This reminds me of my first teen job where I helped a small consulting business start using a project management web app written in PHP, early 2000s. I had to install it, learn it on the fly, teach them how to use it and also translate from English to another language.It was my first contact with open source other than Linux at the time, and I was around 15 or 16. Good ol’ days.
I had a similar, far less interesting experience. My summer before going to college I too started looking for a summer job. I showed up to an “interview” for newspaper delivery in a poorly fitted, cheap button up shirt and something approximately like slacks that I had worn for a science fair in high school. I’m dead certain everyone would have been laughing at me if they weren’t miserable working at 3am for less than half of minimum wage. In retrospect I probably should have reported that to someone.
I ended up spending the summer throwing together HTML and CSS for a small company that built cookie-cutter websites for Harley Davidson dealers. It was actually a pretty smart business: all the sites used the same ASP backend, I think a single server. With virtual hosts it displayed different customized frontends for different dealerships. And building a fully functioning frontend from a concept PSD only took 1-2 days depending on how similar the design was to an existing one.
I’ve never had a frontend job since, but I still remember plenty of HTML and CSS after spending that summer churning out 30+ websites.
Nice story and a well written post.
However I ended up with the feeling if the author would like to do something similar now, would he have any chance in today’s IT landscape?
My first IT summer job must have been 1999 or 2000; can’t remember if I was 18 yet. It was for the local phone company and involved updating records about corporate customers.
The older company id was being shifted out for the new ones that track VAT ids, and apparently automation wasn’t invented yet.
I got to the interview looking as sharp-dressed as a cab driver with my school grades in hand. The boss - an old overweight guy - let me in. Surely a gambit, as he was on the phone, joking about (Russian, I believe) helicopters and what not, in the thickest Lapland accent I’d ever heard. I sweated in wait.
Once that was over, I offered my grades, which he dismissed, saying I came recommended by someone my family knew there, and that I look housebroken enough.
The work was done with three older women in the room. They talked about sex, smoking in secret, their daughters’ contraception, and a host of other topics I never expected to hear through a cubicle wall. I never learned what their job was, but it probably wasn’t the same as mine, if any.
I FTP’d some MP3s and stuck to myself.
The job was trawling through MS Access files looking for existing VAT ids and matching old ids, or something. The first dump was maybe some hundreds of phone-number records with a bunch of fields in them. The matches were updated to some VMS-type contraption using an app that looked like it was for WfW3.11 on Win98.
Everyone and everything was old.
Once an Access file was done, check in with the boss to receive a new one.
I did learn some things, like when you’re told someone’s “remote” (with a wink), it might mean unauthorized paid leave. If that’s the boss when an Access file got done, rejoice. Also that I didn’t need to care about some company types I’d put a lot of effort into. And that query wizards are a thing.
Filtering out crap data was an epiphany. Not just for me.
Having cut down on my workload, and the boss seeing only my fast performance, I could swear he fought his jaw dropping to the floor. I was eventually tasked with a 10k entry file.
Another interesting phenomenon was when a young woman came to me asking for help. Apparently word got around I was “good with computers”. Can’t remember what the problem was, something related to scanning. That’s when I found out there were other young people somewhere far away! They were mostly having fun and messing around. If that was their typical day, they made it easy for me to be the best. I never saw them again.
Despite my best efforts on IRC, I had to get the Access queue exhausted eventually. I got my first promotion.
A dim-lit stuffy room on the first underground floor in another building. The coffee pot had melted some of the plastic off the power cord. There was just enough radio reception for Finnish pop radio to mess with my MP3s.
This is where the work was done off paper. Bounced invoices and such. I found myself missing the old room.
I pulled in all the overtime I could, which wasn’t much, despite the suck. It wasn’t until later I learned that paid overtime isn’t the same as having extra hours on your roster. Good thing I didn’t lose out on too much, and by this point I’d given up on productivity.
The most important lesson was to recognize when you should work neither hard nor smart.
OT: when I clicked the menu my github email was shown and I don’t have any substack mails in that account or a password manager entry. Anyone else wondering how their email got into the website ?
I wondered this with substack as well, but I assumed maybe I had subscribed to a substack in the past. That seems a bit suspicious. I’d love to hear what they are doing to pre-fill.
When I was home for the summer from school, sometime in the 70s or 80s, one of my parent’s friends had a sales business and he had some problems in his accounting software and I was asked to take a look. First thing he did was tell me he had the payroll, payables, and receivables modules but not the general ledger (GL as I’d call it today). This was the first time I’d heard of those things but I faked it and he didn’t notice. Anyway I was looking for data files with bad permissions and things like that and didn’t care much what was in them.
He told me he didn’t keep a GL because it wasn’t the government’s business how much money he made. I said “Well, no books are better than two.” If he thought that was impertinent he didn’t let on, but yet it was quite impertinent. Later he told me he had his driveway at home paved and ran it through his business. Here’s a guy who has everything - big house in a wealthy suburb next to the golf club he belongs to - and I had to wonder how much was really his. I was in no position to tell him off so I let it drop. Later in life I would come to consider what he was doing was Stealing From Americs, all the while reaping its benefits and calling himself a patriot.
So now when someone offers to work for less for cash under the table I tell them “You want me to let you in my building while at the same time asking me to help you steal from America? Fuck off.” I’m old now and I have many fewer fucks to give.