Another story of my naivety

I started work for Bell Labs in May 1984 at Whippany a very naïve 21 year old. My first officemate was an older lady named Martha, who had survived the male dominated culture there for decades before I showed up, had been programming in C since the language existed and had only recently been promoted to the title of Member of Technical Staff (MTS), which I had been given on Day 1. I was (I thought) a hotshot computer programmer, ready to take on the real world (or at least all of telecom)!  Our boss, a gentleman also named Jack, was an orthodox Jew (with which I had no prior experience what so ever), had just recently been promoted to supervisor, but had huge patience and the fabulously rare skill (including, most of all, in me) of listening before speaking. His boss and the head of Artificial Intelligence Systems Department was a noble woman named Fran, who also had long fought and succeeded in the Bell Labs culture. Yet, unlike some other executives that I would work with, Fran ran her department with a soft and steady hand.

I remember a conversation with Jack in his office sometime after I had been there for more than a few months, where we were talking about the naming of things. Not material things, but like the names of work projects, and software modules, etc. I don’t remember the specifics of this conversation, but I do remember making the most ridiculous complaint that we should only be using the word “program” when meaning to refer to software code. And that using “program” to mean a work project or series of projects was too confusing. I was so naïve! Yet, Jack took my ‘suggestion’ without judgment or saying anything of what he must have been thinking…

Later when I had other bosses, I figured out quickly how much of a good thing I had in those first few years. Martha took me under her wing and taught me how to survive and thrive in the corporate culture and coached me through the soft-side of things. Fran and Jack created a safe place to take risks and gave me opportunity after opportunity to perform. After some mildly successful projects, positive customer feedback, my participation in a one year rotational program onto one of our sales teams, and several years of significant experience, Fran was the one to promote me to supervisor (tech manager) before I turned 30 (the ‘test of success’ at the time). I grew, was less naïve and definitely learned a lot during the time I associated with the AI Systems Department and all the very smart people there. But from Martha, Jack and Fran, what I learned most, was how to work with people, of all types, as well as upwards and across management. You made me a better person! Thank you! And I am certain that those that later worked for and with me have also benefited greatly! Doubly thank you!

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