Susan Dennis (susandennis) wrote,
Susan Dennis


The 'communications' department at IBM's Santa Teresa Lab was basically whatever the lab director (Tom) could beg, borrow or steal from the nearby IBM San Jose plant. Tom wanted his own group. The next thing I knew, I had been made Communications Manager and commissioned to get a group.

Being a manager at IBM was a BFD. They took manager-ness very seriously. You got more money and lots more training. They shipped you right off to manager's school for two weeks. It was intense. And that was for people stepping into an already established team. Here's my diploma and class picture (IBM was also VERY big on class pictures). The yellow sweater is me.

I got three people from San Jose, and one from another area of the plant and hired one guy off the street (Dick, the guy who has part of his head in the last entry's photo). One of the San Jose people was about 3 years past retirement and pissed. He complained bitterly about me to HR for several months until finally they convinced him to retire. But the rest of the group was wonderful. We did really good stuff. And, it was fun.

In October of 1989, I had been the Communications Manager for about a minute and a half. The Giants were playing Oakland in a rare (only?) Bay Bridge World Series. Game 1. I left work early-ish and went straight home. I got a beer out of the fridge and had my pantyhose half off headed upstairs to get into game watching sweats when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.

After the shaking stopped and shit quit flying it as deadly quiet. Nothing. I could hear mothers screaming for their kids outside. My first thought was 'fuck! no electricity. no TV. no game!!' So I went upstairs to the spare room which was a shambles (not, I must admit, altogether the fault of the earthquake) and dug out my tiny battery operated TV. I took it back downstairs and fired it up and finally got a channel. And it was one showing the game!! SAVED.

Except it was then I found out that the earthquake was more than just my neighborhood. There would be no game that day... It was then I came to my senses and realized that ... WORK! Yikes. I checked the rest of my house. My gas fired hot water heater was off it's base so I turned off that gas and just left the rest and went back to work.

Work - buildings and people - turned out, to be pretty unscathed. We spent most of our recovery efforts over the next week days focused on helping those employees who needed it most. It was a messy time.

At Tom's house, he had a bar cart in the living room that was two tiered. The top shelf had held a crystal decanter full of scotch. When the earthquake hit, that decanter ended up on the bottom shelf, without its stopper but with all the scotch. Standing on its skinny neck! It as amazing to see. Also how to right it without losing scotch and making a mess?? Finally they took a credit card and scootched it under the neck to hold the scotch in while they turned it over. That was one of the wildest earthquake things I'd ever seen.

The other earthquake fallout was mobile phones. IBM security decided that a group of us needed mobile phones and so we got them. They were huge and I said no. I was not going to carry that gynormous thing everywhere. They said yes. Finally I said ok but only if I could use it for private calls, too. And they said ok. This is the exact model I had. Cute, eh? It weighed a ton had no volume. You couldn't hear the ringer or the other person on the call. Very handy.

Cellphones were almost but not quite there yet. Car phones were a thing. My friend, Dennis (white haired guy in the previous photo) worked at Apple and he had one for work. It was hard wired into his car.

That very winter, some executives from Motorola came to the Lab for a customer visit and over lunch, the head guy pulled out this tiny thing that flipped open to reveal a tiny little phone with no wires at all. He passed it around the table. It was adorable.

It was this one.

We were all incredulous as in none of us could believe this kind of thing would ever really work, much less come to market. We were such visionaries!

To Be Continued
Tags: tbc
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