Tuesday, April 23, 2019


I began my official full-time work career on the Monday after Thanksgiving in 1978.  The week before I had packed my few graduate student possessions in a rented van and, with help from my Mom and Dad, had moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to a group house in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Thanksgiving itself was spent with my oldest sister and her family, and on Monday morning I walked through the doors of 8728 Colesville Road in Silver Spring.  In those days that was the headquarters of Computer Sciences Corporation, System Sciences Division.  CSC, known lovingly by those of us who worked there as Cheap Sciences Corporation, was the major contractor providing orbital and attitude systems support for NASA scientific satellites controlled from Goddard Space Flight Center.  I recall that first disorienting week being in my shared office and computing with pencil and paper just how many days make up a normal work career.  At the time that number seemed to stretch out to such a distant horizon as to be something one should not think about.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving 2018, I celebrated my 40th anniversary in the world of work.  A date that in 1978 seemed impossibly distant had arrived in the proverbial blink of an eye.  I am not retired yet.  That date comes on August 31 of this year year, but with the passage of Thanksgiving 2018, I find myself in a time that I've come to think of as overtime.  With the budding of the trees that is taking place now in April 2019, make that double overtime.  May 1 marks the 15th anniversary of second career as a Foreign Service Officer at the Department of State.

I am struck by both the similarities and difference between 1978 and 2019 and in my Washington lifestyles.  2018-19 have found me again living in a group house just as I did in 1978.  Both then and now it's a way to economize while getting through a bridge period.  In 1978 I was sure I would work for CSC for only 2-3 years, not the 25+ years that I spent there.  Now, in 2019, I know for a fact that I have just over four months left living in DC before taking up my life as a retiree in Maine and a citizen of the world.

Both then and now I have few commitments outside of work.  Family came in the between years, and love my son and granddaughter as much as I do, they are independent of me today.   In 2019 as in 1978, I look to spend my time outside of work with friends and taking advantage of DC's theaters and museums.  The difference is that I have many more friends than did the introverted attitude analyst of 1978.

The 40+ years have gone by in the blink of an eye, but that very number of years gives me weighty pause.  1978 may feel like yesterday, but things have changed dramatically during those years.  One of my first duties at CSC was to be punch card librarian for the attitude system we were building to control Magsat, an Earth resources satellite that launched in 1979 on the fiftieth anniversary of the stock market crash.  Our software ran on an IBM 360-95 computer at GSFC.  If we kicked everyone else off the machine and had it for our sole use, we could revel in 650K of core memory.  When I got my first TSO (time sharing operations) terminal and a 300 baud acoustic modem in 1980, I felt I had entered an entire new age.  Imagine not having to punch cards!  We mere mortals had no concept that the Internet would change our world in just another 15 years.

I have to remind myself when talking with younger colleagues today that they have little concept of my world as it was in 1978.  Cultural references from then are lost on them even as they smile to an older respected colleague.  If someone has started talking to me in 1978 about life in 1938, I would have thought of them as ancient.  After all, 1938 was before World War II.  The Great Depression was still underway and FDR was still in the White House!

I also watch day to day as my past, so to speak, catches up with me.  Several years ago I wrote a small Fortran program (!) on my Linux systems that tells me each time I log in how many days remain until my retirement.  It also tells me what the calendar date was an equivalent number of days in the past.  For every day I get closer to retirement, my past catches up with me by two days.  It's now nearing the end of 2018.

But for all these mind games, I still feel young even if I do have to acknowledge that I had more energy 40+ years ago.  I'm still active and in good health.  Not operating a car for most of the past 15 years either in the US or overseas has helped in that.  Biking and walking are still my main modes of transportation.  When I do retire, I plan on a long bike trip home from DC to Maine.

Career overtime as precursor to the beginning of an entirely new phase in my life.  Let's not call it retirement.  If anything, I feel I am getting ready to graduate from high school all over again.  New adventures wait just over the horizon.

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