Don’t be Like Bob

Don't be like Bob

I spend a great deal of my day looking at one kind of computer screen or another. I have a laptop that will (functionally) do just about anything you’d ever want to do in the world. I have a desktop with a 40″ 4K screen and two 27″ screens (one on each side). This desktop, which is the next best thing to a supercomputer, has 64GB of RAM, something on the order of 10TB of storage, and the video card has more memory than most computers (16 GB). Between the two units, which I often work on simultaneously, I can reach out and touch the world just about any way I please.
Then there are the mobile devices. An Iphone Xs Max, an IPAD Pro and there’s a Kindle Fire 10 kicking around here somewhere in the clutter.
I also have laptops and computers around the country doing radio jobs. There’s a monster in Plattsburgh that is a professional gaming machine, which has the power to produce an entire radio/tv station and stream them both to air.
It’s simply AMAZING what you can do with a little horsepower here in computer-land.
Sometime around 1988 I began working on an old DOS based machine, designing cable structure and bus parts using AUTOCAD. I knew little or nothing about either, and I’d never used anything but a typewriter in my life. I was the Chief Engineer for a company that built buses and thus I had to learn FAST. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t know a thing about buses either.
I got the job, frankly, because I had a college degree and the owner thought that since I managed to get through a four year degree, I must be smart, and therefore ‘qualified.’
I began, by spending two weeks in every single job in the plant. From pumping expanding foam by hose in a haz-mat suit to running and charging Air Conditioning lines. I installed circuit boards, wires, you name it. Eventually, I had the jist of what happened each step along the way in the manufacturing process. I quick studied Statistical Process Control, and developed a Quality Control Program from the ground up. This made me NO friends in the plant, and suddenly each individuals work product was being looked at and controlled. Then came the computer.
I had never done any kind of real drawing other than circuit boards, and that, by hand. Auto Cad was a whole new ballgame. I was stunned at how easy it was to learn and in a very short time, I was cranking out spreadsheets that detailed cost-to-build and drawings to completely revamp the electrical systems on the coaches, which were in need of a complete overhaul.
I don’t think, in retrospect, that I ever had a job where I learned so much in such a short period of time.
The job lasted only a few years, and I wound up in Ohio as a result. Then I met and married Judy and went back to work in the Newspaper and Radio fields.
In 1992 a fella by the name of Bob English came along. He created property evaluations and was doing it by hand in the field than then entering it into a crazy program on an old Radio Shack computer with 5.25″ floppy drives. He was looking for a software program and a computer to run it on. We spoke, casually one day, and I threw out that I might be able to create both for him. He was game to try and off I went.
By that time, I had an IBM 386 machine and was creating ads for my newspaper gig and writing radio scripts on it. In other words, I wasn’t tasking the thing.
In talking with Judy about the project, which I saw some dollars in, she pointed something out that I really had not considered.
“You don’t KNOW anything about writing software and code, and while you USE a computer, you don’t KNOW a thing about how to build one.”
I considered that input for, oh, maybe 30 seconds or so and then told her that “I’ll go buy a couple of books and read them.” She looked at me in abject horror like I’d just decided to build an Apollo Rocket in the back yard, but off I went.
I started with code, and then read the book about building computers.
I have to stop here, and tell you another thing that Judy said, only just recently. We were on our way to Southern Ohio just last week, and in conversation she asked me “Who I learned the MOST from in my life.”
While most people would know a “mentor” or some individual who really stepped up, or perhaps a school or something, MY answer to her was dead bang on. I told her, ” ME.”
Again I got that look of “seriously?” You’re telling me that YOU are the person who taught YOU the most?
Yup. It’s true. Virtually all I know about all the different things I do, I’ve taught myself, and mostly by reading “the book” on the subject, then getting hands on and dirty in the followup of actually DOING what the book said.
That being said, I must also tell you that the ONE gift that GOD truly gave me, is the ability to read at warp speed, and retain virtually all of what I’ve read, forever. It’s true. It’s how I got through schools. It’s how I learned radio. It’s how I’ve learned to do EVERYTHING. I taught myself to drum. Yes, John Stanley “taught” me to fly, buy just like everyone who flies, you wind up spending HOURS and HOURS reading books and then applying what you read in the air.
In other words, YOU, teach YOURSELF.
With the possible exception of the reading and retaining part, I think we ALL are that way.
So I wrote the code, and then I built the computer. I remember a song my Uncle Fred used to sing. It was a short little ditty about a guy who put together a Chevy and low and behold, the thing RAN.
I was about as surprised as anybody, that it all worked.
I began to build, sell and service computers on the side, while working at the newspaper and radio. Before long, my garage was FULL of parts and they kept coming by the truckload on a regular basis.
My living room became the sales floor and there were people in out of the door daily, buying systems, dropping one off to be fixed, etc.
And then, it happened.
A Pastor friend of mine and I were standing there one Saturday morning talking about building a laptop, and Judy came down the stairs. Immediately¬† fled back upstairs in her nightgown and later in the aftermath, informed me that I had to get this “thing” (meaning the computer business) OUT of our house.
