Before he took his flyer into entrepreneurship, Gene followed the long, slow path upward that was the typical lot of the first-generation programmer. A three-month stint in Vietnam as a 24-year-old Marine led him to the conclusion Boy, this is not for me. Since he didnt know what was for him, he took an aptitude test. It showed that he had a bent for computer work and programming, so he spent two years at Pierce Junior College studying computer science.
That was Genes first crossroadsfinding a general direction for a career. His first job was close to the bottomas a computer operator running batch programs (working with keypunch-card readers, loading cards, and changing tapes) at a wedding -gown manufacturing company in Philadelphia. The only people lower than the operators were the keypunchers, he says. The moving-up pace was glacial in those days. After hed been at the company five or six years, the MIS director left, and Gene got his post. Still, it was considered a leap. I asked for the MIS job, Gene says. In fact, I told them Id leave if I didnt get it. You have to decide when your opportunity is there. The MIS director said, ˜You think you can do it? and I said, ˜Absolutely. And I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to do it.
He had made his way upward from operator to head of the companys computer operations department, taking courses at night at Temple University and Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University) in his quest to get into programming. He wrote programs on the side while doing his operators job, and lurked around the IBM systems engineers working there (Garry Reinhard and me), asking for enlightenment about the computers we were installing.
Now, when I took over for the MIS director, I didnt get much time to get into the technical side of the businessthe programming side, Gene says. There was more time to learn the applications system side. And that turned out to be fortunate, for Gene found that he liked the system side better. The system side is learning the business, generating and developing systems to support the companys growth. That job is what they now call the CIO.
I got where I got because I had a goal. I quickly realized that people-on the business side made more money than the technically oriented people. Youve got to learn as much as you can about a company, its systems, its computers, the programming aspect of it.
Theres a crossroads in everyones career. You either want to go very heavily into a technical environment where youre programming, understanding the capabilities of machines from a technical perspective, or you go off and become a manager or information officer (CIO).
Do you want to be technically oriented or business oriented? I took the approach that being more business oriented is going to further my career faster and get me where I wanted to bewhich at that point was a MIS director who really understood the apparel industry. That was my goal, and I spent a lot of time trying to reach it.