Watkins, Inc.

Watkins, Inc. - Manager of System Design.
Wichita, KS. Sept/1989-Jan/1990.
Here I devised software for a company business system based on multiple personal computers. Our primary project was an order entry system written in Microsoft COBOL. I managed myself and 2 other programmers during this period, after a brief introduction to the physical system for filling orders.

Watkins, Inc. featured a logo over its steel yard with a Rising Sun image in orange, showing "WATKINS" written around the rim of the rising orb, like an omen of the Big Energy pioneered by James Watt, the father of the steam engine, which was first mass-produced in 1776. It reminded me of the popular ballad House of the Rising Sun, which made me laugh sometimes to think about it, because it was a family-owned business relying on a middle manager named "Hawkins" to manage employee relations. So there was this comic atmosphere of a family-owned, Southern-oriented firm that liked to entertain us with "Sadie Hawkins Day" symbolism I associate with Al Capp and the comic strip Little Abner. Perhaps Sadie Hawkins Day would be celebrated with "Damn Yankees!" enthusiasm as a memorable dismissal. Actually, Watkins seemed to be a school for young optimists in business, something that would turn us out after a time like graduates from its halls. In "school" a class does not go on forever. Things may have to heat up before one can join kin, and (Haw) most student workers keep their cool, avoiding small shops, careful to show up in pants, rather than in skirts. This was not an uncommon idea: my manager at Telos Federal Systems described Telos as another whistle stop on my Presidential campaign. I guess you could say that a career in business or engineering at the time could involve a lot of transition (like Trick or Treat at Halloween) and was quite reminiscent of a career in staged politics, as well as of a career as an expert as usually concieved of by students.

Watkins was a steel hardware shop that supported the kind of hardware we associate with oil refineries, and had been in business to develop or support the development of similar installations. It had a very impressive inventory of tools for machining steel and metals for sale, and of gear for constructing steel buildings, refineries, and processing plants, including a steel yard with an impressive crane that ran out into a materials yard on a rail, as shown in top right photo. At first the management put me back into the order processing department so that I could get a feel for how filling orders for materials went, and a feel for where everything was located, and just how everything was done. I put parts into bags from drawers in back before I was made a Manager of Software Development to prepare a new order entry system in COBOL as the leader of a small software development team. Thus I was a genuine Rising Son of the place. Perhaps they honored me with this assignment because they had read my resume Profile and wished to encourage me before sending me on my way with a proud story and much improved prospects for success in the world of business. After developing the COBOL order-entry system, which worked very well and was a good show, I was assigned to familiarize myself with a new IBM computer system that we were going to bring in to replace the old hardware: The IBM AS 400 System. I had enough time to line up all the manuals for the AS 400 on the shelf behind the desk in my office before I was required to leave. I think they were going to look and see if I claimed to be an expert with the AS 400 System from ' IBM on my resume after my dismissal, because managers were interested in how we present things, and wanted to determine by experiment if we were merely blowhards with inflated tales. I decided to come forward as a manager of software development for what I had been doing in COBOL with the other fellows, and declined to mention the AS 400 System at all, leaving it to the next generation of students to pass through The House of the Rising Sun. I was sure that if I claimed to be expert in the AS 400 after merely lining its manuals up behind my desk that I would be exposed as a fraud and a fool.

Press for my TELOS FEDERAL SYSTEMS story.
Happily, Telos Federal Systems subsequently restored my old salary at Honeywell Defense Communications, and I was a Systems Engineer again in an outfit where I might hope to use the talents I had cultivated over the years as a technology specialist. I had passed the test of The House of the Rising Sun, going on to another assignment at my old wages in engineering, and feeling as if I had been launched again in my engineering profession. On the other hand, my experience as a Manager of Software Development for business systems in COBOL was a more common job in Wichita at the time, a job a man might reasonably train for in that environment. I had studied COBOL at WSU earlier to be taking a Summer course that might have some value to me in business after working as a computer operator at Computer, Inc., a story I have never told on my resume. That was a shop for business systems in COBOL. While I was working there on 2nd shift IN 1974 or 1975 I read an article in a journal about microprocessor technology and its future, and decided to enroll in a course in microprocessors at WSU, changing over to a career in electronic and computer engineering. But after an extensive career involving hardware and software development emphasizing microprocessor-controlled subsystems with digital and analog electronics, about all I could find one year was a business-systems job working up some code in COBOL, an opportunity I was grateful to find that was interesting and gave me some more experience in managing staff and taught me how a supply company may operate internally. Watkins, Inc. was a fine school and a recovery center for me, although its House of the Rising Sun theme in the background was a pretty good warning about long-term prospects there and seemed funny at the time.
James A. Green, March/2003

[1] "Come see what I have done........
and its been the ruin of many a poor boy,
and Lord, I know that I'm one."

- Selection from The House of the Rising Sun.

"There is a house in New Orleans
They call The Rising Sun,
And its been the ruin of many a poor boy,
And Lord, I know that I'm one..."
"...Come see what I have done....
and its been the ruin of many a poor boy,
and Lord, I know that I'm one..."

Today the old building is abandoned, and the business will reopen elsewhere, with a new name.

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