Monday, July 21, 2008


Sixteen years ago yesterday (a Monday that year), I walked into the Attachmate offices in Factoria for the first time as an employee. I didn't have a phone, computer or even any furniture, so it was tough to do much, but they sat the two of us who'd started that day down with video tapes of Lisa Ford teaching great customer service skills. I soaked it up because there wasn't anything else to do with my time.

Though I heard lots of complaints from other people about those tapes, I haven't ever come across anything else that teaches customer service any better than that. For customer service, Lisa Ford is my hero.

I'm not sure exactly when the furniture arrived - that was the joke - "Do you have furniture yet?" Some new hires went a couple of weeks or more in those days without even having a chair to sit on because they hadn't found or purchased a spare one yet. Hiring was outstripping the capacity for facilities to keep up.

What I do know is that the first thing to arrive, even before the computer was the phone. That was in the afternoon of Day 2 or 3. Anxious for something to do that approximated technical and/or troubleshooting, I started punching buttons. Hey, why not?

Here's why not... suddenly I found myself connected with an inbound customer call and I had no idea whatsoever of how to handle it. I had no computer, no product knowledge yet, and no idea even how to transfer the call to someone else who could help. Heck, I hardly knew the names of the guys who sat near me.

"Psst! Kevin! I ended up with a call by accident, what do I do?!" Kevin (I think it was Kevin; honestly, it was 16 years - less a day or two - ago!) was kind and patient enough to walk me through the steps to transfer the call and he took it from there. Whew! Get this girl a computer, stat! It'll be so much safer that way and far better for everyone!

The weekend after I started, I got married so in five more days, I'll be celebrating my 16th wedding anniversary too. Somehow, it never occurred to me to negotiate anything beyond an extra hour of sleeping in the day after my wedding so I wandered in at the leisurely hour of 8am that second Monday of work. Somewhere in there, I ended up with a computer and a copy of the software I'd be supporting - EXTRA! for Windows. We wouldn't be trained until the rest of the new-hires started, so I began by seeing what I could figure out for myself. That turned out to be a pretty reasonable strategy as it also gave me an opportunity to assess how intuitive the software was and provide some feedback to Development.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the rest of the Summer of '92 class started. One of them is, to this day, one of my closest friends, as is another of my co-workers who had started a month or so ahead of me, and a high school friend of mine who had started there another couple of months before that. Another co-worker who first decoded the mysteries of hardware adapter I/O addresses and interrupts ultimately became my boss, mentor, and well-respected (by way more than just me!) friend, teaching me more than any single other person I know about what it means to be an effective leader.

In some ways, the intensity of that time period, all that we learned and gained, and the lasting impact (friendships and otherwise), had a certain summer camp feel about it. It's tough to believe it was that long ago, or that I lasted at Attachmate a total of nine years.

Long gone are the days when so many calls came in that we could never get to them all real-time, leaving the departmental receptionist to keep up as best she could with taking down names and phone numbers such that we would head up between calls to grab a stack of "callbacks". Ultimately we brought in enough new-hires and refined our processes enough to make that particular approach a thing of the past.

We also matured to the point where we were able to have desks all set up for our new hires - with a chair, even! As a manager, I always ensured that my employees never received a phone without also (or first) having a computer, even if it meant I had to steal the phone for a while until the computer arrived. You never quite know what sort of trouble a geek will get into if they haven't got a computer to play with.

If you have enduring memories of a past experience that still impact you today, do share. Or maybe there is some anniversary you're celebrating. Let's hear about it.

In the meantime, thank you from the bottom of my heart to Shawn, Burkery, Toot, and Eric (E). I'm better for knowing you. And best wishes to Renee and Shauna, whatever you're each up to these days. As Garrison Keillor might have said, it was a group that time (almost) forgot and decades cannot improve, at least in my memory.

As for my husband, the tall person, this is about the time when I remember our anniversary is coming up soon, so I'll say now - thanks for continuing to love me all these years. I know that living with a geek isn't always easy and you've made it seem to me and the rest of the world like it is. I love you (still!) for that and so much more.

What (besides a chair) do you need to get started?