Sunday, September 16, 2012

I've Been Everywhere

I just finished teaching in Romania what will likely be my last professional class in my career. It is precisely for the reasons of reminiscing and creating a sort of memoir of my life that I’ve been writing these blogs. So it is time to talk about my teaching career and especially my travels delivering classes. Last night we had the grandkids over, and I gave Alyssa my collection of coins I had gathered in my travels. She started asking me about the countries and this essay was born. (She asked my wife, Linda, how to tell the Chinese coins from the Japanese coins. Linda answered, read the writing on them. :-D )

I started my teaching career in 1968. I was attending Navy electronics school, and I was asked if I would teach “night study.” This was a two hour session Monday through Thursday. Since I had always wanted to be a teacher, I jumped at the opportunity. For twelve weeks I would learn electronics during the day and then teach the same thing that night to the students who were struggling. I learned a lot about explaining things different ways to fit individual learning styles. Since the instructor typically learns more than the students, I ended my Navy training with near perfect scores.

I had been in the Navy, at that point, about six or eight months. So I was a paid employee. However, up to that time, all I had done was go to boot camp and technical schools. I had not really produced anything. Therefore, this night study class I taught represents my first actual work for the Navy. It was the start of my paid teaching career.

This was really the start of my career in general — any career. Prior to that I had jobs, some pretty nice, such as working in my dad’s grocery store and with the Bureau of Land Management in fire suppression, but not a career. Now I was in the Navy and attending electronics technical school studying the field that I would spend my life pursuing. Therefore, this was the actual starting moment of my life-long career.

I had always enjoyed explaining things. A story for another time is how I used a special record maker machine my parents gave me as a gift. My first recording was not a musical composition, but rather a short lecture on the impact of Einstein’s special theory of relativity on travel faster than the speed of light. I was about ten years old at the time!

I did not do any more teaching, after that short night study stint, for the rest of my Navy career. Following my discharge from the Navy, I moved to Colorado and was working for an aerospace company in Boulder. My old Navy buddy, Woody (David Woodman), moved here and he was looking for a job. He had a degree in math and was interested in a teaching job. The state employment agency recommended a job at the “Electronics Technical Institute” (ETI) in Denver. Woody wanted to teach math, not electronics, so he suggested I apply. I did and was hired.

Since I had a First Class Commercial FCC (Federal Communications Commission) license, I started out teaching FCC License Preparation. I expanded my teaching to other topics including communication theory and radio electronics and even taught a special class on microwave communications. I think I’m a natural teacher. I was a big hit with the students who often said they found my classes the most enjoyable in the school. The school was very happy with my work, since some of my classes were in addition to the regular school’s two year curriculum and students were taking these classes due to my reputation. That meant extra income for the school. I loved to teach, so everyone was happy.

I think, deep down inside, I really wanted to be an entertainer and take the stage. However, my skills on keyboard and guitar and my singing (very reminiscent of frog croaking) were never going to get me a paid gig. Therefore, I suspect, teaching and being the star in front of the class was the best I could accomplish. Anyone who has been in my class will tell you the jokes flow freely, mostly at my expense. I try to make learning fun … it’s a blast for me!

While I was at ETI, I took on some special assignments, such as teaching basic radio theory to the dispatchers at the Denver Fire Department communications center. Through the connection of the former technical director of ETI, who was then the head of the electronics department at Metropolitan State College of Denver, I soon found myself teaching at Metro in the evenings. I mostly taught digital engineering courses at Metro, but I taught a few other classes on solid state electronics and semiconductor physics.

I had been at ETI for about five years when Linda and I got married and began planning a family. Since neither ETI nor Metro had great medical insurance, we were living in Longmont and I was making the 40 mile (80 mile round trip) commute to Denver every day, I began to look elsewhere for employment.

