Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my first day of work at Digital Equipment Corporation. It was my first “real” job after college (I worked for Penn’s robotics lab for a few years after graduating).
The topic of Digital had come up the night before at the Boston Python Meetup because we had a discussion about last weekend’s BarCamp Boston un-conference, which was held at what is now Monster’s headquarters in Maynard. (Antonio attended and made a tabblo of his impressions). As anyone knows, calling the mill in Maynard “Monster’s headquarters” is like calling Paul McCartney the lead singer for Wings. The mill in Maynard was famously the home to Digital.
While at Digital, I worked in Maynard, though not in the Mill. I worked in a big complex on Parker Street named PKO3. Digital was like a universe unto itself. Buildings at first all had two-letter abbreviations (kind of like the two-letter postal codes for states), and then once the company grew large enough, three-letter abbreviations. The older buildings were given an extra O to make all the abbreviations three letters. So PK3 became PKO3. Find any ex-DECcie, and you can talk about places with names like ZKO, MLO, PKO, LTN and so on.
An internal phone system meant that seven digits would let you call any Digital facility in the world as if it were a local call. And of course, the DECnet networking infrastructure was world-wide so you could copy files from a server in Tokyo exactly as you could from one down the hallway. This is commonplace and obvious now, but in 1986 when I joined Digital, it was amazing and not to be taken for granted.
Digital was a very large place, and had many of the problems of large companies, including difficulty adapting to changing markets and technology, and too many inefficiencies. When I joined, I had badge number 196314! I worked in the printer group doing PostScript work, and got to do all sorts of different work, including:
- wrote server software to feed print jobs to printers
- developed application versions of PostScript interpreters to print PostScript to non-PostScript printers
- designed PostScript extensions to support new printer features
- represented Digital in international standards committees for things like character sets, page description languages, and markup languages
- wrote PostScript libraries for print job manipulation (including patented stuff).
Digital was a good place for a young kid to get exposed to all sorts of technologies and processes for developing them. I learned a lot in my seven years there. Ultimately, the company was too large and incapable of taking advantage of the PC changeover for me to stay, but it was good while it lasted.