This is the latest entry in a monthly series introducing Library of Virginia employees and exploring what they do day-to-day. If you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes at the LVA, entries in this series are collected under the tag 7 Questions. Other entries discussing the internal work of the Library of Virginia are filed under our category “The Stacks.”
What is your background?
I grew up in Hicksville (I kid you not), New York. According to Wikipedia, Hicksville is a hamlet and census-designated place within the Town of Oyster Bay in Nassau County, New York, on Long Island. That makes it sound much lovelier than what it was – a sprawling suburb of Levitt homes that could be built in a day. We were not all hicks, although most of the land was at one time potato farms. But most residents were NYC office workers. The town was named for the president of the LI Railroad, Valentine Hicks; Hicksville was the last stop at the time (this was the important local history we learned in the 3rd grade). Fun fact – Valentine Hicks was the son-in-law of abolitionist and Quaker preacher Elias Hicks.
In junior high, we moved to East Hanover, NJ, so I never got to graduate from Hicksville High School, something I have in common with the town’s most famous high school dropout, Billy Joel. East Hanover has no interesting history other than being the headquarters of Nabisco (now Mondelez Intl). Unfortunately, the most famous resident was Snooki Polizzi of Jersey Shore. However, for Seinfeld fans, East Hanover is directly adjacent to Parsippany, NJ, which is where Mom and Pop were selling Jerry’s stolen sneakers at a garage sale.
I got my undergrad degree in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College, and worked for General Electric small motors division in Fort Wayne, IN (yes they have a fort), and GE wiring and cables in Bridgeport, CT (yes they have both a bridge and a port). From there I worked for as a sales engineer for AT&T’s Computer Services Division in the aforementioned Parsippany, NJ, configuring Unix servers and networking equipment for our customers and later transferred to Richmond. When CSD was sold to NCR in Dayton, OH, I took a job as Assistant Director of Management Information Systems at Sterile Concepts, a supplier of custom hospital procedure trays. Sterile was sold to Maxxim Medical in Sugarland, Texas (not the best place for a Yankee), so I then went to Crestar Bank as a manager of the Unix server administrators until Crestar was sold to SunTrust. Are you seeing the pattern here? (Also sometime along the way I earned my MBA from University of Richmond). Hoping to find an organization that was unlikely to be sold, I took a “temporary” job in state government as IT Manager and later IT Director for LVA, figuring I might last 5 years before returning to the private sector. That was 23 years ago.
How do you explain what you do to others?
I do the paperwork so that the techie people who really keep the Library running can do their jobs uninterrupted. I also bless a lot of projects I don’t always understand because technology changes faster than I can keep up.
Have you held other positions at the Library? If so, what?
Like Errol, I managed the LVA softball team for a season or two. I was not very successful, so the job went back to Trenton Hizer, who is always upbeat and remains unaffected by the team’s failures.
How has technology affected your current job?
No effect whatsoever.
Describe your best day at the Library of Virginia.
Working with my friends at VITA. No wait, working on a budget. No wait, any day with 3 or more meetings.
Seriously, it is when IT changes out an entire system, network infrastructure or application and no one even notices because the transition is so smooth. It happens all the time, which is a testament to just how good the IT staff is.
(Actually the best day is teleworking, but that didn’t seem like an appropriate answer).
What was your first paid job?
Besides cutting lawns and delivering the PennySaver advertisements paper at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings (since those were cash-under-the-table work), I actually had two first real jobs – working for the 1980 census and being a janitor at Nabisco.
The census job was scanning submitted census forms for incompleteness and possible errors and setting those aside for the brave souls who did the follow-up work of knocking on doors and dealing with people directly. By scanning, I mean placing a template over the sheets and looking for missing answers, as we had no scanning technology. I did this along with two friends. After about an hour, we didn’t need the templates anymore, but our co-workers didn’t appreciate that we were working too fast, which led to some tension. The fact that they had us working on metal folding chairs in a windowless basement of a government building that was apparently inspired by Soviet-style architecture didn’t help. We loved the short forms because they were so easy, but the long forms were more fun because of the freeform sections – that is where we learned things like: pets are quite often listed as household members; a lot of people really don’t like/trust the government; and more people than you ever imagined are living with spirits (either relatives or ghosts that were in the house when the people moved in), and those spirits were considered part of the household. I always thought those would be the fun follow-up assignments – “Hello, I’m from the Census, and I need to verify the existence of Casper.”
The janitor job was the result of pure nepotism – my dad worked at Nabisco headquarters and pulled some strings for me to get that glamorous position. It actually wasn’t bad – the building was beautiful and I just swept the floors and wiped down the sinks. The best part was that the HQ received cases of cookies and crackers from bakeries around the country for QC inspection. The QC guy would open a box or two, and give me as many of the remaining packages as I wanted – Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Animal Crackers, Triscuit, Ritz, etc. I was very popular with my friends that year.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I can’t type. I’ve tried to learn. I’m still trying, but my brain has been conditioned by decades of hunt-and-peck, so I am stuck using 3-4 fingers. After so many years it is more pecking than hunting, but if I ever do figure it out, I’ll send everyone an email full of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”