In 2001, I went to work for the FAA in Oklahoma City. It was my first permanent job as a programmer. How I got the job is a little morbid.
I was working for an insurance company on a one year contract. When I finished the project, one of my contract competitors pointed me to a job at the FAA. She may have been trying to get rid of me, but I was ready to go so it didn’t matter.
It was for the position of junior developer. With two years of experience, that was an appropriate position for me. I remember nothing of the interview, but it must have gone well because they called me. I fancied myself a good negotiator. I’d negotiated some good deals for myself since I started my career. So I was confident that I would be able to do well this time. My future boss took my first offer, but it seemed like there was a tinge of reticence in his voice. I thought I was awesome.
When I arrived on my first day, it was to a very somber group of men and a desk that had not been cleared off from the last guy. I soon learned that the guy I had replaced had died right after my interview in an all terrain vehicle accident. I was in the senior position now. Much, much later, I learned that they had been through every resume that they had, and mine was the only one left, hence the easy negotiation. I didn’t take it hard. I laughed to myself. I had gotten the job and I did well in it and that was all that mattered.
But I didn’t start off so hot. In the first month, the database administrator, the change management system administrator, and the server administrator all resigned leaving just two programmers with no experience with any system administration.
They stepped us through their documentation a few times and then wished us luck. After a few weeks we were feeling pretty good about it. We hadn’t had a single real problem. One of my jobs was to backup the server on tape, replace the tape, and take the old one to a safe. One day, though, the server, which is the size and shape of a refrigerator, wouldn’t open. It had a door which opened just like a refrigerator. Fortunately, I thought, there was a key above the door so I turned it. Here’s what it sounded like.
It turns out the server wasn’t locked, I had been trying to pull open the door from the side my refrigerator opens. The guys who were taking care of that server before had to come in on the weekend and rebuild it to make it run again. They said it could have been worse. Shutting a server down cold can be catastrophic, apparently. They hid the key from me after that. I never had to do the backup again.
This team was an all male team, as are most of the teams I’ve worked with, and there’s something that I know about joining a team, especially an all male team. They need to know that you can handle a good ribbing. The sooner the better. So I took this as an opportunity. I told the story with the server sound being the climactic ending. I figured out how to make it by vocalizing while I whistle. Here it is.
They tease me to this day. I became a member of the team when I shared my story. I paid my dues, and I laughed at myself. It’s so important to be able to laugh at yourself when you deserve it. It’s so much more attractive than being sullen and defensive, and to this day, if I see any of those guys, the first thing they want is the tractor beam. It always gets a laugh.