I got asked, via e-mail, today how I went from a retail pharmacy store manager to systems architect and it was such a good brain dumping that I figured I’d blog it too. =:) Here, then, is a brief overview of how I got from .A->.B.
met the woman I knew I wanted to marry at Taco Bell. realized I couldn’t support a family on Taco Bell wages, so started looking for work elsewhere as I was still trying to finish college.
started working at a tiny little Thrifty Jr. in Rancho Bernardo, California with my amazing friend Brad Prosek, stocking shelves and scooping ice cream.
went into shift manager training for Thrifty in Ocean Beach, CA.
got promoted to second assistant manager.
got married shortly thereafter, still trying to finish college to be a Math teacher.
somewhere around here (1994-ish?), I bought my first real home PC (non-Apple) and started getting involved in Open Source.
accidentally got promoted to first assistant manager.
had to drop out of college. was told I could either work or go to school, but not both.
worked for a couple more years as first assistant manager.
went back to college, trying to finish up last year+ of school.
accidentally got promoted to store manager.
had to drop classes in the middle of a semester.
immediately started asking around if Thrifty/Payless/Rite Aid had entry level computer programmers. took a Wolfe test at Rite Aid and apparently did so well they offered me a position right there and then. had to finish working the rest of the year as store manager in Ramona, CA, to get the store through the Christmas season.
packed family (wife and 3 very young kiddos) into a (really small) Toyota Tercel and drove for 4 days from sunny San Diego to Harrisburg, PA, in the dead of winter.
went into Rite Aid’s ELSE (Entry Level Systems Engineer) program. spent 3 months learning COBOL, JCL, DB2, CICS, and other really antiquated technologies.
graduated out of the Rite Aid ELSE program into the emerging technologies group which was working on a next generation pharmacy dispensing system that, although it was and still is used by Drugstore.com, never went into our stores. had to hit the ground running and pick up systems and languages that I’d never been trained on (visual basic *spit*, PL/SQL, Oracle, C *love*, etc.).
our group transitioned and took over as the Internet team. I designed and implemented the fault-tolerant Linux cluster that powered the new riteaid.com site and led our team to rewrite the whole site from ASP to PHP. we had 0 downtime and this solution served Rite Aid for 5+ years until they decided to rewrite it in JSP.
our group transitioned again and started working on the Next Generation pharmacy dispensing system for Rite Aid. this time, we found the right mix of resources, training, company backing, good management vision and strategy, etc., and we landed a hit. I became the expert in Java in our team and also came up to speed on UML and RUP and worked with a couple of other folk to lay down the foundational Java code and system design for the first year or so.
management wanted everything and yesterday, so they outsourced the coding and pushed me, unwillingly, into a systems architect position. I reviewed every bit of Java code that went into the system, approved every new/change design and mentored the onslaught of new people coming in. I also helped to code, rafactor, performance test, improve, and provide oversight to the entire Java codebase. I was the expert Swing GUI guy, which as it turns out is a pretty rare skill-set.
we deployed NexGen out to the chain and thanks to the intense focus on getting the requirements, design, performance tuning, and coding done the right way, we had tremendous success.
a year or so went by and my team began dropping like flies. my manager that I loved working with and for left for better pastures. my best friends left the company. I was continually pushed away from what I loved to do (code and develop) and into the roles that I hated (managerial/oversight/planning/meetings, meetings, meetings/etc.). management was making increasingly stupid and irrational decisions and I was ignored. so I jumped ship. everyone else on my team that hadn’t already left jumped very shortly thereafter.
I landed at CVS in Rhode Island. what actually won me over was a couple of conversations I had with some higher-ups at CVS that showed me their focus on Linux throughout the chain.
turns out that I ended up getting sucked into CVS’s next generation pharmacy system, although at a much worse level than I was at Rite Aid… no designing, no coding, no implementing, lots of meetings, lots of unrealistic demands and schedules, lots of insanity. I started feeling very stupid and foolish and started praying that God would provide me with a job where I could work on what I loved: writing code and specifically for the Linux desktop.
out of the blue, a recruiter calls me from VMware (Hi Antonio!! =:)), and I totally fell in love with the company. I’ve been a VMware workstation user since Workstation 3. I relied on it because I absolutely refused to run Windows on my corporate desktops/laptops, much to the aggravation, irritation, strife, conflict, and chagrin of my managers and directors.
and now I get to do what I truly love: write code for the Linux desktop, on the Linux desktop.
the end… well… that’s where I am now anyway…
Note: this is not an attack on Rite Aid or Taco Bell or CVS or outsourcing. I’m sure everyone out there has a similar story if you’ve had any job whatsoever, much less a career in IT.
Well, anyway, there’s my brain dump for the morning. I’m sure that was far more information than you’d have willingly asked for, had you a choice… =;)
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