fun, but I still ran into my share of folks who didn’t want us doing what were doing. That part of my job has never changed. 16 years out? Too far for me to guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. In 1963 I took 6 months out of banking in an attempt to get into computers abut went back when the job didn’t really exist. 22 years later I started my own computer company and did that for the rest of my career! I think that if I had got the computer job I was expecting, I would have been a dinosaur in 1985 when I started a business for bank front office systems using Pascal and micro-computers!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You might be right, David, but you’re one of the more flexible people I know. I think you might have seen the light and moved into something else, but the banking experience had to be a big plus. It’s always fun to look back and connect the dots.

      Like

  2. I like what you do and what you have done. I like the technical aspects of your job. Very interesting. In the technical fields you can see the effects of your job on people almost immediately. If you have solved a problem then you can see whether you have succeeded or not. It is satisfying.
    One time I was called to look at a LV board that had blown up. The main breaker of 800A had exploded and the whole office block of 18 floors was in a blackout. It was on a Saturday and by the time I was leaving there was power and the client and his tenants were happy and satisfied. I was happy too. See people happy kind of inspires more happiness. I like that. Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Peter. In my end of the technology spectrum, we don’t see the results right away. It’s one of the reasons I like woodworking as a hobby. Some days, I work all day, but at the end of the day, there’s no evidence that I did anything. I can look at the progress, but it’s not visible to the world, yet.

      Do I want to know what causes an 800A breaker to explode? That sounds like very dangerous work, going in an fixing that. Still, I can understand the happy tenants. We lost power in 2011, for 10 days. I drove by the crew that was about to reconnect the wires to our street. I had to stop for one of their trucks, and I took the opportunity to thank them. They had driven up from over 1,000 miles (1600 km) away to help repair the damage after a storm.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a short circuit problem. The breaker was rated 85kA which should have cleared the short circuit without a fuss. But I found out that the breaker was a fake ABB SACE Tmax from downtown Nairobi. They make fake ABB switchgear in Nairobi, ruining the reputation of and market for the company. You can’t get fake Schneider or Siemens or Chint products but those of ABB are many. I don’t know why. I hardly specify ABB switchgear these days unless I supervise the job myself from start to finish. On that board, I replaced the breaker and the busbars and rewired the board.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I cannot imagine what computers, technology and the work it creates will look like in 2035. As it is, I don’t keep up with today’s technology.

    You’ve experienced many changes, starting with those outrageously huge computers. I’ve been in the work force 43 years and remember starting with this awful typewriter at the attorney’s office upon which you could not make one mistake while typing a will. Then onto an IBM selectric typewriter before jumping stealthly into the computer world in the late 80’s, back to a “word processor” and forward again with a computer. Not exactly the same changes you were part of and I can’t claim to have made peoples’ lives easier, so kudos to you for that one. I’m all about easier even when government work doesn’t always get that concept.

    Nice stroll down work memory lane, Dan. Have a great Monday!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Mary. I was part of those changes, too. I replaced the Selectrics and the word processors with PCs, and not everyone was happy, or considered that we were moving forward. With almost every change I introduced, or was a part of, someone lost their job. It has been one of the downsides of this career.

      The “experts” say that future job losses will simply let people move onto better jobs. I’m not so sure. I worry that it takes time for those “better” jobs to emerge.

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        1. I know a lot of people that have moved onto a slightly worse job. I also know people who moved to something that looked better, but was gone in a year or two. I think we’re at a point where very few jobs have any long-term security, except, maybe the trades.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. I carried two boxes of cards around campus during my junior and senior year. From my apartment to the computer center – the only place I could create/edit/run the programs written on those cards. Today, I finish working on something in one place, and pick it up in a different place on a different device and never give it a second thought. 16 years from now? No clue.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Our plans for the futures are simply informed wishes. We can’t ‘know’ but we can hope. As for the past that people keep forgetting, they wouldn’t be where they are without it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, I worked part-time as a key punch operator while going to school. At the end of the day a ‘senior operator’ would take my work product and punch it all again. When I came in the next day I would have an error sheet (basically a report card) which the Supervisor reviewed with me. I am imagining you somewhere in a back room shaking your head and saying ‘this one won’t make the cut.’ It is amazing how far technology has evolved. It must have been exciting to have been a part of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne. That kind of makes yo wonder what the point was of you punching the cards, but I’ve seen stranger situations. I would like to think the era of those report card reports has passed, but nothing would surprise me.

