Tim Malone, MCSE (818) 257-0513 firstname.lastname@example.org
Community College Foundation
One of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had was driving a bus. Yes, that’s right, driving a bus. I didn’t want to drive the bus, and that’s not what I hired on to do, but it ending up being part of a job that was advertised as a network administrator. How does one go from being a network administrator to driving a bus? I’ll tell you.
In the fall of 1997 I was getting antsy. I had been at my job for two years and for me, that’s a long time. Actually, it’s pretty common in my industry that technical people change jobs every two to three years. Computer jobs are more like projects. Once the project is completed, it’s time to find another project, usually at a different company.
It’s been my experience that an employer will hire me for a specific project that they want to accomplish in a certain period of time. Once the project is completed, they then keep you around as a reward for helping them complete the project in a timely manner. With no project to work on, you end up looking for things to do.
That was my situation at Brandon International. I had just finished installing a network from the ground up, including the application servers, hubs, switches, routers, wiring and everything needed to make the network sing. I had built the servers myself and upgraded their main accounting system to a more current version on a fast Unix machine.
Since I reported directly to the president of the company, it wasn’t hard for him to see what was going on. Simon Burrow is a good man and really a people person at heart. As amazing as it sounds, he offered to help me get started in business for myself. He had me draft a letter as if he had written it himself and sent it out to all his high-level contacts.
In the letter, he recommended me for my computer skills and asked only that anybody who hired me do so on a contract or part-time basis. He wanted to keep me around part-time in case he needed me for future projects. I thought that was extremely nice of Simon, but I recall that only one of his contacts responded and it didn’t pan out.
So I took matters into my own hands and started looking in some of my favorite places for technical jobs. One of them was a place on the internet called DICE and the other, believe it or not, is the Los Angeles Times (online version, of course). I began sending out emails with attached resumes and got a few bites right away. Times were good.
One of the responses was from an ad that read “Network administrator needed for a temporary assignment with a mobile multimedia computer laboratory”. It was a very small ad and I almost didn’t respond except for the fact that I was being very thorough that day and sending out resumes to any ad that had the word “network” in it.
I got a call the next day from Loree Evans, the program administrator for the multi-sensory learning lab, a program of the Community College Foundation. She was in a bind because she was starting a tour of Southern California college campuses and had just found out that she didn’t have a technician available to travel with the mobile lab.
Let me explain a little about the lab or “the bus” as we called it. The lab is the brainchild of Dr. David Springett of Sacramento. As the president of the foundation, Dr. Springett actively promotes technology in education and works closely with business leaders to bring that technology to the classroom through symposiums, conferences and expositions.
In his seven years as president, the Foundation has administered more the $150 million in both private and public sector partnerships. One of those private initiatives was the idea of a traveling multimedia learning lab. Dr Springett proposed refurbishing an old 1984 motorhome, filling it with the latest computer technology and taking it from campus to campus with the intent of helping educators learn about these new multimedia tools.
Edison International was the primary sponsor of the bus for the first Southern California tour. It was at their facility in Rosemead that I first met Loree and saw the bus. I was amazed at what I saw. Amazed at both the whole idea of the bus and amazed at the fact the someone had put such an incredible amount of technology in one place.
I have been on other mobile technological marvels where computers are used for multimedia presentations, but they have almost always been in a semi-trailer and are rarely intended for hands-on use. This motorhome was configured with ten stations in a network environment where students could sit and work on the computers.
There was a full-sized color laser printer from Apple along with the ten Apple Macintosh and Compaq Presario computers, as well as a large-screen 36” monitor at the back of the bus. There were also scanners, digital cameras, 20 notebook computers, a Novell server, Cisco routers and switches, and even a satellite internet connection from DirecPC.
I sat down with Loree and started talking to her about the job with the intent of finding out more about what was required. I wasn’t sure if I would meet their requirements and I really didn’t even know what they were. Loree had a different agenda. She had already made up her mind from my resume and the short discussion we had on the phone the day before. She had launched into training mode on all kinds of details about the bus.
Whoa! “Hold on a minute”, I said. “You’re talking like I already got the job and we haven’t even talked about compensation or hours or anything like that.” She paused, a little surprised and said, “Oh. Well, OK. What’s your daily rate?” I gulped, did some quick mental calculations and threw out a number. “OK,” she said and went on with her explanations of how the various pieces of equipment worked.
