It was 1984 and everybody was crowing that George Orwell's gloomy predictions of how life would be by that time didn't seem to have come true.

Symbol of the united teaching professionIn Washington, DC, though, Reagan Republicans were running the show and things were looking gloomy for public education. At the National Education Association, the second generation of the information age was dawning. The NEA's field staff (labor organizers who worked in the real world beyond the Capital Beltway) was complaining bitterly about the limited capabilities of the mainframe-based computer software developed by NEA's research department to generate teacher salary proposals in bargaining with school districts. "More!" the field staff howled. "Give us more!"

"More you shall have!" thundered the NEA's CEO. He ordered the research department to give 'em everything they asked for. A big project emerged, employing not only the department's three in-house programmers (the folks who had created and maintained the salary proposal software), but also two in-house research analysts, a newly hired middle manager, a secretary, and me (as a technical writer). The project also acquired a team of five consultants skilled in a new-generation mainframe computer language (NATURAL).

Software AG LogoThe beltway bandit supplying both the consultants and NATURAL was an outfit called Software AG. The thing about consultants is that they don't stick around once a pot of software has been fully cooked and the developer's client decides the product will be ok, in spite of the fact that they don't fully understand it and haven't used it enough to discover its flaws, which will surely exist and will need to be corrected in the most efficient way possible.

The client in this case was NEA's research department, which had a couple of computer programmer/analysts on its staff. