My career

In a way this sort of expands my CV , but it is really meant as a reflection on how I ended up doing what I do.

I know very few people who can honestly say that they are doing the job they do now because that was all part of some grand plan for a career that they always wanted. I do know one chap for example, who from about the age 10 wanted to be a an accountant. Now, school and University long past he is, an accountant, but that I think is an exception. Did I know what I wanted to do when I left school at 15 1/2, did you ? So when does a 'career' start ? Is it when you finally discover what you want to do ? I think it starts with the first pay packet - the moment you begin to earn a living you are on the path of a career - you may not know what it is yet, but it has begun.

Through a family friend who was in 'The Motor Trade', I collected my first pay packet from a small garage in North London - I was to be a mechanic. Err, no. After week one I was given the keys and the task or arriving early to get the brew going. One morning I arrived to find this sign standing on a Zephyr. "Give it a rub-down" the sign said. So I did. And there's the problem with communication. The process of flatting paintwork for a re-spray was (and still is) caled 'rubbing down'. To do this wet and dry ( a kind of sand paper) is used, and its a long job. Unfortunatley, the Zephyr was in for a service and the subsequent free re-spray pleased the owner, but not the Boss. You see, the Boss meant 'give it a wash'. It seems my career as a mechanic was over.

Whilst walking home from the garage I passed a strange looking place that manufactured lampshade frames and for a month I worked there, spending my days wrapping wire around formers and then spot welding the rings into lampshades. This was not a top career move, and it was time to move on, quickly.

My father worked for a Dental Company, and I was taken on in the service divsion (and the glimmer of a career opened up for me). We were based in Great Portland Street (close to London's West End), and service involved many field calls to Harley Street as well as days out installing new surgeries, and repairing faulty returns. There was an element of plumbing, electrical installation, and electronics, and I quite enjoyed it. Mamy people in the company thought that I was only 'pending' in service, waiting to follow my father ( who was quite senior within the company), but it really wasn't what I wanted to do, and no such thing was happening. But still toungues wagged, and in the end I decide to move on, again.

I still had a hankering to be a mechanic and I soon found myself working in a garage just off Blackfriars Bridge, in Lower Thames Street, London. I pretty much knew my way around a two-stroke engine, and this garage dealt with motor cycles and scooters. As a side-line, the garage also did a lot of work building very fast specials. For a while I was quite happy there, but then itchy feet again. I have written about how I ended up in The Army and so there I was. In my eyes, this is where my career began. All this took place between ages 15 1/2 and 17, but looking back it seems I was in each job much longer.

I spent a year seconded to REME, and during that year took my first correspondance course in electronics. At last, I knew what I wanted to do. At the end of the year all that remained was a recommendation from my Battery Sergeant Major and I was on my way to Arborfield garrison to re-train. Only it never happened. My BSM got (almost) the last laugh because he blocked my transfer and that was the end of that. A little later I left the Army and took a job as a salesman in an electrical goods shop - Civic, in High Wycombe. Best tip I learned was to always carry a piece of chalk when delivering white goods. That way, if it got scratched the chalk will fill it in. When the chalk washes out a week or so later, the customer thinks they did it. (Sorry old Civic customers).

After discharge, the first thing I did was to find RAF High Wycombe and get involved with their on camp 'radio', just like the one in Gibraltar . I also began to build my first mobile discotheqe, The Mike Williams Roadshow was back. I really enjoyed working at Civic, but after about 10 months I got a letter saying I could go to a full time training centre to train as a TV Engineer. The money was just pocket money, meals thrown in.So I had to choose and I decided to take the course, it was after all, what I really wanted to do. No sooner had the course ended than I was back off to Germany with the disco. When I returned to England I was driving past a (then) major TV retailer's Head Office so I went in and asked for a job, which I got. The Company was Lloyds TV. I stayed with Lloyds for three years and moved on to another TV company (Telefusion) mainly for the opportunity. By the time I had served seven years with Telefusion I was training other engineers, and doing all kinds of stuff outside the usual scope of the job, but the pay was awful, and it was that alone that prompted me to make a decision that was major in my career - I entered the computer industry.

