My first real job was at IBM, in the old Boca Raton lab, in 1976. (Important: IBM has become a very different company in the last twenty years, so please assume none of this applies to the current company. Also, this is all to my recollection, and memory is unreliable.)
The offer was made early, and sounded great. I’ve never been in love with the beach, but thought it might be fun to live near the ocean, and live in a city whose name means “mouse’s mouth.”
The job was in “advanced technology” and dealt with systems architecture.
It took a few years to sink in, but turns out that in corporate language, “advanced tech” is a euphemism: It isn’t what it sounds like. But the software design process didn’t include asking actual customers about usability. I discovered later on, through founding craigslist, that listening to people is about the smartest thing you can do.
I got involved in some software development. That led to some customer involvement, but I was too easy to read, and customers looked to my reactions to see if marketing was, say, stretching things. We nerds are not great salespeople.
After some years, the opportunity to transfer to IBM in Detroit was made, to be involved in a joint effort with General Motors to do factory automation work. Well, I took the offer.
Detroit was pretty good for me, I liked the people and got involved with the local science fiction community, and the local artists community.
After a total of seventeen years, IBM was going through a lot of changes. I took a really good buyout offer and ended up moving to San Francisco, where I got another job and a few years later started craigslist in my spare time.
Photo: Adam Jenkins/Flickr
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