"...so, you'll need to test that it can handle long email addresses. You'll probably have to forge an address to test it properly. You do know how to forge email, yes? I can show you how if you don't..."

-- Mark, my mentor in Motorola

learning Unix

This was typical of the sort of conversation I had with Mark. Mark also had me persuaded that he wrote beav and the noseguy hack that came with xlock. The scene was Motorola's development office in Cork, on the south coast of Ireland; the timescale was April to December 1992, and the reason was that part of my college course involved me going to live in the real world for a while in order to get some sort of experience pertinent to my course.

I sailed through the interview. Overdid it, in fact. Asked questions about Iridium, which the Cork operation hadn't any involvement in, but heck, it showed I was interested. I also asked a few questions about GSM, which was a bit more on topic, since one of the Cork office's main projects was a management system for GSM networks.

I was hired as a sysadmin for the development network with occasional involvement in the main network, but mostly as cover for other admins who were out of the office. My little domain consisted of a few Motorola M88100s and a few Tandom S2's (later upgraded to S3's). The main network was a mixed bunch of XTerms, sparcstations, sparcservers, and a big ol' Auspex fileserver.

But wait!

I'd just come from college, where I'd spent far too much time on the student VAX machine, particularly learning DCL and getting it to do all manner of vile things that it probably wasn't intended to do. And as far as hacking was concerned, well, I'd just finished a module of C programming wherein I learned enough to get me past the exams, and hadn't converted me from being, essentially, a BASIC programmer. What the heck was I going to do in a Unix environment?

Get along swimmingly, as it happened. First off, this is where I got Waider as my tag. Then, armed with an account on the network, I took the two-day crash-course in basic Unix shell skills (csh, as it happens) and started looking a little harder at C. I don't recall exactly how quickly I got into the whole thing, but Mark certainly had plans to throw me in as deeply as possible. Aside from learning the admin tasks for the development network, which guiding was being done by the outbound dev. admin, there was a plan that I should do a little development work for the sysadmin team in the form of a helpdesk management system.

Just a little bit of development work.

The existing system was a mailbox, help (sysadmin's refrain: "did you mail help?"), which deposited its contents into a database. Sysadmins could use one of three scripts to manipulate the database, and a cron job would periodically send an email to the entire sysadmin group reminding people which tasks they'd accepted and what was outstanding. So this basic system required an understanding of C and the database, Oracle, and its embedded-SQL interface in C.

Not content with the depth he'd pushed me into, Mark outlined his vision for the system. It'd have an X interface, and a user mode as well as a sysadmin mode. It'd allow you to search, sort, prioritize, claim, close, steal, reject, and probably rape, murder and pillage help requests. It would, in short, make the old system of scripts look like, well, a load of old scripts.

I did it. I did it so damn well that the Customer Support Group asked for it to be made configurable so they could install a copy for their own use. Mark wrote a paper on it (giving me due credit) and presented it to other Motorola folk. I wrote an informal document covering the general workings of the system and distributed it in-house, along with my guide to running SunView and X apps side-by-side using OpenWindows (innovative stuff in them days). The whole system was still in use three years later when I went back to Motorola for a real job. It was eventually supplanted by Remedy or some such off-the-shelf system.

My other big deal at Moto was getting sent to a customer site after six months on the job, because I'd accrued sufficient knowledge about the system to be a useful part of the on-site support team. That was fun.

I learned a hell of a lot in Motorola. C, SQL, systems admin, database setup, Unix (SysV and BSD), networking, the aforementioned mail forgery (as it happens, I'd found RFC821 about a half an hour prior to Mark making the above comment), X, Motif - towards the end of my employment, Mark bet me I couldn't write an X app in three hours to handle a sort of knowledge base; I won the bet - csh, sh, vi (emacs didn't enter into the picture until 1994), and so much more.

Also, I got myself a handle I liked, and that I've kept ever since. Can't really ask for much more from a first job.