Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thirty years ago...

Thirty years ago, on January 1, 1984 my work life took a new turn.

On that day Bell Atlantic began its existence, following Divestiture of the Bell System into the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies.

The original Regional Bell Operating Companies ("Baby Bells") included Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, NYNEX (New England/New York), Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell and US West.  In 1997 Bell Atlantic acquired NYNEX, and in 2000 acquired GTE and became known as Verizon.  I retired in 1998, just after the NYNEX acquisition but pre Verizon.

I was selected to fill a newly-created job on the Bell Atlantic Headquarters staff in Arlington, VA.
This meant no more commuting from my home in Northern Virginia to the Maryland suburbs, where I had worked on the C&P Telephone Group Headquarters staff since 1977.
No more commuting across the Potomac River via the I-495 Beltway.
No more getting stuck for hours behind wrecks on the Potomac River bridge.

They chose me to be Forecasting Manager in the Capital Management Division because of my experience in all areas of forecasting and ability to communicate with upper management about the results.  Forecasts were an important input to the company's capital budget and engineering processes.

I served on a number of inter-Bell company task forces and committees that were redesigning the provisioning, engineering and capital management systems.  In the early years after Divestiture the former Bell companies jointly funded and cooperated with one another on a wide variety of infrastructure and standards bodies.

It turns out that January 1, 1984 was the midway point in my telephone company career (1969-98).

I began work in November 1969 as Assistant Manager C&P's Fairfax, VA Business Office.  I had just completed my active duty with the US Navy. I retired in August 1998 to begin a new life in Nashville.

The Bell System and its logos evolved over time.


35 ASR
I witnessed a revolution in back-office technology.  When I began work, the company was using WW2 electromechanical technology.  Typists in the Service Order Bureau used model 28ASR and 35ASR teletypewriters to cut paper tape, which was fed into readers that sent the pulses over dedicated multi-leg hardwire circuits to central offices, traffic centers and the central billing office in Richmond.
28 ASR
Tape library
IBM 360
As a new employee I was given a tour of our new billing computer in Richmond, which took up a floor of an office building.  The computer room was built on an elevated floor, beneath which snaked thousands of wires.  The room was cooled to about 60 degrees in order to prevent the computer from overheating. It was an IBM 360 with 16K of RAM.  Customer account data was contained in racks of punch cards, which would be rolled down the hall for each day's billing. Toll (long distance) records was captured in each central office by punch machines, which produced rolls of punched paper tape that were picked up each night and taken to the billing center in Richmond.  The computer was used to merge the toll records on paper tape with the customer accounts on punchcards to print the bills on line printers, which were torn down, stuffed into envelopes, stamped and mailed.  Bill stubs for each account were sent to each business office where they were kept in large tubs beside each Service Representative's desk.
punch card
8 channel punched paper tape
Paper tape reader
This was to be avoided

The new guy always gets assignments like running the UGF (Now United Way) campaign.  I took it seriously and achieved 100% participation in 1970.
Accepting the UGF 100% participation award from Area General Manager Al Sherritt in 1970.
My first big assignment was to design a new business office for our 75-person operation and move the existing operations to the Memco Building at Fairfax Circle over a weekend, without any lapse in customer service.  After months of careful preparation, everything went like clockwork, and the first call came in on Monday morning to the new office.  I designed pneumatic tube and conveyer belt systems to transport orders to and from various parts of the operation.  I performed time and motion studies in order to lay out the office for maximum efficiency.  In 1971 an Engineering edict from WW2 was still on the books that forbade company offices from installing Touchtone for employees.  The policy was put in place to save precious resources for the war effort but was clearly out of date.  I was able to demonstrate the economics of Touchtone by measuring the additional time it took for a Service Representative to dial 7 and 10 digit numbers using a rotary dial compared with a Touchtone set, then calculated how much money Touchtone would save in terms of loaded employee salaries.  I took these pictures shortly after the move.  

Service Order Bureau
Business Office

Business Office

Business Office

Business Office
Mom pretending to tell me how to run the business office

I arranged for the donation of an old coin collector's truck to the Fairfax Jaycees for Central Fairfax Services, which provides transportation for disabled citizens.  From left: Corky Bolton, Fairfax Coin Manager, Harry Lindsay, Public Office Manager, me (with all the hair) and Chip Curtis, President of the Fairfax Jaycees. 
The old Memco building is undergoing renovations after 42 years.