Even though I ended up making a higher hourly rate than I had ever made before in my life, I realized later that I could have gotten a lot more. Price wasn’t the object here. She had a deadline, she was in a bind and the money was already budgeted. Whatever I had said would have been just fine and bundled up with the rest of the project expenses.
As it turns out, over the next 60 days, there were only 30 days in which they needed me. I continued to work part-time for Brandon and traveled with the bus on those days that were included in the contract. I guess I should have been thinking more along the lines of an event, with one-time event or performance rates, like an actor. That was new to me.
One of the things Loree included in her initial training was the fact the I would be driving the motorhome from gig to gig. I told her I was uncomfortable with being responsible for the physical safety of a half million dollars worth of equipment. I simply wasn’t prepared for the idea of driving a motorhome as part of the job of a network administrator.
In fact, there were a lot of things I needed to adjust in my thinking right away. They really didn’t need a network administrator. They needed a general all-around technical support person to be the expert on all the equipment on board. I hadn’t even so much as looked at a Macintosh computer in years and now I was expected to be the expert.
The first scheduled stop on the tour was the following Tuesday. I had sent out my resume the previous Monday, talked to Loree on the phone on Tuesday, interviewed and got the job on Wednesday, and received a half day of training the next Monday. I barely had time to make arrangements with my employer to switch to part-time status.
I didn’t drive the bus at first. Loree asked the other contractor, a multimedia trainer specialist, to do that. He also was hesitant, but agreed. Richard John Jenkins is an individual I think I shall never forget. He had a style that can only be described as being an evangelist. When it came time to teach, he was enthused about what he was doing.
Richard was an expert at training people how to make multimedia presentations on the computer. He had spent the last several years as an independent contractor teaching multimedia classes at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He made a lot of contacts there and did a lot of private training of people in the film industry.
I met Richard the day before we started the tour. He impressed me right away as being someone who focused on having a good appearance and presenting himself well. He had a lot of personal charm. I guess you could say he had a flair for showmanship. He talked about being ‘on’, when it was time to teach. He seemed to have a showbiz background.
My job was really quite simple. I was there simply to make sure the network and the computers worked. The technician back at the foundation in Sacramento had really set everything up in advance so well that all I had to do was turn things on in the morning. They just worked. I guess I was mainly hired to help Richard feel more secure.
It was an exciting 60 days. They seemed to go by so fast. While I was only ‘on’ two or three days each week, the visits to the campuses were more like shows or performances. There was a definite agenda for each location with scheduled training sessions usually lasting 90 minutes, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.
The first gig was at LA Harbor college in Wilmington. It involved setting up the mobile classroom with the 20 notebook computers and wireless network. These classes were more of a brainstorming session for the educators, with presentations by various guests showing how they had created online distance learning web pages.
It was exciting to see how the internet was being used for distance learning. Remember, this was late 1997 and distance learning over the internet was still a new concept. Today, it has become a major focus of most institutions of higher learning. If you don’t have a distance-learning program in place, you won’t be able to meet the needs of the students.
After setting up the classroom and making sure everything worked, I was fascinated to learn how distance learning worked with lectures being delivered over the internet and live participation from students at remote locations in the comfort of their homes. For those who couldn’t make the scheduled classes, it could be replayed on demand.
The next week we went up to the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Mission College in Sylmar, Pierce College in Woodland Hills and LA City College. Everywhere we went, we were well received and generated a lot of excitement among the staff and students, although we usually didn’t have sessions for the students.
Can you just imagine seeing a large motorhome with a picture of a big satellite dish painted on the side driving up and parking right in the center of the campus? All we needed was a 220 power source and a phone line for the one-way satellite internet connection (this was before the two-way connection that is available today).
Of course, these visits to the college campuses were all arranged in advance by Loree and she did a marvelous job. She was very detail oriented and almost always thought of everything. She was especially careful to be sure that we had the proper power source available even going so far as to FAX drawings of the power coupler to the campus staff.
After the second week, Richard and Loree talked me into driving the motorhome because Richard was a nervous wreck when he drove and had a hard time focusing for a while after we arrived. Sometimes we only had a half hour to an hour to get ready for the first show of the day and Richard usually taught all four classes each day.
Sometimes he would take a break and let me teach part of the class on how to use the digital camera which was very new to most everybody back then. He also let me teach about how to use the scanner or how to record sound to include in the presentations. The whole idea was to get educators to use multimedia in their classrooms to liven it up.
The next week we went to USC, Golden West College in Huntington Beach and then to Coastline College in Fountain Valley. The week after that was up to my neck of the woods as we visited Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino Valley College. We ended up with visits to LA City K12 Schools and had a blast with the kids.