By now I was selling MAC’s by the hundreds to school districts, building PC’s, repairing, writing code and in general, working 24/7.
Decision time.
I was either going to be a Newspaper guy, or a Computer guy.
I had always wanted to be in business for myself. Like everyone else, I thought that meant getting rich, having lots of time off, and no one to boss me around.
I left the newspaper. Judy nearly fell over. I countered with an offer. I promised that the first big check we got, I’d buy that Grandfather Clock she’d always wanted.
Our first year in business, we did 1.7 Million in revenue, and I had discovered a lot of things. First, this was the hardest job I’d ever had. I had employees all over the place doing everything from building to delivering, setting up, and even TEACHING software classes. I was about as prepared for this as I was the Engineering job. I had no clue what to do, but somehow or other, I was managing to do it. Despite my inexperience and my general lack of any real skills in these areas, I was making decisions daily, and wrestling with this thing that was growing far faster than anything I’d ever seen before.
It morphed in Computers, Security Systems, Cameras, just about anything and everything “Electronic” in nature.
The stack of books at home had gotten so large that it was taking over. I had to build a bigger office at work and move them. I was reading HOURS every day, sometimes into the wee small hours of the day.
I would have been much better prepared for all of this, had I LEAST had SOME business management skills, but I had NONE. I mean that in all sincerity, I was literally figuring out what to do and how to do it, in real time.
Every time I’d try to slow things down, or back things up, it just got crazier. We got jobs from Fortune 500 companies, and we SCREAMED in laughter, when we got a job in China. We bought the parts FROM china, build the system, then shipped it BACK to China.
There were orders from every government agency and all of the armed forces. The Secret Service had us build a system. McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and so many others.
And here I was, running the craziest “On the Job Training” program I’d ever seen. Every single day was a new experience. Every single day my brain was being tasked with more and more and more.
We kept installing phone lines to handle the business, tech support people to help customers, customer support people, installers, TRAVELING installers. We put systems in prisons all over the country, it just kept going.
I’ll be totally transparent here, I was coming apart personally. I could literally FEEL the cracks. I was GLUED to a chair, sometimes 18 hours a day, and it was a 7 day routine. Time off vanished into thin air, and the best I could hope for was dinner out somewhere for a few hours. I spent so much time talking to customers that even Judy had trouble getting a word in edgewise. When we WERE out, inevitably the cell phone would ring and it would be some big company that needed me right NOW.
I never felt like I could say no. It always felt like I had to take everything coming in because I had no idea, exactly, where we were going or how long any of this could or would last. My business plan consisted of ME, working my tail to the bone, never letting up, and pushing the envelope every minute of the day.
I was exhausted. Broken mentally and physically. My butt literally began to have pain from sitting in the chair all the time. I’d gained weight, my eyes sagged, and then I got clobbered with diabetes.
I was working at a Colgate Palmolive plant and noticed that I was thirty. I mean THIRTY. The following day, I lost motor skills and wound up in the hospital.
It was the beginning of the end, I just didn’t know it at the time.
They put me on insulin and I redoubled my commitment. I worked harder, faster. I accomplished more in less time, and I had a workload of projects that would kill most people, or at least choke them. I was balancing projects like balls in the air….every one of them with specific time commitments, and every one of them was a project that I was going to have to “touch” somehow, someway, at each point in the process.
There were days when I just fell asleep in the chair. What little I had left, I was using at warp speed, and I was wearing out from the inside out.
And then I couldn’t anymore. Shy of actually killing myself, I’d worked myself to death.
It was time to put it down, and let it go. I had nothing left to give it, and frankly, even if I had found some new energy source, I wouldn’t have used it because I was DONE.
Today, some two and a half years out from all of that, I get to sit here with all my computer toys, and do what I want to do. I write code. I create radio. I write stories, I build websites. I’ve repaired a few computers, sold a few cameras, but mostly I just sit here and create stuff, WHEN and HOW I want to, at my own pace, while sitting, standing, riding in the car, or wherever I wish.
And when I don’t wish, I do nothing at all.
It occurs to me, that all this technology, all the books, all the learning, all the doing, is a wonderful thing. But the thing that I learned along the way, is far more important than any of that.
No matter how smart you think you are, no matter how successful you want to be, at the end of the day, none of it will matter if you’ve missed actually having a life.
EVERYTHING is just a project or a job, EXCEPT living…taking care of your family, spending time with them, having life experiences…and I’m NOT talking about work experiences.
Today I own my life. In the past the business owned me. That was NOT the business fault, or Judy’s, or anyone else’s. I made THAT decision. I don’t remember when, and I don’t remember where, but somewhere along the line the business got inside of me and began to empty this body of Bob. By the end there wasn’t any real Bob left inside
Don’t be like Bob

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