The Good Old Bad Old Days
Much of this blog reflects on the cultural and organisational changes that have taken place over the last thirty or so years. When I left work after thirty-plus years, I sent out a leaving email as most people do, but I chose to reflect on some of my early experiences to show how different life was. I got a very positive response to that email, from both people of my age who recognised the culture and younger people who were amazed at some of the stories. As people found it amusing, I’ve included it an expanded version here, although it is peripheral to the theme of the blog. I leave you to judge what has changed for the better, and what for the worse …
I started out in the early 1980s as a trainee programmer (as they were called then) in a provincial UK office of a large multi-national. There were no computers in the office, the closest thing we had to technology was a phone on the desk. I wrote code on A3 sheets of paper and took them down to be punched onto cards which I then took down to operations to get the programme compiled. If operations didn’t like you, they shuffled your deck. It took two days to get the results back, at which time you might find you’d left out a comma and the code was useless. That certain made me code carefully.
We worked Flexi Time, and clocked in and out to record our hours. I remember asking on my first day if I had to clock out to go to the bathroom – turned out I did not. Extra hours above the standard 37.5 worked in a week could be taken as days off. Those on higher floors were credited with “Winding Time” to allow for the extra time it took them to reach and descend from their office.
There was a (paper) Standards Manual which was regularly updated and referred to.
Pretty much everyone in the building was a company employee, from senior management through the computer operators, reception, print room and mail room.
I worked in an office with eight other people, and as far as my job went then together with ‘the users’ downstairs, that is who I dealt with. That meant I was very productive – 90+% of my time was spent coding, testing, debugging. I spent almost no time in meetings – in fact, I remember very few meeting rooms in the building.
Our focus was entirely on the UK marketing arm of the company. For the most part, we had no contact & little awareness of other parts of the company. A notable exception was the annual Computer Cup where teams from different parts of the company would spend the day playing cricket and the evening eating and drinking; some of my finer days at work.
Promotions were reputedly settled next door in the Waggon & Horses.
About half the office smoked – in the office.
There was a bar in the building, open and well used at lunch time and after work.
It was common for lunch to continue past 3pm in the pub, especially on a Friday. I did some great work on Friday afternoons, then spent Monday morning putting it right.
Even junior managers had their own office and were some were rumoured to occasionally sleep off a heavy lunch there in the afternoon.
Drunk driving was common, although not seen as acceptable. Security would confiscate car keys when they could.
In my first couple of years the rate of inflation was such that there were frequent pay rises through the year.
There were pornographic calendars hung on the office wall. Initially these were female nude, but when a male nude was put up by way of protest, all were banned.
There was of course no email, just occasional paper circulars. The most popular of these was the hefty monthly circular which gave details of upcoming social events.
There was a huge sporting and social life built around the office. I remember the ‘Brewers and Vintners’ society whose primary aim was to arrange pub-crawls. An annual social highlight was the Bowden Trophy which was an evening of team games including ‘Chin Chin’ which involved passing an orange down the team wedged under successive chins and ‘String Along’ which involved passing a single key on a long string inside the clothing of each team member. Teams were arranged boy /girl / boy /girl. One year at the wrap-up, the head of the division, who was a dour figure, was struck in mid forehead by a well-aimed ping-pong ball in the middle of his speech. Stunned silence followed by suppressed laughter.
One year we had our annual department celebration in a local stately home. The night was wild with raucous singing and some dancing with the statues up in the alcoves. The departure of our coach was delayed when the staff asked for the return of a suit of armour that one of our group was wearing. We had to find a different venue the following year.
Slack time could be passed with a game of cricket in the corridor.
People in the office took turns to ‘get the coffees in’, and a tray of cup-holders was obtained from ‘stationery’ for the purpose. You’d be told if you weren’t pulling your weight, although there were still persistent offenders. There were no lids on the cups.
There was no remote working. If you got paged overnight, you either talked the operators through a fix over the phone, or you drove into work. The change form (physical signatures) was known as a ‘Pinkie’.
A very good lunch cost a princely 5 pence. Managers paid 10p but got waitress service in separate dining room with a glass of wine. Within a year, I had gained thirty pounds in weight, albeit from a malnourished student starting point.
There were some interesting ‘Graduate lunches’. I remember learning too late to avoid one manager who had a very heavy Scottish accent made worse by a large quantity of alcohol; as a new entrant, it was quite stressful being pinned in a corner trying to guess when to nod and when to shake your head. Once a director who seemed very important at the time asked me how I was getting on. “I’m really enjoying it” I said ill-advisedly, “I’m having great fun”. “Well I hope your finding time to do some work in amongst all the fun” he replied, and stomped off.
Men in the office generally wore a suit & tie. One of my colleagues was refused a promotion for not having his top button done up.
One team became known as “The Zoo” for their terrible (often alcohol-fuelled) behaviour. Walking past with a tray of coffee was hazardous as a large ball made of elastic bands was occasionally fired out into the corridor.
What were your experiences? Would be great to hear some anecdotes through the comments.