My five-year mission

Twenty years ago my first serious professional programming gig began, helping to maintain and develop features for “Andrew,” the campus computing environment in use at Carnegie Mellon University. The technology in Andrew was ahead of its time. My specialization was in the e-mail components of Andrew, and it launched me on a mostly rewarding career of mostly e-mail software development.

My years working on the Andrew project were golden. Part of this is due to the effect of nostalgia, of course; another part is due to the novelty of a regular paycheck; still another, the outstanding colleagues from whom I learned so much. But a big part of what I loved about that job was being able to perceive the effects of my work on my user base, for better or worse, which not all software engineers are able to do. When we rolled out a new feature that I had worked on, the campus message boards would immediately light up with excitement about it. When e-mail wasn’t working well, the frustration emanating from all corners of the university was palpable in my office. And if I was then able to fix it — especially if it involved clever detective work — that was my idea of heaven.

(On one memorable occasion, I unadvisedly rolled out a version of the mail system on my own to the whole campus late at night, thinking to fix a small bug; instead I broke mail for everyone. Frantically I tried to fix things until I realized I couldn’t without help, and that help wouldn’t arrive until early the next morning. The thought that mail wasn’t working for anyone at CMU that night tormented me so that I went to a local bar to drown my sorrows. A cute waitress there who was an acquaintance of mine listened to my story and sympathized with me. “And today that woman is my wife.”)

Five-year trophy

This is the fifth anniversary of my joining Danger, Inc., a cool company with cool people, products, and services. A big part of what I love about this job is that it recaptures a lot of what I loved about the old CMU job: once again I am overseeing a high-volume, advanced-technology e-mail service used by a very large number of people all the time, and once again I have the occasional pleasure of hunting down and solving serious software bugs and making life better for everyone at once.

On this particular day, though, as I recuperate from a week of pneumonia, what I’m most grateful for is Danger’s health insurance plan… and my fleecy, unreasonably comforting “Danger” hoodie, without which recovery would have been nigh impossible.

Leave a Reply