Ted's History With Technology
My background has a wide range of skills leveraging computer technology; while my education and early career focused on business administration, I quickly found my real enjoyment in "working" was when work started to feel actually feel like "fun". That happened when I bridged by early career experience at Heiser Automotive with technology. A rough chronology of my career and how technology guided it below!
My first computer was an IBM PCjr - a great starter computer, 5 1/4" floppy drive, and 128k memory. Great for learning how to write some basic, and running Lotus 1-2-3. A spreadsheet.... can you imagine work before spreadsheets? It was the first real computer I had put to practical use. I graduated from college in 1987, and from there, eventually worked my way up to a Leading Edge 386 with a whopping 40MB hard drive. Seemed like a huge change from just a few years earlier with the 128k memory and no hard drive.
In the late '80s, as I finished school, I transitioned to full-time employment with Heiser Automotive. Heiser is a large dealership in metro Milwaukee, and our rental department was one of the few organizations that targeted people without credit cards. For a mere $75 to $250 deposit, we'd let you rent a car, provided we could verify employment, do a credit check, and look you up in a reverse directory. Occasionally a car would disappear, but they'd always show up somewhere (skip tracing & recovering converted rentals is a whole different story). The operation was very manual - writing the contracts by hand, managing the reservations, inventory. And while managing a 4 site operation provided good business experience, after several years of this of operating manually, I was looking for a change.
Hence, my first career intersection with technology. I researched, proposed and helped implement an early WAN to automate our business. We installed a server - a generic 286 box running some flavor of Unix, and dumb terminals linked at the remote sites by early multi-tech modems. Installing the WAN, and seeing the change in how we managed our reservations, our inventory, down to how the contracts were printed - this was a real joy! Technology had changed the fundamental way of how we did business. Even so, the automotive business has its limits, and after completing this project, I realized it was time for a change.
Data Plus: My First Internet Service Provider
The 1990s were probably the most exciting for me in my career, given that I had found a passion for technology, and could now tie it to my job. While I had thoroughly enjoyed deploying the WAN at Heiser, I sought to make technology more central to what I did for a living. Funny how opportunities present themselves when you open your mind to change.
One day I had a piece of a newspaper flying through my backyard in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I reached down to pick up that newspaper and noticed a help wanted ad for "T&T Computers" in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. A small company started by John Torrison and Peter Tait, T&T Computers was later called "Data Plus". The company was a provider of PCs, Networks, repair services - a VAR or value-added reseller of PCs and related hardware and software. The position was for a commercial sales representative - selling PCs and Networks. Given I had just sold my previous boss on the idea of installing a WAN at Heiser, I felt fully qualified for this sales job! So off I went, applied and soon after had a paycheck coming from a new source.
I learned a lot in my time spent at Data Plus - we sold Novell and LANtastic networks to businesses in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties, targeting the new need for companies to have a server to share and store files, along with the networking of peripherals. While I primary knocked on doors and sold commercial accounts, I helped in other areas (being 6'9" tall is handy for pulling network cable!)
My job at Data Plus got interesting as I started to see this thing called the Internet to emerge. I had been a user of Compuserve and Delphi services for some time now and was intrigued with the possibilities of how computers were being connected over this "Internet" thing. IRC, FTP, Telnet, Gopher, all this fascinated me, and while some services were now becoming "available to the public" - few people outside academia knew what all of this "Internet" stuff was about.
As time marched forward, it became clear to me that Data Plus needed to become an ISP. Nevermind that hardly anyone in Manitowoc or Sheboygan counties knew what an ISP was, I was determined to bring the internet to the doorsteps of our corner of Wisconsin. I reached out and contacted a company in Milwaukee called Alpha.net (Alpha dot net) and inquired about connecting to them in Milwaukee. They were proud of bringing a DS3 up from Chicago to Milwaukee but weren't sure about the idea of "reselling access" to someone who was going to leverage their connection. After convincing my boss that this Internet thing was going to help differentiate Data Plus from other VARs, he and I established a relationship with Alpha.net, secured a T1 link, and brought Internet capacity to Sheboygan.
And this is where the fun really begins; no one told me how to actually set up an ISP - Alpha.net gave us a few hints, like don't try to learn to programme a Cisco router to start, instead, grab a Livingston. But otherwise, it was my purchasing a lot of O'Reilly books (DNS & Bind, Sendmail) and learning much more about UNIX. I leveraged BSDi and installed it on a Leading Edge consumer based PC to start, hooked up our CSU/DSU, and strung a dozen or so Multi-tech modems off the Livingston. Before long, we were an ISP! And I was now outselling not just LANs, but holding seminars for local businesses, telling them "check this Internet thing out - you're going to want to be on it!". That was only 20 years ago - again, like pre-spreadsheet days, it's hard to imagine business pre-internet.
