SaaS, Supply Chain, PASCAL and Past Professional Lives
I don’t know why, but I rarely write about my “past lives” professionally, even though I think about my experiences all the time and draw on them to help me make decisions. I remember, for example, hearing the term “SaaS” for the first time over four years ago when I was working for Expeditors International. Expeditors is an amazingly successful non-asset based common carrier – in layman’s terms: a shipping company that doesn’t own any planes, trains, ships, trucks, etc. Sound familiar? Like a software company that doesn’t own any computers. They created multi-tenancy for shippers, and I decided to work there because the model is brilliant. How funny that now I find myself in the cloud computing space.
SaaS came up because I was sitting in a meeting with 50 other people in this Fortune 500 company, listening to the newly appointed CTO speak about the changes we would be making to our technical infrastructure over the next five years. We would transition away from Cobal, SmallTalk, and all the other languages and technologies we were using to Java. There wouldn’t be any more layoffs (half of the 2,000 IT employees had already been let go), the remaining staff would have 1 year to learn Java. The company would be moving to the cloud, because it was just too expense to run an international company the way we were doing it. We were still using the same systems which, though revolutionary when created, were becoming outdated.
In my day-to-day, I wrote scripts in PASCAL to automate business processes. I wish I could go back to Expeditors now with the Twilio API – oh my god, we’d have saved even more time. I created elaborate scripting within the windows OS that worked with our electronic filing system, home grown CRM / accounting tool, and Excel to automate entire jobs. It was like crack, saving time and money and freeing people from mundane tasks. I didn’t know anyone else in the Business Process Management world, I thought I was entirely alone – and it was fun!
Of course I didn’t get hired into this job, instead I started out as an intern and then customer service rep on a team that was losing money each month. Due to the nature of the particular product this team supported margins were small but each customer generated at least twice the work as they would on other products. We were doing all sorts of painfully manual things, and it was a waste. Morale on the team sucked, and at first I thought I was doomed to become sad and jaded with work at just 19 years old. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out that way at all. With the help of better processes, a new manager (and then another even better one), and pulling together as a team we got profitable and I got promoted.
So… you’re probably wondering why I left? When I joined the company, I just wanted to work – but after being there almost three years and seeing what kind of impact I could have, I wanted to build new things, not just fix broken processes and eliminate inefficiency. The company’s migration to Java was on a 5 year plan, so a lot of the projects I was planning with the VP of Business Processes were going to be sitting on hold for quite awhile. I was becoming frustrated with the pace, and since I was 22 and about to get married I decided it was as good a time as any to take a leap and join a company that would build things, or start one.
In hindsight, I gave up a sweet job – although it didn’t pay well at all, it was really rewarding to help people. But MAKING things, instead of fixing broken things that are inherently wrong in their design, is its own drug. I admit I was starstruck by “startups” and joined one without taking a deep enough look at whether or not it solved a really impactful problem, but I never forgot how I felt about Expeditors and so when Twilio presented itself 2 years late I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to change the way people do business.
There, a little piece of my past life out there – it feels good to capture memories, and I’m so glad I worked for Expeditors. Better investment than any startup I’ve worked for (so far) – 20% of my income went to purchasing stock, woo!