Once upon a time, people used a device called a "modem" to connect their computers to the internet. Hard as it is to believe, the internet has not always existed, and it has not always come into every home and commercial property automatically, quickly and seamlessly. It used to be that you had to "dial up," using a modem and a telephone land line (remember land lines?) to connect your computer to your internet service provider. At the time our story begins, this phone connection, depending on how new and how expensive your modem was, afforded a data transfer speed up to 28.8 kilobits per second. (The most seasoned computer users among you will recall when it was much slower even than that. This is not that story.) These days it is hard to imagine any of that, but at the time, it was the best technology we had.
The year is 1995, and I am working for a temp agency. The agency has placed me at a company called U.S. Robotics for a two or three day data entry gig. I detest data entry, but my temp agency has always been good to me and they are desperate, so I agree to the gig. It is an awful experience, underscoring all the reasons I hate data entry, and I tell them I never want to go back to that awful place.
Months pass, and the agency calls me, again desperate. They need someone to go to U.S. Robotics. They offer to pay me a higher hourly rate than they've ever paid before, and they promise that if I hate it, I need only stick it out to the end of the week and they'll find someone else. I reluctantly agree.
I go to a different building from the one I went to before. It turns out my previous gig was in the "Corporate Systems" division and now I'm going to the "Personal Communications Division." I report to a lady named Christine in a department called "Channel Marketing." And I get to work.
A few weeks later they offer me a permanent position, and I enthusiastically accept, because in this department of this division of USR, I have found something unlike anything I've ever seen before. This group of people is smart, dedicated, professional, and at the same time is so much fun to be around that the hours at work just fly by. The company makes modems, and I quickly learn that they are the number one selling computer modems in the world, with more than 50% market share in many of the segments in which they compete. They are working on technology to accelerate modem speeds to 33.6 kbps, and working with resellers to push more and more modems out into the world as the internet's popularity is skyrocketing.
The pace at USR is relentless, and yet it is just plain FUN to be there. We work hard, arriving most mornings between 8 and 8:30 and frequently staying until 6:00 or 7:00 at night -- especially on Fridays, which is an aspect of that culture I still don't understand to this day. The department I work for seems to be responsible for a lot of internal communication among the sales and marketing functions, helping the salespeople understand the products and the promotions as they change and develop over time. And in time, I become a key player in that game, personally creating and delivering a lot of information for the sales force.
This culture is exceptional. There's a story that everyone in the company knows -- that at any time, the CEO, Casey Cowell, might ask you to state the mission of the company (a rather long statement about being the number one data communication company whose products "meet the needs and expand the capabilities of business and professional clients worldwide"). If you recited it correctly, Casey would hand you a $100 bill. I never met anyone who personally had this happen to them, but I did talk to a number of people who claimed they remembered it happening to a coworker. It may or may not have actually been true, but I am here to tell you that everybody in that company knew the mission statement.
More importantly, everybody LIVED it. I consistently found every person I worked with to be friendly, helpful, and great at what they did. We all knew why we were there, and we got stuff done.
My first six or seven months with the company were really good. I loved it there. And then something happened that made it even better.
Next up: ARCTIC