      When I was in college, I had to bribe the operator at the computer center to let me put my card deck in and “compile for syntax” which would catch typos and other minor errors. The program could only be run at night, so if I had a typo, I lost an entire day. The bribe was only a cup of coffee, so, not too bad.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember getting my first desktop computer at work in the late ’70s and how overwhelmed I felt having to learn a password to get it open something my typewriter never needed, and all the new commands! I still struggle with the computer but manage to get around my iPhone much easier.
    I don’t think they’ll get it right about 2035. I still don’t have the flying car that I was told we’d have by the time I was 18. I was 18 a lot of decades ago and we still don’t them!

    Love the reflected trees in the puddle, and oh, that poor tree!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah, and thanks for the comments on the images. That poor tree had been there as long as we’ve been in this neighborhood. Now, gone. Looking back, I had people who couldn’t wait to get a new computer or a new version of software, and I had people who hated to see me coming to their desk. We still have some people who ask if they can skip upgrades. It’s often a big change. It’s getting easier with cloud-based programs, they change slowly and behind the scenes. It’s just looks different when you open it tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When I think of all the paper work I handled at my first job…..it is mind-boggling. We had an awful storm and our building flooded. All my paper invoices were placed on various desks to dry out…..Who knew??!! My husband is a retired computer tech and remembers working on computers the size of refrigerators. We have come so very far. MiMi scope……so cute!

    Like

    1. Thanks Lois. We had a flood here, caused by a ruptured ice-maker water line, and I remember paper spread out all over the place to dry. I don’t work with much paper today, but some people in our office still prefer it. I’ve given up the fight. Those refrigerator sized computers probably weren’t as powerful as your phone today. Technology marches on.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My first IT job was running an old card sorter. Sorting the cards by SSN number was a long and tedious process. I could write programs, but it was not my strong suit. I ended as Systems Programmer for IBM mainframe systems. I popped over to DICE to see if any of those jobs are still around — there are a few. I am glad I moved on and retired when I did. I will say I do not get unraveled about technology tasks. The logic background served me well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I entered the business world at the tail-end of the great purge of people from the kinds of jobs computers of that era did very well – processing the day-to-day transactions of business such as buying things, paying for things, counting things and reporting all of this to people who cared.

    Same here.

    What we should never forget was how controlling and demeaning much of the business culture was back then. Uniformity and conformity were the order of the day and the ability of even the lowest minions of management to make life miserable was astonishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah our erstwhile friend technology. The more I see the less I agree that ‘advances’ are usually progress. Most are half thought out measures that are implemented and never reviewed. Or if they are nobody has the guts to go back and fix the important things that were eliminated and now create a gap. Sometimes a dangerous gap that is tested in real time with unfavorable results. “Yeah we will have someone look at that”. Except nobody knows who that somebody is until things get ugly. Like the autopilot on those jet planes. And of course no one reads the user error reports. And if they do it is minimized and put on a list of to do items with a low priority. We will fix that in the next release or sooner or later. I would like to see the HR job description for the position of ‘somebody’. Probably reads ‘this position will remain unfilled until the shit hits the fan. And then will be filled so quick it will make your head spin.’ With the added instruction – fill this position only after plausible deniability has failed and the stock takes a hit.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Someday I will have to tell a few of the real life stories that smacked me in the face. Computer systems can be useful if they are not broke or mostly so. I will have to generalize to protect the guilty. You know the ones that don’t really know what KISS means. Their idea of simple is to leave out the essential steps that make a really big boom when skipped.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. While I am eternally grateful for uour dedication to the best performance of your job, it makes my head hurt to hear you describe it just like my oldest who is writing programs for collection systems. 🙉Lalalalalala…🦋🐛🦄🐝🌹🐚🌈☀️Ill be happy for you to reach retirement Dan. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love your discussions about technology. In the late 60’s I got a promotion and move to Chicago. Part of my job was to call upon large retail headquarters in the area. One day I was presenting a new product to a well-known retailer. I was stopped in my presentation when the buyer informed me all ordering would be done by computer. (It was an IBM 350 model 50 mainframe) I asked if I could present to the computer which caused a big laugh. I had made my point and the new product was brought in after I filled out the required forms. Your photos are terrific.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think of what I started out doing in 1978 and how much and how rapidly things changed starting in the mid-’90’s. Up to that point a PC was a “pretend computer” (a friend of mine from Pittsburgh called it that), one good for typing and doing Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets on, maybe playing a little solitaire. I don’t think could even imagine the Internet until it was on top of me.

