Introducing eMail in Union Carbide

I joined NIIT on 02Apr1994, one day after the documented joining date on my appointment letter, as I did not want to start working in a company from fool’s day. On reaching office, I reported to the HRM, Sujata. Sujata was a very warm lady and I never saw her in low spirits during my entire stay in NIIT. Sujata gave me my NIIT bag and made me fill some forms and then took me to JNC’s room. JNC welcomed me and handed me 4 Sybase manuals and asked me to start studying. Gathering some courage, I asked him as to where could I sit in the office. He took to one corner of the office and asked me to sit at one of the empty desks. The desk had 3 tiers of drawers and he asked to use the one on the top-tier. I soon learnt that 3 people shared each desk. I also learnt that all the people were generally out of the office and thus I could not find any of my colleagues in the office. By the lunch break I had knowledge that I was one among 26 technical staff in the NIIT Software Engineering Group (SEG) in Calcutta Center at Royd Street. The remaining so many people who I found in the office were either from either Marketing or Pre Sales or Technical Support or Finance or Administration units. The most people in the office were from the NIIT Corporate Training Division. Our head of SEG was Mr. Jayanta Narayan Chowdhury (JNC) and his boss was Mr. Sudipto Sinha Roy, who was the Regional Manager.

I tried very hard to study the Sybase manual for 3 days and was not able to understand much. On the fourth day, JNC came to my desk and asked me how ready I was in Sybase. I was extremely nervous and told him that I understood that there was something called T-SQL and something called APT and something called RWB. Before I could demonstrate any more knowledge, he told me to take my bag and follow him. So, I took my bag and followed him to his room. There, he picked up his briefcase and again asked me to follow him. I did so and was soon outside the office. He called a taxi and I sat in the taxi. We reached Birla Planetarium and soon I found myself in Assam Company. There, he introduced me to Mr. Arindam Sinha and told him I would work on the Assam Company project. Arindam da took me to the 4th floor to a small room where there were 8 terminals in two bays along the two opposite walls along the length. At the corner of the room was a relatively big coloured monitor on which a pair of eyes kept scanning the room. I later understood that this was the Sun SPARC Station. All but one terminal was free and I was asked to sit at it. Soon, I was given a folder and was told that it contained specifications for the Marketing module. I was to create programs in Sybase APT. Arindam da then told me the coding standards and demonstrated to me how to code in Sybase APT. He assigned me one program to develop. I struggled on the program for the next 2 days and did not make any headway. Seeing me struggle, Basabdutta came over and once again taught me the basics. With her help, I wrote the program in the next 3 days. When I told Arindam da that I had completed the program, he came to test the program and found that it was breaking down at almost everything he tried. He started rectifying the flaws. While he was rectifying the bugs and I was trying to gather what he was doing, JNC walked into the room and came straight at me. I was extremely nervous once again. He asked me whether I knew Clipper and I told him that I did. He asked me to follow him and so I did.

Soon, I was outside the Assam Company and was sitting in a taxi next to JNC. This time, we stopped in front of the Jeevan Deep building. There he took me to the 4th floor and I was in Union Carbide office. He took me to a huge room where there were many machines. However, there was a lot of space all around. JNC went and met some people there and I soon got to know that they were from SEG working on the Union Carbide project. He took me to a room at the end of this space and introduced me to Mr. Ajay Chakraborty, who was the EDP Manager. Ajay da took me to another part of the office and took me to a room, which was the office of one of the General Managers. In front of the office door was the workstation of his secretary where an aged lady was working. Inside the office, one computer was placed on the large desk. Ajay da told me sit down on the beautiful execute chair in the office and switched on the machine and the familiar DOS started booting. He opened a directory where I found many Clipper files. He told me that he had obtained the free software written by some person from New Zealand. The software was supposed to enable setting up an email system. The word “email” was something I heard for the first time in my life at that moment. He told me to figure out how to make the software work and gave a small folder containing some specifications about needed changes to customize the software for use in Union Carbide.

I scanned through the machine for some time and could not find any document which could give me some clue about where to start. So, I started to open the program files and tried to figure out the starting point. After some struggle, I found the starting point of some software. I tried to compile the code and found that it would not compile. So, I was started to fix the compilation errors. After working for 3 days, I was able to generate an executable. However, I still had no idea what the software was supposed to do as when I ran the executable nothing happened.

During all these days, I would meet with my NIIT colleagues during the lunchtime and would have lunch with them in Indian Aluminum canteen on the 6th floor. They told me that I was an officer as I was sitting in a cabin and working while they were all working in the bay. The cabins in Union Carbide had wooden door unlike glass doors that we have in these days. So, I had absolute privacy and the Secretary would knock and come in once in a while to ask whether I needed water or tea. Now, I was the youngest member of the NIIT Calcutta SEG team and the junior most in designation. Also, while all the other 25 team members worked on Sybase, I was working on Clipper. Working on Clipper was definitely inferior as it was not possible creating enterprise class software using Clipper.

It took me another 1 week to figure out that there were actually 2 programs involved in the software and that one was the server and the other was the client. I also figured out the data model and documented the same. I understood that the server was supposed to be kept running and the client was supposed to create messages and store in the database. The server would process the data in the database and manipulate the data so that so that the message was transferred from one user to another user. The client program could be used to retrieve the message meant for the destination user. So, now I understood what was email. All this while, the only English sentence I came across was a statement which said that if one found the software useful, they could transfer any appropriate amount to a mentioned bank account. There was almost no other documentation inside the code.

When I had figured out this much, Mr. Subhomoy (something) came to meet me and explained the changes I was supposed to make. This was available in the document provided by Ajay da. I learnt from my colleagues that Subhomoy da was a General Manager responsible for Corporate Communications and operated from the Corporate office in Renee Park. Subhomoy da also brought another 2 machines in the cabin for my use. I made the changes over the next 2 weeks and tested the software. I demonstrated the same to Subhomoy da. He seemed very pleased and told me to create a user manual, which any person could understand whether or not they knew how to use a computer. This was my major strength as I had spent some time before programming computer based training materials.

When the user manual was ready, Subhomoy da read it and seemed to like it. He called me over to the Renee Park office and took me to a huge conference room. There were many senior people in the room and I was asked to train them on how to use the email system. So, for the next 3 days, I was teaching senior executives of Union Carbide how to use write emails and read emails. It is an irony is that it was only after 2 years I got my first email account when I was positioned in IBM office in Bangkok as the Project Coordinator for the Tax Automation project.

Well, I had enabled Union Carbide to communicate across all their offices in India using an email system. I returned to Assam Company project and managed to learn Sybase eventually. This time I was assigned to program on RWB (Report Work Bench) as the project had progressed and they needed someone to create all the reports as nobody wanted to do that job as writing reports was seen as inferior task. Within some time, I became a champion on RWB.

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