I ended up interviewing at IBM in Boulder and took a job as a tester in the copier manufacturing line. I was quickly promoted and was soon a test engineer working in disk drive manufacturing and magnetic recording head development. The manufacture of thin film heads was a new situation in Boulder and most electronics engineers are not specialized in magnetism. Since I was a graduate student in physics at the University of Colorado, I was asked to develop a class on magnetism. I got the assistance of a draftsman who used CADCAM to create wonderful illustrations of the magnetic domains and lines of force for the course materials. I created transparencies and taught several short classes to my fellow engineers and technicians.

It was about this time that the IBM PC was announced. Based on my previous experience with Radio Shack and Apple computers, I was soon teaching classes on using the IBM PC. This was entirely a volunteer effort on my part, but I had the extra time and IBM had the need, so I began teaching classes regularly to the entire site: executives, managers, employees, contractors, everybody. This became one of the most popular courses in Boulder site education. I taught people how to use the Personal Computer, VisiCalc (a very popular spreadsheet program that predated Lotus 1-2-3 or Excel), word processors (like EasyWriter or WordStar), and other productivity tools. At this point I wasn’t teaching “programmers” as much as “users.”

One of my students was on the school board. He asked IBM if he could obtain my services. Next thing you know I was teaching at Ft. Lupton Middle School one day a week. I taught students in the gifted and talented program. I also taught the teachers how to use their Apple II computers to maintain records of student’s grades using VisiCalc, develop curriculum and educational plans, and select appropriate educational software.

So, by this time, I was teaching regular classes at IBM Boulder on using the PC and spending every Tuesday in Ft. Lupton, while still performing my “day job” of testing disk drives.

Then, one day, a manager from IBM Technical Education visited Boulder. He asked the site education manager if he knew any possible instructors for IBM’s new programmer training curriculum which was being developed on the IBM PC. He recommended me, I interviewed, and the next thing I knew I was in Austin, Texas, teaching the first class of the “brand new,” fifteen week long Programming Fundamentals (PF). This was a course that was intended to be the start of a complete programmer retraining curriculum. In those days, IBM did not lay anyone off. If your old job went away, then IBM would train you for a new job. (That WAS the good old days.) Due to the high need for programmers, IBM planned to retrain people with that skill.

Programming Fundamentals was just a part of the overall curriculum. IBM already had a “University Level Computer Science Program” (ULCS) which was a series of five day, very intense classes taught by university faculty from the best schools in the country. There were 23 classes in all. This curriculum was developed during the ‘70’s to fill a need. Computer Science was a new discipline and IBM’s experienced programmers typically had degrees in math or physics or engineering rather than Comp. Sci. IBM wanted to be sure their programmers had the latest knowledge of computer science taught in universities, so the ULCS program was developed. It was taught at off-site conference centers all around the country and attended by thousands of IBM programmers during its twenty year life. (I later attended ULCS as a student and graduated from that program in 1992.)

IBM Technical Education developed a curriculum consisting of Programming Fundamentals followed by appropriate ULCS classes, plus various short classes on programming languages, operating systems, and other IBM technical topics. All together this curriculum was one to two years in length depending if students went full-time or part-time. IBM Education hired five university professors to write the entire 15 week Programming Fundamentals course. I was hired to teach the first class along with two other IBM instructors who had taught the old training course. The previous course used the IBM mainframe in the labs and an internal IBM programming language, but the new Programming Fundamentals would use the PC and Pascal. I was hired as the PC expert to complete the “faculty” of the PF training core; plus I had taken some Pascal classes while working on my Master’s in Math at CU making me a good fit for the job.

But I was an engineer, not a programmer.  This was the start of my transition from teacher/engineer to teacher/programmer. I learned a lot of computer science by teaching the classes. Everyone knows the teacher learns the most, and that became my motto as I worked with university faculty and experienced programmers. I started reading every programming book I could find. To this day, I have one of the finest software engineering libraries in northern Colorado. Come over some time and borrow a book.

After teaching the first class in Austin, we traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, where we taught the second PF class. Following these two pilot classes, we returned to Austin, Texas, to modify and improve the course materials. The professors who originally authored the course had done a good job, but we saw many areas for improvement now that we had taught the class twice. I worked with Dan Smith and other education experts to revise the PF class, shortening it to 13 weeks and putting more IBM work knowledge into the course. My special focus was on rewriting all the lab assignments making them more complete and precise as well as rewriting all the exams (there was one every week) adding instructor notes and grading guidelines.

