Life Since High School Part 3 of 4 – The Alcoa Era

One day at Neural, I received a telephone call from a recruiter who asked me if I would be interested in leading a project to replace legacy systems at “A Fortune 500 Company within 45 minute commute of you”. I say “ok, who is it?” and she revealed it was Alcoa. I laughed and said I know a vice-president of Alcoa, to which I got a “sure you do” kind of response. After I hung up from her, I called Wendy Winge, who was the IT project manager I had worked with most closely at North Star Steel, who had followed Mike Coleman over to Alcoa. Mike had been the president of North Star Steel, and joined Alcoa to run the Ridged Packaging Division and was a VP of Alcoa as a whole. Mike called me back later that afternoon and said he was going to call John Collins, the president of the Mill Products division where I was looking at the job, and he was going to instruct him to “do whatever it took to get me on board”. The next day the recruiter called back and said “I don’t know what happened, but they are very eager to get your resume, you have to get it over to me right away”.

I joined Alcoa Mill Products in Bettendorf Iowa in July of 1999. I was a Project Leader, and my first job was the installation of a Customer Relationship Management system. When I joined, the business had already identified the need, and we were going through a vendor selection process. We ended up selecting Siebel, and we went live with our system in March 2000, delivering the project on time and $500,000 under budget.

My role continued to be associated with these commercial systems. I facilitated maintenance and enhancement of this CRM tool, as well as AlcoaDirect, our custom extranet solution for our customers, and various intranet applications. In January 2005, I moved to the commercial side of the business and became the Manager of eBusiness/Commercial Systems, which basically meant keep doing all of the IT work for these systems, but now be responsible for sponsoring and guiding strategy with them as well. In August 2007, my supervisor departed to join John Deere, and my role moved back into the IT department, though my title and responsibilities remain the same.

One significant thing which happened during this time frame was my introduction to the web development language PHP. During my tenure at Neural Application Corporation, I participated in an investment club called the Pentecrest Investment Club, and I continued to pursue my personal interest in Stock Options trading, and eventually formed a partnership with some members of my investment club, family, friends and work associates. This partnership was called “Sweat Equity Investments” and I managed the options trades for the group. I originally tracked the trades in an Access database, and used a report to generate static web pages which I published as the monthly accounting. I was familiar with Microsoft SQL server and ASP pages from work experience, but I did not want to pay for the license for a Windows server setup at home. I talked to my UNIX administrator, Charles Fisher, and he pointed me in the direction of the LAMP stack. LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, Mysql and PHP, though I initially used Sybase for the easy of transitioning from Microsoft SQL.

Once I had this capability, I rewrote our accounting software and made a secured website where each partner could log in, review their account, and get graphs of their account history. Since I was using all open source software which I did not have to pay for, I felt I owed something back to the community which had provided these tools, so I began to write articles about the work I was doing. Some of these were published on the Zend website, and in particular a tutorial on using JpGraph attracted the attention of a publisher named Wrox. They wanted to write a book on graphics in PHP, and I ended up writing two chapters on charting data. Two weeks after I received the two preliminary copies of the book, the parent company of Wrox went bankrupt and I never received a penny for the 1/3 of the PHP Graphics Handbook.

The cut out about half of the material I had written, so I was later able to tweak that material into a series of article for PHP Architect magazine. I began attending conferences and presenting on various PHP topics, and later wrote my second book PHP|Architect’s Guide to PHP Design Patterns.

At this point and time, PHP is a small fraction of my professional work at Alcoa, but I do some consulting work on the side to keep myself engaged (and I love it, it is fun for me).