JOHNRENARD.COM

The home of all things "Renard"

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About ME

I have always taken the time to ask the question of myself "Who is John Renard?"  In my opinion, self-reflection is an activity that is rarely practiced today.  If it was practiced more actively perhaps many of the problems that plague us as a race as well as individuals would simply fade away under the glare of self-examination.   In essence I am a problem-solver.  It took a couple of decades for me to realize, that through my actions and thought processes, my purpose in life is to fix things.  Or as I like to say "dispona ex incompositus".  Make "order out of chaos".  My tool of choice is the Personal Computer.  My avatar of choice: SHODAN

SHODAN: Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network

In the early 1990's I came upon the PC game SYSTEM SHOCK 2.  SHODAN was the computer villan you were trying to defeat.  But the concept of an entity inside a computer resonated with me.  After all since 1990 I had been known as PCMAN on the internet and my email accounts.  Now I had the perfect picture to go with my handle. 

I started my career in IT on the Help Desk.  Or as we called it in those days the "Information Center".  The computer was an IBM mainframe and the center of the information universe.  The PC's were on the other side of the glass wall and considered "toys".  But they extracted information from "big iron" so the users could "play" with it.  Or at least that was how the computer "professionals" saw it.   I did PC installs, configured software, wrote batch files and helped the business users with the occasional "CIRC" error on their Lotus 123 spreadsheets.  I  got so good at explaining how the business software works that I was chosen to train all the new users, develop course material and eventually wound up running the department.  It was a glorious run until the company announced they were moving to Georgia.   Having no desire to relocate south, I wound up working in NYC at a major health care provider called HIP of Greater NY.

It was my first experience working with consultants who were developing a software platform to front end separate mainframe systems on a PC.  It was also my first intro to the world of MS Windows.  While I was hired for my technical (hardware and networking) abilities I was exposed to a great deal of software development.  After all, the software had to run on the PC's I was setting up.  I became an expert at diagnosing 3270 emulation and networking issues.  As well as fixing screen scraping errors on hidden emulation windows.  In essence I was honing my troubleshooting and analytical skills.  Skills that would serve me my entire career.   I relished the challenge of researching and applying solutions and in general getting stuff to work.

After the consultants left it was my job to support the 200 plus users.  I was trained in the software language(EASEL) and along with two other analysts kept the operation running smoothly.  I performed platform training and front end user support as well as program enhancements and business analysis.  We integrated an imaging solution sold by Minolta which tied in scanned documents and claim forms.  So in addition to the electronic information we also had images of all the paperwork associated with a client.  Over 500,000 document pages where eventually scanned and indexed into the system with about 5k a month of new documents.  But sady my days at HIP were numbered.  There was a management change among the Executive VP's and our main advocate was fired.  I lasted another 6 months until I left because the work environment was becomming toxic.  It seemed anyone associated with the old regime was targeted for harrasment and one by one they left to find other opportunities.

Fortunately I had kept in contact with one of the other consultants and was able to score a short time assignment working for an imaging project for Columbia University.  I stayed working as consultant for a couple of years doing EASEL programming for Chase Auto Finance and a few other banks.  I was able to leverage my skills to land a programming position at First Data in Melville doing VB programming.    This was back before .NET where programming reference books by Microsoft were measured in feet.  First Data was converting their legacy VB3 (16 bit code) to VB4(16 & 32 bit) and it just so happened I had been self educating myself in VB4 when I saw EASEL jobs getting scarce.

First Data was a great ride.  My first professional programming experience in the Windows desktop world.  Primarily the job was to design in house programs to facillate the credit card sign up and reporting process for retailers using our services.  There was a clear distinction between the mainframe programmers (CICS, Batch COBOL etc..) and the PC/Web guys (Windows, VB, ASP).  By definition we move faster and iterate more frequently since the platform does not have as many dependencies as the mainframe.  However getting code deployed was a major PITA (pain in the ass). 

You see this was the late 90's heading into Y2K.  The programming world was abuzz with new acronymns like CMM and Six Sigma.  Suddenly we were all about "quality".  Code deployment ground to a crawl as layer upon layer of process and review were added to the mix.  As a pure PC guy it was very frustrating.  Since the mainframe was "gospel" it didn't change that often.  So if a PC program had an access error because it was formatting a transaction incorrectly the turnaround was minutes.  This compared to the 2 weeks it took to get code into production on the other side.

Things started going downhill when the layoffs started.  After the "millenium bug" was shown to be much ado about nothing about 20% of the programming staff was "excessed".  Then when the powers that be instituted time and project tracking as well as forcing the PC programmers into the mainframe development model that's when it stopped being fun.  Especially with the mandatory weekly 10% unpaid overtime required on our timesheets.

It was around this time some entreprenural stirrings started appearing my head.  I had inherited some money.  The children were young.  I was looking to transition my career to maybe something more exciting.  Something related to my passions around computers and gaming.  Thus was born Work 'N Play the PC Experience or WNP for short. 

To be continued....