At that time my manager was located in Austin, so I spent a lot of time there. Coincidently, my next two managers were also in Austin, while our organization was spread out all across the U.S. So we had many long department meetings, conferences, and work sessions in Austin. In addition, since it is a very large IBM site, I taught a lot of classes in Austin. I like Austin, know the city well, and it is an easy flight from Denver.  Austin became a sort of second home. When there was the possibility that IBM Boulder would close, my plan was to transfer to Austin. Love the “Salt Lick” barbeque, love sixth street live music, love the mild weather, just LOVE that city!

The PF revision effort finished just in time because IBM Boulder was making major mission changes and switching from hardware manufacturing to software development. IBM initiated a training program in Boulder that ultimately grew to 26 Programming Fundamentals classes. My next stop was back to Boulder to teach the first PF class there and to train additional instructors from the Boulder site. I ended up teaching three of these first classes in Boulder in 1986 and 1987. I often substituted for PF instructors on vacation for the next three years. To this day, I work side by side with many of my former students.

Meanwhile, programmer retraining was expanding at all IBM sites. I quit teaching the course and started just teaching the instructors. We would hire junior college computer instructors and local IBM programmers. I taught them a two week course called Teach the Teachers or T3. In this class we would show them how to use the materials to teach the course. They already knew Pascal and other computer science topics. I was busy improving labs and quizzes and really getting deep into educational theory. I led the effort to rewrite all the course materials using the powerful IBM publishing system called “BookMaster.” I created and edited course materials into single computer files which would print “Student Notebooks,” “Instructor Guides,” and other specialized documents. The power of BookMaster was you could have single source files and the document produced was based on commands given at print time. I became a real expert in using IBM generalized markup languages for formatting of books and other documents.

I hired various consultants in educational psychology and graphic design to help develop course materials. We performed a thorough validation of the course objectives and materials matching them to actual programmer tasks. Since graduating from this curriculum could lead to promotions and pay increases, we had to work with human resources to make sure our course was not discriminatory and that what we taught and tested was really what was required on the job.

It was during this time that I wrote two textbooks on mathematics which were used as prerequisites to the programmer retraining curriculum. I learned a lot about computer typesetting, especially of complex mathematical notation. I had two interns working with me full time; we wrote and published the two books in less than six months. They were then used in the introductory computer math sections of the training. (We had learned that students needed some refreshing of their math skills before embarking on the curriculum.)

Although I don’t have a degree in education, I did attend education classes at Vanderbilt and Harvard, as well at educational classes at CU and CSU during this time. I became very qualified as an instructor and instructional designer. IBM education was not only my employer, but also sent me to a lot of training. It was a rich and rewarding time for me. I was soaking up the learning like a sponge and adding even more books to my library. My manager would give me a $1,000 budget every December for me to purchase personal books. I became a good customer at the local college bookstores and technical book outlets. (Much later, in 1996, I purchased my first book from, becoming one of their first customers.)

Soon I was traveling internationally to Germany to supervise their deployment of PF and train instructors. I also went to San Juan, Puerto Rico to teach the faculty at Universidad de Puerto Rico. The Universidad were very interested in our course due to its high completion rate. As good IBM customers, the corporation agreed to provide them with the PF course materials and flew Dan Smith and me down for several weeks of meetings and training.

After about five years, the demand for PF began to wane. I started teaching other, short classes. I joined an IBM Technical Education organization called the Computer Science and Software Engineering Training group. I started traveling and teaching quality classes such as software inspection and software testing, as well as software engineering, object-oriented programming, and other topics. These classes were two to four or five days in length.

My first class was in Charlotte, North Carolina, teaching formal software inspection techniques. Directly from Charlotte, I flew to Toronto, Canada, and taught the class a second time. I was teaching classes that I had not originally written, but I soon started to modify and improve these courses using my new skills with IBM publishing tools and my recent knowledge of instructional design. I also purchased more books!