    After a career in EDP (the old name for IT), I look back and wonder why I didn’t get my MBA and get out of it altogether…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know, John. I got my MBA and got into it. We began automating at our company in 1988 on a Novell network of 286 PCs. Upgrades and migrations galore followed until the mid-90s, then we started struggling to make mobile computing work. So easy today.

      Like

  14. Wow! You have had a long and varied career Dan. I have to be honest, a lot of what you describe sailed right over my head, but I certainly understand that for 42 years your work, although sometimes fun, has been intense and, fortunately, usually satisfying. No easy task to master. Yikes, my junior high school English teacher would’ve had a coronary over that long sentence!

    And your retirement will be just as rewarding because you’re already bursting with ideas….as is The Editor, I’m sure.

    Have no idea what will unfold 16 years from now. I leave that to the next generation of thinkers and movers. People like you have paved a very nice path for them. At almost 80 (WTH?), if I’m still around 16 years from now, I’ll be joining Steve Weissman drooling all over myself waiting for the Pablum to be served at the “Home”!!

    On that happy note, I love the ‘reflections in the wood rack’ and ‘up MiMi-
    scope”! Sammy waiting for you guys is too cute. I love the multi-family bird house and your caption. But the guy taking pictures while his two dogs are off leash running across the road….. I just want to smack him.

    Hope today is the start of a good week for you.
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. I had to stop and wait for those dogs to get back to his side. He just smiled.

      I’ve had a rewarding career, and I hope to focus on some of the good things. Unfortunately, the good thing we’re boring and the bad things can be made to be funny. I had two techie blogs for s few years where I told the good stuff. They weren’t nearly as much fun as this place for me.

      I love seeing those reflections, MiMi and Sammy. I like getting pictures of birds and imagining their thoughts, especially when they’re on the ball field.

      I might stay involved in this technology in some way, it’s hard to say. I haven’t thought about all the possibilities.

      Like

  15. “Up MiMiscope”–LOL! Beautiful sky and squirrel pictures, and Maddie is lovely as always. I remember those computers that took up an entire room and read punch cards. Now I carry one in my pocket which seems to run on my tears and curses. The computer, I mean, not my pocket.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. If I could have predicted the world of computers, I would definitely have taken a typing class. Here I thought that typing was for “secretaries” and I didn’t want to be one of those… haha, the joke was on me. I was the Marketing Director for a credit union when the internet became a thing to pay attention to. We thought we were pretty savvy when we uploaded our brochures to our website. Btw, your captions are appearing under your photos, so YAY!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janis. Welcome to the club of people who wished they had taken a typing class. We’ve grown with the internet, but it hasn’t always been easy.

      I switched back to the classic editor to get the captions to display.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Actually , I’m a work-a-holic . When I begin to work , I feel a strong need for a drink. Good luck on the future retirement , other Dan. You’ve done your time . I don’t know about predicting the future . I lost track of my crystal ball when I was 10.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks for sharing the evolution of technology over the course of your career. I can relate. I also graduated from college in 1977. I went into the Medical Diagnostics field and boy has that changed over the past too many years. :)
    Donna

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My husband’s in IT and I can testify that’s it’s constantly changing. You never know which way the future will go. When we were growing up, people thought we’d be living in space and on other planets by this time. You never know, that’s for sure.