At that time I was the service manager and one of my engineers had joined a company called DPCE. Compared to a TV engineer he began to earn a lot of money, and I soon followed. DPCE wanted engineers to fix the kind of electronics that were 'bog standard' to a TV engineer - indeed neither of us had any interest at all in computers. Interest slowly grew. It began by simply learning about logic, and then I was moved to a site where, in order to understand the problems, I had to be able to run simple programs and to talk to the users. I decided to buy a home machine to learn it bit more. In the early days on the home micro there were two camps really, the Sinclair fans with their Z80 processor and the Commodore fans with a proper processor, the 6502. The Sinclair had a nasty rubber keyboard, and the Commodore had real keys, so for this reason alone I bought my first home micro, a VIC-20.

After a while I was moved to the Austin Rover factory at Cowley, Oxford. By this time I was well versed in digital electronics and was learning assembly language programming. Lots of mad stuff was done with that VIC. I designed and built and 8" floppy disc interface for it, memory expansion, monitor interfaces, a bar-code reader interface, eprom programmer and all kinds of test software to help fix the equipment on site.Finally, the VIC gave way to my BBC micro. If there was ever a second turning point in my career, buying that machine was it.

My first commercial undertaking was a light pen program for the BBC, but it was learning what that machine could do that led to me building my first 'own design' micro. From this I built the machine that gained me my first patent. This machine was designed to mimic a channel connected to an IBM mainframe, such that problems on the channel could be traced and fixed. In the two photos below you can see the very first model (hand built by me at Cowley), in a computer room in Holland.


I presented this to the technical director who told me to go and see him after lunch. When I arrived he said to me "What do you want Mike ?", and I said, you asked me to come. I got a 40% pay hike, promotion and the R&D dept was created. I guess now I am overlapping my CV far too much, so this is a good place to stop. I designed many, many pieces of equipment for DPCE and then GCSI, as it became, and My Travels took me all over Europe and America. Another four patents were filed and granted. I can't close this off though without a mention of my final project for GCSI.

Granada had purchased a company in the US that produced a networked TV system (via set top boxes), for use in Hospitals. This was right at the beginning of set-top technology, and the system offered video on demand and pay per view amongst many features so common today. My mission was to convert the US system into one that would work in the UK, and I had three months to the first demo. Well, this was done and all went well, and for the next two years I worked on improving the system, eventually designing ( with my friend David in the US), or at least laying down the outlines for a new digital system - one much like the set top decoders of today. My reward, after fifteen years was redundancy - Granada did not see a future in set-top boxes. GCSI is long gone, as is much of,the mainframe maintenance business. Digital set top boxes are thegrowth market.

My CV covers the time from then to now. I think that I made two major mistakes so far (time for plenty more). One was the short time I worked for a small, insignificant comapany based near Hungerford in Berkshire. The lesson learned was about ethics, it may have cost me my job but I really do believe that a company needs a sound ethical base, and if that is lacking at the heart, well its time to move on. Still there Ken ?

Unfortunately for me it was very much frying pan into the fire and I spent an equally short time at a 'business' based in a lock-up on a run down factory estate in Basingstoke. The result of my stay here (the Senior Engineer to me" I am gong to hang a baseball bat on the wall in front of your desk and every time you make a mistake, hit you with it"), was ironic really. Having spent an entire career working more or less alone, Innovision and the Open University taught me teamwork. Suddenly I found myself working at a place where there was zero team-work, indeed it was scorned, every many for himself. Well that 'business' has been just about running for around fifteen years now and no doubt will do so for another fifteen (providing health and safety don't make a visit); in a decrepit lock up on a run down factory estate. 'Mr Daly, I'll be with you in a minute'. Time to move on. (Hello Quentin.)

For my final working years I was very happily employed in a specialist RF company - we design such things as Radio detection/direction finding, combat radio simmulators, and 'target' tracking devices, most in use by various agencies around the world. As Senior Engineer I do not have a baseball bat to hang on the wall, Pete.

I have had a long career and have enjoyed almost all of it. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people and also some total arseholes - I do not miss Triteq or Bitbox at all. They plod on, I wonder for how long.


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