Thus began my travel to all the IBM sites teaching programmers how to do their jobs better. Because of the success of these classes, I was soon invited to teach to customers. That opened up many new cities for me to deliver courses. I taught a few classes outside the US, but it wasn’t until the next step in my career that I became a real globe trotter.

I am very happy that, when my passport expired and I had to send it in to get it renewed, the government returned the old, “canceled” passport. It is a colorful reminder of all the nations I visited, full of stamps and visas and work permits. I had already taught in Canada and Germany, but now my travels began across the vast Pacific Ocean. I taught first in Japan, then in Korea, Singapore, China, and Australia. These all involved 20 hour plane rides, but fortunately we were allowed to fly business class, so it was comfortable. In earlier days the planes would stop in Hawaii or Alaska to refuel, but by the time I was making the trip the new model 747-400 could make the trip from L.A. to Japan in one hop.

It was during this time that I took a year off from travel to develop a completely new and revised Software Testing Curriculum consisting of four different courses that could be combined in various ways. I had a small staff of interns and one administrative assistant, as well as several vendor organizations producing graphic arts for the class materials. I still use those materials to this day. Upon completion of the course design, I took that material “on the road.” I became a regular at the IBM European Education Center in La Hupe, Belgium, and my passport began to fill up.

My teaching began to take on more of a flavor of consulting. Instead of just teaching a fixed curriculum, I would go to IBM sites and customers to analyze their software development issues. I suggested improved processes, especially in the area of software engineering, software inspections, and testing.

I spent several weeks in Charlotte, N.C. helping them with a quality issue with the new Check Image software. I shared my earlier experiences with “computer vision” while developing a complete inspection process for their programmers and teaching classes on quality improvement techniques. I did similar work at IBM Store Systems in Raleigh, N.C.

IBM Global Services was a new IBM business enterprise; it was rapidly growing as they provided consultants and technical services to other companies. I was asked to join a group in New York working on a new consulting methodology called “Worldwide Solution Design and Delivery Methodology” or WSDDM — pronounced “wisdom.” I worked with the other methodologists and developed and documented the testing methodology called “Full Lifecycle Testing.” Upon completion of this work we had to roll out this methodology world wide. I started traveling the globe teaching these IBM consultants and project managers. At one point I left from New York City, flew to La Hupe, Belgium, where I taught European students for three weeks. Our team then flew on to Singapore where we taught the Asia Pacific IBMers. I returned via San Francisco. So, like Phileas Fogg, I’ve been around the world, although in less than 80 days. Since I crossed over the International Date Line, I am either a day older or a day younger than everyone else born on my birthday. I’ve never figured out which.

Over the years I visited many foreign countries, always teaching in English. Some countries, such as Japan or Taiwan, had strong English skills. My Korean students, on the other hand, were weak in English, so I had the double duty of teaching the technical topic and translating as well. I like to use a lot of analogies in my presentations and describe technical issues several ways, so I would just keep explaining something until the students understood the words I used. I remember students from Vietnam flipping through their dictionaries as I went through my lessons. Of course, in Australia, language was less of an issue.

Following the roll out of WSDDM, IBM decided to establish a permanent training facility at their corporate headquarters in Armonk, New York, to train Global Services professional new hires. I helped develop the curriculum and began teaching a two week class in Armonk. After the class ended, I would then go home for a week and return for the next session. That was fun because there were a large number of instructors and we would go into the city on the weekend. I really got to know and love New York City.

After a couple of years, due to the high demand for this class with all the new consultants IBM was hiring, they eliminated the week off and started running the two week classes back to back. I didn’t want to relocate to New York. During all this time of travel and remote assignments, I had kept my office and abode in Colorado. So I resigned from that assignment and started teaching Information Engineering for a manager out of Dallas, Texas. This got me into a different kind of training where, instead of teaching at company development and manufacturing sites, I began teaching at IBM’s education centers in Dallas and Atlanta.