As I drove the bus back up to Sacramento where the foundation is located, I was a little sad at how fast the time had passed and how much fun I had. It was an easy job because the technician in Sacramento had done such a good job of setting all the equipment up in advance and Loree had done such a good job of arranging the details at each school.
But the contract was over and I only had a part-time job now so I went back to looking for something more substantial. I pursued an opportunity with a company called 800 Direct and received an offer as the Information Systems Manager. I turned it down because it was so far away – Chatsworth – and we weren’t ready to move.
Instead I spent a few months at a company in Brea called PC Systems Design as a new business salesrep. Now I had done computer sales successfully several times in my career but this was the hardest because I was starting from scratch. I made very few sales in three months, but somehow I knew this was only a temporary position.
I kept looking for more substantial work and interviewed several times for a position out at the Chino Valley Water District as a desktop support technician. Because it would be a step backwards in my career, I turned it down even though it was pretty good pay and looked like it might have opportunity for advancement in a short period of time.
I had kept in contact with Richard and Loree and negotiated another 3-month contract to provide technical support on the bus for the Northern California tour. As part of the deal the foundation paid to have me fly up to Sacramento every week and fly home every weekend. The arrangement seemed exciting at first but turned out to be not so good.
About halfway through the second contract Loree moved on in her career and things just kinda fell apart. Details that Loree used to handle for us were no longer falling into place like they did on the first tour. The new project manager that the foundation assigned was unavailable to spend much time arranging things due to other assignments.
On one particular stop on the tour, Richard got a little unraveled that a box of power strips and other electrical supplies hadn’t made in onto the bus. He uncharacteristically snapped at me as we were setting up for the session and asked me why I hadn’t made sure that the needed items were available when and where we needed them.
This incident happened towards the end of the 3-month contract and I was uncertain if I liked the arrangement of being away from home all week. The Northern California tour had turned out to be a whole different animal from the relative ease of the Southern California tour just a few months earlier.
For more than two months I would fly up to Sacramento on Sunday night or Monday morning, get to the garage where the bus was stored, check the oil, batteries and other things necessary on an old motorhome, gas it up and then drive sometimes for several hours to get to the next college or event on time.
Once there, we would go through the same rushed routine of setting everything up in a very short period of time and then help Richard with his presentations to the instructors who came though the bus in each session. I think we must have trained over 1,500 educators on the second tour doing three or four schools each week.
On this particular occasion we were setting up the portable classroom at an educational trade show. The bus was parked inside the convention center downstairs waiting to be setup when the show opened in a few hours while we were rushing around in a room upstairs trying to get everything working for what was expected to be a big turnout.
As it turns out, the show itself was well attended but the classroom presentation was not because it was so far away from the bus. Nobody knew where to find us. I was able to scrounge up enough power cords and the other necessary items, but in the process of setting up I made my decision to not pursue a renewal of the contract.
I immediately let Richard know that I had made up my mind not to continue on with the foundation after the conclusion of the current tour. The job I signed on for and the job I was doing were two different things and I was not happy with the way things had turned out. I guess it just goes to show how important every member of a team really is.
All of Richard’s energy was really needed to do the teaching. He and I had both picked up some of the added load of no longer having a coordinator available to take care of all the details at each site. I didn’t realize at the time how much Loree really did to make sure things ran smoothly. I certainly learned to appreciate her when she was gone.
The foundation got their money’s worth out of me on the second contract. Even on days when we did not have any scheduled events, the new administrator provided a long list of things to do on the bus to get it ready for the next event. There was new technology coming on board that needed to be installed and tested to make sure it worked flawlessly.
Knowing that I only had a few more weeks to complete my contract, I was so pleased when I was contacted by my previous employer to do a Y2K upgrade project. We signed a deal for a six-month contract that was much more to my liking – staying at one place. My days of flying up to Sacramento every week were almost over.
Looking back, I can say that I am very glad I was involved with the Community College Foundation. I loved working with a professional evangelist like Richard. Richard went on to work for Macromedia, whose products he knew so well. The job title they gave him, or maybe he asked for, was “software evangelist”. It certainly fits.
Dr Springett has taken what we learned from these early days on the bus to a new level. Today they have four new full-sized city busses converted into the ‘eBus’, traveling about different areas of California. One is in Sacramento, one is based in San Francisco, one is out of Los Angeles and the spare is used for special events.
More about the eBus and the Community College Foundation at: http://www.cccf.org.