Filled with a mixture of excitement, ambition and trepidation I headed into the first day of my first ever internship. The administrator from HR went through the company policies quite sternly, then said the pay was $7.00 an hour, I said ok. This was more than I had ever been paid.
He showed me my cubicle. I sat down. It was the first time I had ever sat down at a job, It felt like heaven. Before this I had only worked in very physical retail jobs. Things were not easy in Milwaukee heading into 1990.
I was introduced to my new boss Michael, who was very Scandinavian and from Minnesota, an organizer and a planner. On the weekends in winter, he would cross country ski. He was a fine person but we didn’t have much in common.
The first few weeks I kept my head down and followed instructions. Studied the training manuals. When everybody looked busy and I ran out of manuals, I read old source code. I didn’t learn much but I was getting paid $7 an hour for doing this.
The other big boss Phil was a bit pudgy, fit all the nerd stereotypes, enjoyed eating and loved talking about technology. He was more fun to talk to. He was also a programming genius, so he was assigned all the lead programmers, so I didn’t get much time with him.
Before this, to pay my living expenses I toiled at several odd jobs. I washed dishes at a Denny’s family restaurant. On days that I worked double shifts from 10 to Midnight I barely kept my balance cycling home afterwards. I then signed up for a temporary job agency. Their name sounded good. They placed me an hour away from home at an arts and crafts factory, on the cleanup crew pounding dried plaster off molds with a hammer. I settled at sticking with a job in the produce section at a local Pick N Save supermarket. Restocking bananas and oranges was more my speed.
My brother had been seen my struggle, and put in a few words to his employer. The company that was providing my new internship, a small software company named System 5. It was based in an anonymous looking three story office building a few blocks south of downtown Milwaukee on the opposite side of a few hourly parking lots.
My coworkers could never explain the terse name of the company, "System 5". Perhaps it was short because Wisconsinites tend to be low key. German immigrants helped form our state’s humble and hard working character. In Milwaukee big talk gets shut down quickly and the conversation shifted back to the Packers and the Bucks. There is no Google or talk of "unicorns" in Wisconsin.
After being there a while I started networking. At school I didn’t have many people to talk to, and I enjoyed chatting with the older crowd at the office.
One of the programmers who sat near to me, Praveen, had his own office, with a door. I would come around to ask questions, and he would close the door and then tell me about his wild tech ideas, his love of American rock music, how he learned English by watching TV in India. He especially loved Jethro Tull. It felt as if Jethro Tull may have been his main influence in coming to America despite them being a British band.
Praveen was friendly with Kevin, a more stoic character. Kevin was divorced, which is why he was able to drive an older model Porsche 911 and drink whiskey after work at a bar just north of downtown according to the others who mostly didn’t seem to have girlfriends.
For a while, Greg from sales was my buddy. He would tell me I was a genius, a young einstein! He would ask me to shut the door, and tell me funny jokes and talk about sports. After the project I was working on for him had finished he changed. He would no longer shut the door. During a conversation other things would come up and things would get cut short. I find salespeople are often like that.
After a year working there, I was also getting closer to graduating. Milwaukee still felt small. I was aiming for bigger things. I applied to a good grad school in the midwest, University of Illinois - Champaign-Urbana. If I could get accepted there, that might lead to California, who knows.
Michael came around with a group of new interns. One was in the master program at UW.
He was eager, he asked a lot of questions, he was “pushy”. He didn't tell funny stories.
He wore an unusual colored foreign looking shiny suit, and had a thick Indian accent unlike my rock and roll buddy Praveen.
I decided that even though the management appeared to be treating this intern better than others because he was a Master Student, this man was going nowhere in Wisconsin.
As interns do he came around and said hello and asked questions.
“Scott, could I ask you about the compile process?”
“Sat, I'm not really the one who understands that, you should talk to Paul.”
The next week I had a new accounting module to sink my teeth into programming when Sat came around again.
“Could I ask you about the invoice template screen?”
“Sure, what would you like to know?”.
I needed to keep plausible deniability in case he complained I wasn't cooperating.
Why is he asking questions about things he hasn’t even bothered to study himself?
I explained the absolute minimum.
“Sorry, I really need to get this report done for Michael now.”
Gradually Sat came around less and less often.
I spent my time absorbing tech knowledge from Phil and Michael. I had fun listening to exploits outside the office from Praveen and Kevin. After graduating to try to make it big I went on a two year trip to japan and then came back to wisconsin. Later on I would do ok in my i.t. career but nothing exceptional.
A few months ago, a friend told me the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, studied in Milwaukee and was an intern at a small company called System 5. Young Einsteins should not have their vision pointed so high that they miss seeing the people around them.