When I was in Technical Education teaching at IBM development labs and sites with thousands of employees, our motto was “travel the instructor, not the students.” All the sites had classrooms and local education staff that supported me when I came to town to teach. In service education, since that was for IBMers located all over the country in small branch offices, IBM had two large education centers with nearby hotels, many classrooms, and other fancy facilities such as television studios. It was in Atlanta that I taught classes broadcast on the IBM Educational Television Network or ETN. That is another whole story that I’ll save for later. I would teach the Information Engineering classes at these education centers and the students would travel to attend.

Throughout all this time, I had developed a reputation all across IBM as an expert on Quality. I was soon invited to join IBM’s premier quality organization, “Quality through Software Engineering.” I became a consultant rather than a teacher, traveling to sites to troubleshoot quality issues and recommend changes in processes and improvements in techniques. I spoke at conventions and conferences sponsored by IBM, the IEEE, ACM, and special testing organizations such as the SQE conference and certification organizations like the ASTOB and the IIST. (I’m giving up translating all the acronyms. Just check them on Google.)

Finally, by 1998, I grew tired of the travel and being away from home. Plus I wanted to go back to school and study Computer Science. I could not do that with all the travel. So I interviewed for a job with the IBM Printing Systems Division (PSD) in Boulder doing what I usually did as a consultant. Ironically, although the name had changed, PSD was really where I had started 25 years earlier testing copiers in Boulder. I took on the job of managing the software testing of PSD’s flagship product, InfoPrint Manager. I no longer had to travel except now and then to attend and sometimes present at conferences. I would go to a half dozen meetings and conferences a year, but no more international travel. I stayed home most weeks. I did go to some trade shows and visited a few customer sites, but I was no longer on first name basis with all the flight attendants flying out of Denver.

Naturally, once employed in the steady, no travel, job at IBM Boulder, I quickly resumed my teaching. First it was the deployment of ISO 9001:2000 for PSD. I developed and taught classes to all the employees as we prepared for that certification. I also taught regular software testing courses to my own employees. I encouraged regular meetings to improve our skills by mutually sharing and presenting on various technical subjects. I was often the presenter.

I did take a temporary assignment with IBM Research in 2003, and I was back on the road teaching IBMers how to use Orthogonal Defect Classification (ODC) — don’t ask! Linda was retired by this point. She got to travel with me to San Jose, Los Angeles, and Boston as I taught and consulted with IBM organization on the use of this defect classification system.

These classes gave me additional exposure within the PSD organization. This exposure had always been one of the reasons for my success within IBM. Like any big organization, it is often difficult to get noticed. You were more likely to become known due to a screw up on your part than on some success. Life is often like that. Because of my travel and teaching, I developed a reputation for knowledge and expertise that often led me to new opportunities.

It was no different once I had settled in to the PSD culture. I had been a senior engineer for over eight years. That is typically the top of the ladder for a technical person. To obtain any further advancement, most engineers have to switch to management and start climbing that ladder. IBM, on the other hand, has a technical ladder with a few more rungs above senior engineer.

After leading the development organization to a successful ISO certification and deploying ODC, both done primarily by me teaching classes to the entire organization, I was promoted to “Senior Technical Staff Member” or STSM. It is a strange title, but a great job. Basically I am a technical executive. It is my responsibility to guide the technical direction of the company. That means I study options, make predictions about the future direction of technology, and advise top management. If you would say that the top executives steer the ship, I am the one reading the maps and doing the navigating.

By the way, STSM is not the top rung of the ladder. IBM has an even higher position called “Distinguished Engineer.” Among those DEs are “IBM Fellows.” There are about 150 IBM Fellows in all of IBM for the last 50 years. You become a Fellow by doing something extraordinarily special. For example, my friend Joan Mitchel is a Fellow based on her work defining both JPEG and MPEG as part of an industry wide task force. It is a position you are appointed to by the IBM CEO. The list of Fellows is like a who's who of technology.Fellows include Harlan Mills, John Backus, Gene Amdahl, Edgar Codd, BenoĆ®t Mandelbrot, and Grady Booch. A google search of any of those distinguished scientists will yield a history of computers. I don't think my accomplishments are on equal with this august group.

