Feeling Nostalgic – Life as a contractor (part 1)


As I mentioned in my previous post, my first day as a contractor was January 3rd, 1995.  I also mentioned that I was pretty proficient in MS-Test / Visual Test – but given that I was going to work for Microsoft, I spent a lot of time in the weeks before my start date brushing up on some of the lesser used functions, windows api interaction, and some algorithm study.  When my start date finally came, I was ready to rock!


 


This was over 10 years ago, so the details are a little fuzzy, but I remember coming to work around 9:30am, signing an NDA, then going to get a badge (needed for building access).   I think it was still before lunch when I met with my manager.  The first thing we did was find computers for me to use.  I think we just walked through the lab and he grabbed two machines for me.  One (my “main” machine) was a 486/100 w/ 32M of RAM – the other was a 386/40 w/ 8 meg.  I picked up more test machines as time went on, but I think I had those two boxes for most of win95.  Then we went to his office where he showed me a spreadsheet of all the test cases that needed to be run.  He began to explain them…in way too much detail (I’m not an idiot, I can read!).  I then asked him how many of the cases I should automate.  He said “oh no – we don’t have time to automate, there are too many test cases to get through”.  My first reaction was that was an idiotic response.  My reaction today is pretty much the same.  The only difference is that at the time, I didn’t know enough to be able to make a good argument.


 


The misunderstanding was entirely my fault.  In the interview, I wasn’t asked any programming or automation questions.  I brought it up a few times, but we didn’t have any extensive conversations on it.  In hindsight, I think I generated most of my confusion based on my pay.  I know now that contractors generally get paid more per hour than salaried employees, but get no benefits.  I was (relatively) young, and didn’t mind paying health insurance out of my pocket.  I also didn’t realize that I was pretty severely underpaid at my previous company.  Remember that I maintained the network, wrote the installation scripts, and did all of the automated testing.  For this work, my pay was $27,000.  This was 1994 dollars, but still not much, and I didn’t know any better.  For my contract position, I was making $20 an hour.  This was such a dramatic pay raise (even after paying my own health insurance), that I assumed that a lot more would be required of me.  As I soon discovered, what they really wanted me for was my knowledge of Netware and NT based networks and general testing skills – MS could have cared less about my ability to write good automation.


 


I’ll get into some of the details of my contract work in my next post.  One important thing to point out is that I did end up automating a lot of the test cases.  I think my manager had only dealt with a lot of newbies who took forever to write automation, and didn’t understand how quickly a lot of the tasks could be automated.  I could automate a lot of the scenarios in the time it took Windows 95 to install on my test machine from the network.  Things are obviously a lot different these days, so the casual reader certainly shouldn't try to apply anything in this series of posts to the world of software in 2005.


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