John Studies at The PruneYard

John Studies at The Pruneyard. 


In 1974, I went to work for IBM as a Program Support Representative.  My job was to respond to local customers' problems with mainframe operating system and subsystem software. Initially, we diagnosed and if possible found a fix or work around to keep the customer running and reported the error to the developers so they could prepare a permanent fix. 

By 1978, I had been trained on operating systems that ran on our big systems as well as several smaller ones as well. Conceptually, the operating systems were similar, but because of the different nature and tasks of some of the smaller machines, their machine code was another language to be learned and their operating code as well. 

Enter the 8100 series of intelligent communication machines. These were small, relatively inexpensive, machines that could communicate over phone and direct data lines to a master mainframe, but could also be used as a  local computer. I was sent to Washington, DC in 1977 to learn how these worked. The operating system was called DPPX and was a complex system of levels of code all with the potential to operate separately ( doing 7 separate instructions at once ). 

It was a terrible class lasting three weeks and the education department had not even completed it. An example of the detail in the student material goes like this: 

Chapter xx, Catalog Manager for DPPX, subtitle: The Catalog Manager Operation; text: The catalog Manager for DPPX is the component of the operating system that manages the system catalog. END OF CHAPTER.   Needless to say, I didn't feel very confident that I could diagnose any problems, let alone fix them!!

In the spring of 1978, my manager called me to his office and told me that I had been selected as a possible candidate to have further training on some of the subsystems for this machine, such as COBOL, Data Base Management System, etc. As I sat in his office, trying to think of excuses that would get me out of the school, he said, "you haven't asked where the school will be held". I was sure it would be in Poughkeepsie, NY and so replied. To which he said "no, this will be in San Jose, CA". All excuses evaporated, and I agreed to go. The class was going to be for a small group of students to field test the education package that would later be administered as a self taught class in the local branch. 

Anyway, near San Jose, in Campbell, there was an mall that sat on the site of a Plum orchard, where they had produced prunes and so the mall was called The Pruneyard. The IBM class was in the Regus Business Center that helped anchor the mall. This was a great place to have a class, and California in the late spring is delightful. The class consisted of only five students, myself, a guy from NYC, one from Boston, one from Cleveland and a World Trade guy from Germany.

In our division of IBM, we were expected to share a hotel room and car to help minimize expenses. Since there were 4 of us (the guy from Germany had different rules and could room alone), we needed to reduce to 2 rooms and were asked to get down to two cars. The guy from NY stated that he would not room with a non-smoker. This had to be honored, so now we were faced with the dilemma of which of us got the other single room. So we drew straws and the guy from Cleveland won. 

Since I had a single, I would move into the double with the Bostonian and the Cleveland guy would take my room. On our way to lunch, the guy from Boston tells me that I will have to move out on Wednesday, since that is the day his wife will be joining us! A monkey wrench!! 

After lunch, I was first back to class so I explained to instructor (who was from Kentucky) our problem. He replied, “Just combine with the guy from Cleveland”; I responded that it wasn’t fair to him and besides, I didn’t want to room with a white guy! He left the room, quite confused and unable to come up with an answer. When he returned, he told me I was not allowed to refuse to room with someone on the grounds of race and his decision would stand. To this day, that guy probably still wonders if I am a very light skinned African American!! 

The instructors told us to call in the AM before coming in, since the next unit was not quite ready and we would probably start late; and I was given the task of doing so.

We couldn’t check out that evening since checkout time had passed and it would cost an extra day for each of us, so we decided to wait until morning. We also decided we would not move rooms and each of us would stay where we were and if they had an issue with it, we would split the cost of one extra room (about $16.00/day each for the 15 days). 

At nine o’clock the next day, I called and the instructor from Kentucky told me we didn’t need to arrive until 1:00 PM and we would be in class until 7:00 PM. He then asked if we had reduced the number of cars rented to two and I replied affirmatively that we had. Then he asked if the room situation was resolved, to which I replied, “Yes, we decided to stay where we were.” He said; “okay” and that is the last we heard of it. The company paid for our expenses weekly and they settled the hotel bill at the end.

Davdan @ 2008-2018