When being a tightarse is expensive

In the late 80's I had a job where the company I worked for were so cheap they couldn't see how much money they were wasting.

My job was predominantly computer programming for handheld computers. Sounds exciting, not so much. They couldn't do much back then but if companies needed they could be had for large amounts of money.

The programs were written on a PC, compiled and then burned to EPROM to be physically installed into the handheld computer.

I was allocated a fairly "average" computer with which to do my work.

Every time I compiled a program the computer could not do anything else...which meant I couldn't do anything else either. Proper multitasking computers were still quite some time away.

Each compile took 30 minutes or more. As programs got bigger, which they did quite quickly, the duration of compiles grew i.e. the time I was sitting around waiting for my computer to finish grew.

I became increasingly frustrated and did not like people (my bosses) potentially seeing me "doing nothing" while I waited for this shitty computer to do its job.

I told them how good my personal computer at home was and, as described in this article, I had brought my flash Olivetti PC (similar to that pictured above) in for a demonstration the company was doing. They needed decent computers to show a prospective customer.

In some spare time (waiting for said compiles on my work PC), I set up my pc to code and compile programs.

Needless to say it flew and what was taking 40 minutes plus on the provided PC was taking less than 10 minutes on my personal computer.

I pointed this out to my boss who, at that time, was a good and decent fellow.

He acknowledged the problem but did not have budget for new PCs.

I went away frustrated. I took my own computer home determined not to let my private equipment prop up a business that ultimately didn't care about me...or itself.

I did, however do some simple calculations.

I calculated how much time out of an average day I spent just waiting for the computer.

I turned that into a percentage and applied it to my annual salary.

As you can probably imagine that number was not insignificant. It was certainly much bigger than the cost of a new computer (probably 20 times more even then).

I showed this large number of dollars to my boss and I watched him blanch as he recognised the massive hole in my productivity and, everyone else's productivity too. I wasn't the only one there doing this kind of work.

He gave in and said he'd get me a new computer. Just me. No-one else.

The purchase took longer than it should because they mucked around and other people's interests started to be applied to the purchase.

They spent even more time trying to save money by faffing around with what to buy. The answer seemed obvious to me, but not to them - just get a new faster computer.

In the end they bought me a second hand laptop. <sigh>

It was a lot faster and provided a couple of other advantages over my previous desktop arrangement.

You'd think that would be the end of the story, but no.

One of those advantages was portability and, as a result, my "new" laptop was being regularly taken from me by the sales department for demo's in the field and the like.

So I was right back where I started, with a computer that I could only really use around 50% of the time.

As a side note, when I did "leave" the company they contracted me back to program for them. I was able to quote just less than their internal software department for the job (don't ask, it was weird). With my skills and my fast equipment I was quite literally able to do the job in one tenth of the time the internal department could. Remembering I quoted "just less" than them, that's quite some profit margin. In 1989-ish they were unknowingly paying me over $120 an hour. That's about $270 today...per hour. Do the maths on that and you'll see that works out at over $560,000 dollars per year in today's terms.

Don't get excited. It didn't last long. I didn't get rich. The company tried to screw me (again) so I cut ties with them permanently. That would have cost them even more :-)

So, the questions I have for you are:

1) How valuable is your time?

2) How much of it are you wasting on crappy equipment?

3) And even when you think you've fixed it, have you really?

You know what to do :-)

Have fun,


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