15 January 2021

Chris

Here’s another post about someone who’s had a significant impact on my life.

In 1984 when I was wasting my life in the limo business, my friend Al suggested to me that I apply for a tech writing job at the small computer company in Hayward named Qantel where he was a manager. I wouldn’t be working for him; but I’d be in his department, and his recommendation made all the difference. I had no background in computers; but I could write, and for whatever reason I took to it and became a top writer there. Since it was a small company, we all helped each other; and one of the other managers, a man named Chris, took the time to teach me some basic elements of computing while I was writing documentation for the company’s business applications software.

Alas, the company suffered some mismanagement at higher levels and gradually floundered. There was one layoff after another; and many of the better employees, including Chris, jumped ship as it was sinking. He went off to start his own company with a partner. Since I didn’t have much experience to emblazon on a resume, I hung on at Qantel for another couple of years.

But then, as Qantel continued to take on water, Chris asked me to come work for him in his new company, Bayard. Well, I knew that new software companies had the life expectancy of freshly discovered atomic isotopes; but it was also clear that I was already on a sinking ship, so I jumped.

What a joy it was to be sole proprietor of the documentation in a little company with only a dozen employees. Everybody there knew what everybody else was doing, so if you had a question, you knew precisely whom to ask… and he knew that you knew, so he couldn’t evade your question. This made for a highly productive working environment.

In my case, I was using WordPerfect to write the documentation and format it for printing; and since I used it all day long every day, I could play it like a theater organ and exploit it to its fullest.

This was the most enjoyable job I ever had; and, to illustrate that, a brief anecdote.

One day Chris called me into his office and told me that the company needed a couple of technical manuals for which the pertinent data were in UNIX files. I responded that I could write a WordPerfect macro that would gobble through the UNIX files extracting data and organizing them into a user-friendly form. He immediately responded that oh well, of course, he could do the same sort of thing in UNIX. And as he said that, an electric current sizzled between us as we simultaneously realized that the gauntlet was lying there on the floor, twitching.

I turned on my heel as he was turning to his keyboard, and the race was on. I didn’t run back to my cube, but I sure wasted no time.

It took me twenty minutes or so; and after I’d run my macro successfully, I ran back to Chris’ office chortling at my success, only to have him shout as I appeared in his doorway that his had just completed, too.

I do not recall ever having experienced a finer sense of rapport, camaraderie, and brotherly love.

Unfortunately, Bayard never quite became fully seaworthy, and after a couple of years the board saw that its death was imminent. So they told the two partners that they were steering the company onto a beach, not to tell the employees but rather keep us at our oars until there was no longer enough money to meet payroll.Chris and Graham, the other partner, had a different set of priorities; and they not only warned us to start looking in earnest for a new job, but also began networking hard for us. We all got jobs; and in my case and most of the others’, it was because of Chris or Graham’s recommendations. These were men who had been sometimes skipping their own paychecks for a while, so my gratitude is of a high order.

Meanwhile, here’s another pandemic doorway on Valencia:


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