A Change was Scheduled

5 min read

Unfortunately, my last “big” project on the Cohort Lab team was frustrating and demoralizing (read more). As I mentioned, I talked to my TL about wanting a change. At first, it was just minor grumbles and expressing some desire for a new bigger project. Coincidentally, and luckily, a friend from college had just entered into the job market and was already making significantly more than I was at Epic. Although it wasn’t work that I wanted to do at the time (he was working as a full-time consultant) it was very useful as leverage. My career change tactics became not so subtle hints and I made it clear that moving to the suburbs of Chicago where he was employed wouldn’t be a big deal for me, especially as my one year lease on my apartment was ending (and I’d already decided I wanted to find a new apartment that had an in-unit clothes washer and drier).

She took my request to Carl and promised to help me navigate options.

I didn’t throw down an ultimatum of “must be on a new team by September 1, 1994 or I’ll leave” … I trusted her to work on it with Carl and make a plan.

During this period a number of noteworthy things happened.

Epic bought a building!

The Medical Circle building was bursting at the seams. Offices were cramped, doubled (and tripled!) and parking was at a premium. The parking lot overflowed with cars and only early arrivals were able to park in the lot. To meet the demands of the growing staff numbers (around 50-60), a new place was desperately needed. Epic bought a former school at 5301 Tokay Boulevard in Madison and as soon as occupancy and networking were in place, several teams were moved into the building. It wasn’t ready for general occupancy, and a lot of construction was needed. Cubicles were arranged in open areas and some offices were available. I initially shared an office. More accurately, it hadn’t been an office: it was the size of a small cafeteria. I don’t remember if we knew what the original purpose of this large space was or how it had been used, but it was about 60ft x 30ft (9m x 18m). It was ridiculous with a large sloped ceiling and one set of windows in an alcove area. While it would have been amusing to try to set up in the middle of this room, cabling and electrical weren’t available. Instead, we setup as far away as possible.

Hi hi! Fire Marshall! Look at how many extension cords and power strips we needed to make this desk arrangement work!

I’m know there are software startups with a dozen employees that have been crammed into rooms smaller than this was (I’ve interviewed at a few). The wall arrangement wasn’t permanent as the room was eventually converted into other more practical space.

I wish I remembered the specifics of the technology used for making the phone and networking connections between the two Epic buildings. There weren’t many options back then and it was either an expensive leased line or a carefully pointed wireless system (designed for point to point wireless). I know Epic had wireless systems installed at the Tokay buildings but I don’t remember the timeline. Either way, the connections weren’t always reliable. Think better than Satellite TV service. As most development happened direct to a server over a terminal or locally on a PC, it didn’t need to be blazing fast (blazing 9600 baud?).

Working Remotely

Not too surprisingly, having two buildings that were practically speaking too far apart to walk (about 0.9 miles one way) was fine. There was an occasional glitch where all connectivity was lost to the main building (phones and network) but it wasn’t too frequent that it became a big issue. Collectively, we still were able to work together even though we weren’t in the same general location.

I got a PC!

The Cohort Lab team members were last to get PCs because the team generally had the least need for them. But, there was a general push to get Microsoft Office applications available and that meant rolling out Windows 3.11 for Workgroups to the masses. PowerPoint! For UGM that year there was a drive to have all presentations use PowerPoint. Star Wipes 4 Ever! (the glorious star wipe may not have been a feature yet though unfortunately)

As I had the most experience with a PC and had the most interest, I was the recipient. Honestly, in the era before we had Internet access, having a Windows PC for the type of terminal-based development I’d been doing on Cohort lab wasn’t needed, but it was a welcome upgrade. Epic bought a lot of Gateway computers eventually, but I don’t know if the first one I received was a Gateway (Gateway: Holstein cows like branding.) It’s dissapointing that the Wikipedia article doesn’t show any of the shipping boxes.

A new TEAM!

Epic’s Legacy product (the EHR/EMR), AKA EpicCare, AKA EpicCare Ambulatory, wouldn’t be the only graphical application sold by Epic. Rather than starting from scratch as had been done with Legacy, the decision was made to create a graphical interface for Cadence, Epic’s ambulatory (patient) scheduling product. I wasn’t privy to the selection nor did I consider it much at the time. Looking back at that now, I would have argued that concentrating more on the user experience for the terminal-based Cadence would have provided tangible lower-cost wins allowing resources to be devoted to building up a larger portfolio of products earlier.

But, that’s not what happened.

A new Cohort Team Member

Once the team transfer had been decided, Cohort Lab needed to find a replacement. It wasn’t long before I was mentoring the new employee that was joining Cohort. My first mentee!

Transfer Scheduled

My first day on the Cadence GUI team was scheduled near the end of September 1994. We’d be using Visual Basic 3.0, released earlier in 1994. My first month on Cadence is the topic for next time.