    Love the flying squirrel. :-)

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi Dan – the flying squirrel seems to have got it right: one wonders about evolution … how snakes became snakes etc … but are our brains adapting that sensibly and usefully to living on earth. The internet is amazing especially as an information tool – not much help without the techies though … I’ve been using it since the late 1980s but only on a superficial level – I know, that I know, that I should be way more capable with it … but one ticks along with life. Definitely being down the work chain – I know that some of my work (probably a lot) was never going to be much use to anyone. But I’m pleased the internet is here … and we can do this! Hope that snow has gone by now … spring really is here – cheers HIlary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. I think we are done with snow. There are still a feel piles out there. We’re dealing with below freezing nights and warm afternoons here.

      I look back at the information systems I’ve developed over time, and it’s pretty much the same cycle, over and over. We do the same things, we track and report the same things, we just do it on different machines and with fewer and fewer people than ever before.

      Like

  21. 1) LOVE the MiMi-scope 💕
    2) that’s a BIG tree to have toppled in the wind!
    3) I remember the future-readers predicting we would have flying cars by now. I’m still waiting. I no longer trust the future-readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. Yeah, I’m still waiting on my flying car, too. I think MiMi was trying to figure out why we were making so much noise,and waking her up from her nap.

      We were shocked to see that tree get blown over. That tree had been there as long as we’ve been in the neighborhood (over 35 years). Pulling out at that corner is easier now…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Theo does something similar to MiMi when he’s laying on the chair in the living room. Just his ears and the tops of his eyes show over the arm of the chair. I think ‘Batman’ every since time 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  22. I agree wholeheartedly in your sentiments – we won’t be able to predict 16 years in advance. Heck, Prince couldn’t predict the true 1999, and his short life after that either. My Mr. worked on board design teams with Seymour Cray, who was visionary when it came to computers. Even Cray knew not to predict, just that whatever was being created would be better than what they had today. Very intriguing post, Dan, thanks for sharing. Oh, and when you’re figuring out the floor plan for the bottle caps I might be able to add some color options from the Midwest for you to consider ;-).

    Liked by 1 person

  23. No one I knew in the 70s thought that computers were anything more than a fad. However in college I did learn how to use punch cards to program a computer because that was seen to be the logical future of computer technology. Can you even…!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. It’s so groovy you got in at the beginning-ish, what a path! My FIL had a similar path. My son, same field, cept he can’t seem to get on his desired path…
    Anyway, I just had a conversation with our new work person today, about the technology. She’s 22! 22! And she knows more than any of us about everything tech. And that includes Mentor who has a graduate degree in puter fings. I love to ask 22 how to, because she will come in and show me how to and it’s very quick and helpful, because to her, it’s easy and that makes it easier for me.
    I bet work in the future is more remote, less overhead, way less people-y, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more systems were integrated and universal, for speed of communication. I frequently wonder what will replace open, download, save as. I think there’s somethin there. Somethin better to do with our time.
    Also, love down periscope Kitteh! :D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s changed a lot since I started. I never really had a path because it was changing. 22-yr-olds are used to tech and to the current pace of change. Hopefully, we will all find better things to do with our time. You seem to have a good attitude regarding change.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Ever since my parents passed I did away with this notion of ‘future’. Why? because it just took an hour to turn my whole world upside down. I think I already told you the story when I was interviewing at IBM Call Center and this guy asked me Where do you see yourself in five years? I replied, Where do you see yourself tomorrow? That pissed him badly, but I still got the job through recommendation. Having said that, I’m a man of planning. It is a stark contrast. I don’t believe in future but I plan. People around me here know I will not entertain any out of the blue situation because I have plans. Many of my friends tell me that they are doing Internet related courses because they believe Internet is the future. I tell them what if Internet just goes out of trend. The possibilities are endless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great answer to a trite and somewhat meaningless interview question. I’m glad you got the job (that probably bothered him even more). Planning is important, but we have to be careful about the assumptions we build into our plan. The Internet probably isn’t going away in five years, but it might be under the control of robots by then – you really can’t say.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It didn’t bother him because we never met. He was on a different floor. He kicked me out of the office but we had a mutual friend and she called him up and strongly recommended my name and I went again and my appointment letter was ready. He was a bit unhappy but he was done with me.

        Liked by 1 person

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