There is an organization called the “IBM Academy of Technology” which these top technical people are in. One of the Academy’s key concerns is technical vitality. I was a member of one of the Academy’s sponsored organizations called the “Boulder Technical Vitality Council” (TVC). The TVC sponsored weekly one-hour presentation taught in the Boulder cafeteria. The presentations are attended by people from all the divisions on the site. I presented regularly on areas I was interested in from “Quality Predictive Indicators,” to “Leadership and Driving Change,” to “One Laptop Per Child.” Eventually I was elected the chairman of the council for a two year term.

I attended the Academy’s annual conferences which were held in Toronto, Canada, and Chicago, Illinois the two years I was chairman of the TVC. I was very impressed with the Academy and made several personal contacts. That is important because the final technical promotion at IBM is not done by management, but by the Academy. I was hoping they would invite me to join. I don’t know if I would have ever gotten that last promotion if I had remained at IBM. There are only 350 total IBMers in the Academy at one time, and it is a fixed size organization. However, since these are very senior technical people, there is a steady stream of Academy members retiring from IBM, so there are openings every year. You had to be nominated by three members of the Academy, and then the body would vote on you.

Unfortunately, in 2007, IBM sold Printing Systems Division to Ricoh, so I lost my opportunity. There was a three year joint venture period in which I worked for both companies. Since June of 2010, I am no longer part of IBM. I plan full retirement from my present company in a couple of months, so this week’s classes on software static analysis in Romania will be my last teaching assignment.

Or, perhaps not … who can predict what lies down the road? I may return to the university as either a student or an instructor. No-one should think they are too old to learn or to teach. I can’t predict what will happen to me next, but it has been a good ride. Along the way, I’ve traveled to a lot of places in the US and abroad. Sort of reminds me of the old song I listened to working in my dad’s store back in Lewistown, Montana: “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

As a young kid who had barely been out of the state, who knew I would end up in these places.

I was totin' my pack along the long dusty Winnemucca road,
When along came a semi with a high an' canvas-covered load.
"If you're goin' to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride."
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside.
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand.
And I said, "Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land!

I've been everywhere, man.
I've been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert's bare, man.
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere.

I've taught at:
Great lakes, Illinois (US Navy)
Denver, Colorado (ETI, Metropolitan State College of Denver)
Boulder, Colorado (IBM)
Ft Lupton, Colorado (St. Vrain Valley School District)
Austin, Texas
Rochester, Minnesota
Charlotte, North Carolina
Toronto, Canada
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
San Jose, California
San Francisco, California
San Juan, Puerto Rico (Universidad de Puerto Rico)
Santa Teresa, California
Salt lake City, Utah
Miami, Florida
Markham, Canada
Kansas City, Missouri (Hertz Rent-a-Car)
St Louis, Missouri (Fairchild Aviation)
Sidney, Australia
Grand Rapids, Michigan (Foremost Insurance)
Beoblingon, Germany
Binghamton, New York
Yamato, Japan
New York City, New York
Endicott, New York
Armonk, New York
Atlanta, Georgia (Coca-Cola, IBM)
Albuquerque, New Mexico (US Department of Energy)
Seattle, Washington
Springfield, Illinois
Palo Alto, California
Portland, Oregon (Informix)
Parsippany, New Jersey (Prudential Insurance)
Poughkeepsie, New York
Dallas, Texas
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Hertz)
Los Angeles, California (Rite-Aid Pharmacy)
La Hupe, Belgium
Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington, Massachusetts
Tokyo, Japan
Tucson, Arizona
Tampa Bay, Florida
Taipei, Taiwan
Thornwood, New York
Chicago, Illinois (Schlumberger)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Milpitas, California (Tivoli)
Manassas, Virginia
Melbourne, Australia
White Plains, New York
Washington, DC (AutoCAD, Orotek, IIST)
Boston, Massachusetts
Thousand Oaks, California
Oakland, California
Timisoara, Romania

I’ve been everywhere!

Originally written on Jan. 29, 2011.

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