BBN: The FIRST Internet Provider
My job at Data Plus opened the door for a unique opportunity. I had transitioned from a general business management "job" to the start of a sales "career". My experience of selling PCs and LANs to businesses, coupled with the fact that I started the first ISP in my geographic area, gave me a set of qualifications that was a great match for my next move. Hunting for new opportunities, I found a sales position with a company called Nap.net. Nap.net was an ATM backbone provider targeting IP transit sales to ISPs and Universities; I applied, landed a sales position, and went to work for Nap.net. Shortly after I joined, Nap.net was acquired through a transaction that now had me receiving paychecks from BBN! It turned out that GTE, the old independent phone company, was forming "GTE-Internetworking", and had begun acquiring companies to position themselves as a top tier backbone provider, competing with AT&T, MCI/Worldcom, Cable & Wireless, and Sprint. The coolest element that carried me from a sales "career" - to what I would term as a "calling" - was the privilege of now being a part of BBN. BBN or Bolt, Beranek & Newman was the company that was behind ARPANET and what we now know as the Internet today. Not only was I selling IP transit now to the "original" Internet backbone, but Nap.net had established a service and support model that matched the needs of our clients.
I quickly transitioned from sales to sales management, and to this day, had a career that became something much more. A great sales team, a great product to sell (AS1!) and a great service model to support the sales. There are still bits and pieces when you search Google that reminds me of our run with GTE-I/BBN/Genuity: Searching Google Newsgroup Archives:
info.inet.access › good experience: bbn/gtei/nap.net 1 post by 1 author bryan s. blank 2/28/99 hey, turned up a circuit the other day to bbn/gtei/nap.net, very impressive, took less than 5mins including bgp turnup, they had their filters ready to go and everything went without a glitch. the bandwidth looks as good as froglo's, without the ATM circuits. highly recommended, ted lango, tla...@bbn.com, is our sales guy there. "what's your AS?" "we're AS1" extremely impressive traceroutes are below ...
traceroute to www.mindspring.com (22.214.171.124), 30 hops max, 40 byte packets 1 dni-core7206-1-fa0-0.discovernet.net (126.96.36.199) 0.593 ms 0.525 ms 0.428 ms 2 s11-0-0-16.nyc1-cr2.bbnplanet.net (188.8.131.52) 3.721 ms 3.725 ms 3.753 ms 3 f0-0.nyc1-br2.bbnplanet.net (184.108.40.206) 3.685 ms 4.067 ms 17.819 ms........
The reference that Bryan Blank makes of "what's your AS?" is quoting me and one of my favorite lines when prospecting. I picked this up because ISPs back in the day used to wear their AS# autonomous system number as a badge of honor. In oversimplified terms, your AS# was used to identify your network on the internet and was used in BGP routing. An ISP that connected to more than one upstream provider needed it in order to enable routing leveraging BGP. The lower your AS#, the earlier you were in the game of being an ISP. If my memory serves me correct, Nap.net was AS5646. Earlier backbones like Sprint were AS 777 (again, if my memory serves me). When I'd talk to ISPs, they'd often brag about their AS#... to which I'd respond, well, you're buying transit off of AS1. Doesn't get any earlier or cooler than that!
GTE-Internetworking was spun off and formed "Genuity" during the GTE-Bell Atlantic merger (Verizon today). Eventually, after the dot.com bubble, Verizon decided not to acquire Genuity due to a glut of bandwidth, which triggered an interesting sequence of events, eventually resulting in the sale of an OC-192 network (at least the IRUs & customers) to Level 3 in 2003. And so ended my dream "calling". Time to find a new job, and hopefully a new career.
Cleartel Communications: Adding Phone
After nearly a decade in the computer & Internet business, opportunities steered me toward telephony. My next career was at a CLEC called Cleartel, really a group of competitive local exchange carrier companies held by MCG Capital. Here is where I expanded my technology horizons past just PCs and the Internet to include phone switches, IVRs, and the rest of technology which supports call center operations. This was a fantastic experience, and even though I didn't realize it - just as Data Plus had primed me for joining a top tier Internet provider, my experience at Cleartel would be critical to priming me for my next role. More on that in a bit.
Cleartel opened my eyes to how to truly put technology to work for serving the needs of running an efficient operation. And the science behind optimizing a call center operation is a natural fit for leveraging technology. In my years at Cleartel, I explored many facets of technology - from how we used IVRs and the multi-skilling telephony platform, to using things like Keyhole to map out everything from locations of employees who were part of acquisitions to determining our potential customer impact when hurricanes hit the south. Early location awareness - I didn't realize it, but this was where all of the business was headed.
.... more to come!
I've expanded my technology interests to cover a wide range of areas, including contact center technologies, programming, and leveraging digital technology in the application of personal hobbies, such as astrophotography. I've worked extensively with IVR platforms, call routing technologies, data and analytics applications, and enjoy coding leveraging the latest approaches for web development.