For 18 of my 29 years with the Phone Company I forecasted customer demand.  From 1972 to 1977 I was a Local Area Forecaster, estimating future telephone demand for small areas of geography in the Northern Virginia area.  My area was inside the Beltway to the DC line, north of Rt. 7 to Loudon County and east of I-95 south to Woodbridge. The engineers needed an estimate of future demand so they could build expansions required to meet future demand in an efficient and timely manner.
8316 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, VA
200 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 1972-77
Local Area Forecaster was the best job I've ever had.  My territory consisted of the area inside the Washington Beltway and north of Rt. 7 to the Loudoun County line and east of I-95 to Woodbridge.  The area was divided up into 13 pieces of geography known as "Wire Centers," that represented the area served by a given central office.  I scheduled a driving visit to each area twice a year, during which I would drive through all residential and commercial construction projects, counting the number of residences under construction and occupied.  Between field trips I gathered information about future growth in each area.  I compiled zoning applications, community master plans, local newspapers, "Dodge" reports issued to the construction industry, and any other relevant information.  I called developers, architects, city and county officials and visited municipal planning offices to review zoning applications and use permits.  I set my own schedule and planned my own field trips.  Gunston was beautiful to visit in the fall, so I'd pack a lunch and enjoy a scenic view of the Potomac River. I got to know the best places to stop for ice cream in areas like Great Falls.

The Gunston wire center covers Mason Neck
A quiet afternoon at Pohick Bay Regional Park
Thelma's Homemade Ice Cream in Great Falls

In 1977 I transferred to the C&P Headquarters Forecasting Staff in suburban Maryland, which occupied several buildings during the 7 years I worked on the staff.
In 1980 I wrote and published the C&P Local Area Forecasting Practice, the first of its kind in the nation to document the steps required to forecast telephone customer demand.

During my time on the C&P staff, I forecasted Booked Revenue, Toll Messages and Access Lines for Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia using autoregressive and multivariate econometric models.  The models were built with a Fortran-based language known as "STATLIB" (Bell Laboratories Statistical Computing Library), which were run on a remote VM/CMS timeshare computer accessed over 1200 a Baud dialup modem.  Data and programs were input via paper tape cut with teletype machines.  The company sent me to many weeks of intensive training on statistical and programming techniques at the Bell System Training Center in Lisle, IL.  

Bell System Center for Technical Education (BSCTE), 6200 Rt. 53, Lisle, IL
8630 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD - 1977-79
Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD - 1980-83
Chesapeake Headquarters Complex, Fairland, MD - 1983-84
Bell Atlantic Headquarters, 1310 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington, VA - 1984-94

During my last 4 years, between 1990-98 I managed Bell Atlantic's $20 Million Bellcore Research & Development work program.  In 1991 I co-authored Bell Atlantic's Strategic Technology Plan.

In 1994 I began a 2nd marriage and moved to a 1790 farmhouse in beautiful western Loudoun county, which was 50 miles from my office in Arlington.  My clients were located across the northeastern US, so theoretically I could work from anywhere as long as I had a phone, computer line and fax machine. My boss mercifully allowed me to move into a vacant office in Leesburg.  I was the only person in the 2,000 person division allowed such a privilege, and I worked hard to keep it.

501 Tolbert Lane SE, Leesburg, VA - 1994-98 (building is hidden by trees)

I once hosted a budget meeting on the front porch of our farmhouse.

1790 farmhouse near Waterford, VA

Company mail took an extra 3 days to get to Leesburg, and so within 2 years I converted the R&D budget process from paper mail to fax, then to email and finally hosted it on on Bell Atlantic's new Intranet.  My new process saved hundreds of man-hours and sped up decision making by weeks.  It was the first user application Bell Atlantic had ever hosted, and for my efforts I received a $10,000 bonus.  During the first budget cycle after we merged with NYNEX, I was able to combine the companies' R&D budgets and fund essential work for nearly half of what they had spent separately the year before.  
Farmhouse with the Catoctin Mountains in the distance
On August 1, 1998 I said goodbye to Bell Atlantic, and my new wife Nancy and I rode off into the sunset to start a new life in Nashville, TN.

Nashville, TN