.by Anura Guruge
>> Getting your FACTS RIGHT re. e-mails — Nov. 2, 2013.
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I was told this, one morning in 1981, in Cockfosters (I kid you not), N. London, by Chris James, my 2nd-line manager (actually a Director) at ITT Data Systems (U.K.) [by FAR the BEST and FUN company I have ever worked for and I worked for quite a few including IBM, Wang, Northern Telecom & BBN.]
Chris, who went onto become a mega success in networking was a remarkable man; beyond clever, very funny and extremely kind. He taught me a lot about a bunch of things — plus some very valuable pointers I never forgot about how to fill in expense reports, ‘correctly’, so that they would never be denied! In my youth, I really was blessed. I had some AMAZING bosses who went out of their way to help me — given that I needed as much help as I could get.
In 1981 there was no widespread e-mail per se (though I had started using a very primitive messaging scheme at IBM in 1976 to communicate with R&D peers at a sister IBM Lab. in Japan about the new 3270 system we were working on). Instead what we had was TELEXES — ITT a leading provider of Telex solutions. Telexes were a grandiose form of telegrams. It was all paper and paper tape. I still get very nostalgic when I think of Telexes — since, as you might have guessed, I was a huge user of telexes. At ITT we had a Telex room with a bunch of very nice young ladies. We also had Telex forms. You wrote out your Telex on a form, with the ‘To:s’ and the ‘CC:s’ AND their Telex phone numbers, and then took it down to be typed; BCC was a bit difficult with Telex. In my case, given that I would have a long distribution list and my propensity for resending stuff etc. etc., the girls wouldn’t bang it out and transmit it (there being a small amount of memory to retain a copy). They would first transcribe it onto paper tape. Then they could reuse it! It was very clever.
So on that day I was sitting in Chris’ office and he got a long Telex delivered. He started reading it … That is when he looked up, with his habitual grin on his face, and told me the above … The next few days I put it to the test. Chris, as ever, WAS RIGHT.
Even today, 30 years later, as soon as I get an e-mail the FIRST thing I read is the DISTRIBUTION LIST.
Ditto when I send an e-mail. I check the distribution list carefully BEFORE I hit send. I might forget an attachment BUT rarely, if ever, do I screw up when it comes to who I send e-mails.
The 2nd most valuable piece of professional I got was also at ITT, Cockfosters. This time it was by my 1st line manager, Steve Kane. Steve was amazing. He had a degree in philosophy and was incredibly astute. He really understood who people thought and as such knew exactly who to deal with them. Steve was VERY GOOD TO ME. He made me the U.K. Customer Support Manager for ITT Data Systems (U.K.) the night before my 27th birthday — so that I would be able to boast that I became an ITT Manager at 26! That is Steve. Always thinking of how to motivate and reward people.
As Customer Support Manager, with about 6 top-notch software engineers working for me, and a client base that included Xerox, Exxon, Ford, British Leyland, British Petroleum etc. etc., I used to have to deal with a whole bunch of ‘problems’ on a daily basis. One day I was getting beaten up, badly, by Ford. We were having a problem and we just didn’t have a quick fix. So as the Support Manager they were unloading on me. I was 27 and was getting ‘upset’. Steve calls me in. He then basically told me, his training in philosophy again at the forefront:
“Anu, there is really NO POINT worrying about work-related problems. If you want to worry about things worry about stuff that is not work-related. Work-related problems come and go. A year from today I can call you in and ask you what you were worrying about ON THIS DAY — and you will NOT REMEMBER. In the same way IF I asked you what you were working on a year ago today you won’t remember unless you go look it up. So, REMEMBER THE ONE YEAR RULE. You will not remeber work-related problems a year from now. So don’t let them bother you.”
Yes, of course, I know that there can be exceptions. But, this made sense — like nearly all things Steve Kane would tell me. I paid heed. I even, given my then very good, semi-photographic memory, tried to keep track of work-related ‘problems’ on a year basis. In those days I never maintained a paper appointments book or diary BUT would remember 3 weeks of travel, appointments and meetings in my HEAD (to the annoyance of all, especially my dear Secretary). My memory was that good. I or my secretary wrote all my commitments on a huge, purple, wall chart in my room. I would look at it when I was in my office and I could then SEE IT in my minds eye just like a photograph! But, even with that memory Steve Kane’s 1-year rule was good.
In the ensuing 3 decades I have conveyed Steve’s words of wisdom to hundreds of others.
Many have agreed that it made sense — and that it helped them.
Thank YOU, Steve. So that was #2.
The very, very BEST professional advice I ever had, and I would NOT BE HERE if not for it, was from my 1st ever boss, the inimitable Les B. of IBM Hursely.
I have told this story in print a number of times, so I am going to keep it short.
I joined IBM on August 27, 1974 — exactly a week ahead of my 21st birthday. It was my very 1st job of any sort.
A couple of months into the job a uniformed security guard came to see me and handed me a REGISTERED CONFIDENTIAL document — one of the highest levels of secure documents at IBM, hence the personal hand-delivery by a uniformed guard. WHY I got that Registered Confidential document that day is still a mystery! I think it was a mistake. IF I believed in spiritual stuff I would call it providential.
The document was about something called ‘SNA‘ — and that henceforth it would stand for ‘Systems Network Architecture‘ as opposed to ‘SINGLE Network Architecture‘. This had to do with the anti-trust law suit that plagued IBM in those days and influenced each and every decision.
I was NOT working on SNA. I had never heard of SNA. I was still brand new.
I went to see Les. Les was the epitome of an ‘open door’, very relaxed, VERY SOCIAL manager. I walk in with the document in my hand … and start: “Hey, Les, I just got this about S.N. …”
I never got to get out the “A”. Les, waving his hand dismissively, cut me off.
“Ahh! Forget about it.
It will NEVER CATCH ON”.
I was 21. I had been a rebel for the last 5 years. I might have got my hair cut (after 2 years) and was wearing a tie — but the rebellious instincts were still there.
Something told me that this was my destiny.
I walked straight out of Les’ office to the Hursley Library — which happened to be nearby. In those days before the Internet, I used to spend a lot of time in libraries. So already the Head Librarian knew me well. I went up to her and asked her to order me (as all of us IBM employees were allowed to do) any INTRODUCTORY manuals that IBM had on SNA.
Two weeks later I got, in an envelope, a thin 32 page, RED covered “SNA: An Introduction”. I read it in one go. Made sense though I wasn’t sure what it was all about!
Over the next 30 years SNA made me what I am.
SNA from the early 1980s to 2000 was HUGE.
It was THE networking scheme prior to the Internet.
Thanks to Les’ advice I was, the uncontested, ‘Mr. SNA’, during that time.