How, re-arranging furniture, landed me my 1st software developer job in 1989!



I was at the fag end of a computer programming course at NIIT. This was a one and half year program and a couple of buddies who were my peers in the first year had already landed jobs at a start-up which was developing a business application product. The founder was a gold medallist from the first batch of MBA students at IIM Bangalore. Enough motivation for me to set my sights on applying for a job in the same company.


Thanks to my buddies, an interview was soon arranged. After clearing the first round with the Project Manager, I found myself talking to the founder himself. Thirty minutes later he and his co-founder said I was good to join. They were kind enough to give me time to finish up my course. Only catch was, this was to be a part-time opportunity. Foot in the door situation for me, I wasn't going to decline ...


The office was a car garage turned into a work place. The two walls along the sides were completely lined with books covering multiple subjects including Tao and hypnotism. A roughly 12 x 16 foot space which accommodated 3 software developers, a Project Manager, an Admin assistant, one desk which each of the founder/directors took turns to use, and one large dot matrix printer. As long as everyone was seated, there was enough space for 1 person to walk through the space between the desks. Under each desk was a fairly large power stabilizer which was connected to a PC - the most powerful desktop available at that time - based on a 286 processor. 20MB was a big number in terms of storage. It was the era when we programmers carefully thought about size of variables we wanted to use based on the maximum value it was likely to store. Optimal use of memory mattered. A character variable was enough to save states for 8 flags - 1 bit for each flag - as opposed to using 8 different variables.


As a part-time employee, I usually came in after everyone else had left. I re-used not only a desk which had been vacated, but someone else's PC as well. At the end of the first month I was handed my first pay cheque of 406/= INR. Felt reallygood. But I was curious about the figure. I recalled, that salary was something we had not discussed at the time of my interview. So, I waited until my boss showed up and politely enquired about the interesting figure. "Since you are a part-timer, I'm paying you on an hourly basis" came the answer. There was plenty of work to be done, so I began stretching my work hours by at least 1 more each week-day and on Saturdays, I threw in a few more. The 2nd month saw me take home 700/= INR. I was happy and so was my boss.


Let me get to the meat of the story here. I was into my 5th month of work. I had already completed my computer programming course at NIIT. Everything was going as per plan except that I was still employed on a part-time basis. It was a late Friday evening. My boss walked in and after exchanging pleasantries he said, "Ravi, both me and my colleague appreciate your contributions and like your style of working. But, if you'd like to look for another job, please go ahead". Was I getting fired ? I quickly dismissed the thought. I was certain if performance had been an issue, I would have received some feedback much earlier. On the contrary I was already being treated on par with my senior developers. So the only logical thing to do was to ask him for the real reason. "We would like to offer you a full time position. That would mean you have to be here during regular working hours putting in the same amount of work as the others. As you can see, we do not have space for another desk and unfortunately, we are not in a position to move to a new place for quite sometime. We do not want you to keep waiting", he said. He then went into the house, leaving me in the middle of a totally unexpected and unanticipated situation.


Just before shutting down for the day, a possible solution emerged. I called him out to the office and said, "Mr Bhat, you can be very honest and let me know otherwise. But is space the ONLY reason why I cannot become a full-time employee here ?" He replied that it was indeed the reason. And that is when I proposed my solution. "If you permit me 3 hours of time tomorrow (which was a Saturday) afternoon, I would like to see if I can re-arrange the furniture to make space. I will ensure that everything is connected back and continues to work as before." He replied, "Yes, sure" to that as well. His tone, I felt, was more like "that's the least I can do for him to get over the shock".


My proposal was not based on a desperate knee jerk reaction. Over the months, I had already become extremely familiar with everything that was in that work space. Clipper programs are compiler based. It took at least 5 to 7 minutes for a program to compile in those old PCs. Enough time to look around and observe. No social media and other forms of distractions so it was the time when we humans, were more connected with the physical things around us. And, by nature, I am the type who loves all kinds of activities - carpentry, wiring/cabling, plumbing, a bit of gardening, observing people, fixing stuff, recycling stuff, music ... and the list has been growing since early childhood. On the following Saturday afternoon, I came in to work as usual. Everyone had already left. I first began by making a rough sketch of the network configuration (we were on Novell Netware with all those cables and BNC connectors). In the next 3 hours or so, I had unplugged everything, moved all the desks around. Got the big printer sitting across two desks which were placed close to each other. In the process, freed up a desk it used to sit on. Connected all the cables, plugged in everything and tested each PC to see if it was working like before.


There was one more problem we used to face - low voltage in the evenings. The stabilisers would cut off power supply if it went below 200v. There was a big servo-stabilizer which was connected to one of the devices. I had understood a bit about this beast while chatting up with the service engineer who had come in to do preventive maintenance a couple of months before. It was capable of taking the load of everything around. Not sure how it landed up in the midst of all the other smaller stabilizers. It had the ability to bump up the voltage by a certain amount regardless of how low the voltage dropped. And we used to see it drop to as low as 170/180v. I decided to route the main power to this first and then distribute to all other stabilizers. The assumption was, this would ensure at least 200v or more to all the other smaller stabilizers keeping them up and running all the time. So, when Mr Bhat came in by late evening, he not only saw what I had done, but heard patiently to my theory of how the new power distribution setup would prevent us from having to shut down work during low-voltage situations like we used to. All devices seemed to work like before and nothing burned down when everything was switched on. That helped. The empty desk (on which the big printer used to sit all by itself) and my probing countenance brought the smile on his face which I was waiting for.


The following Monday I was informed that I was going to have a full time position. A brand new PC had been ordered. The first steps of what was going to be a long career as a computer professional had been taken. I remain thankful to the founders for the opportunity and for their honesty & directness.


I continue to cherish all the years, since my childhood, which I spent solving small problems in and around my house. The years when I spent servicing my own bicycle, my dad's scooter and those belonging to a few of my neighbours as well. My interest in regularly re-arranging furniture, just to give the environment a fresh feel (it was not enough if I did it in my own home every 3 months, I confess doing it in many of my friends and relative's homes as well!). Curiosity to learn about everything around us and application, in my humble opinion, can not only make our lives interesting, but help us get through those tricky turning points in life ...

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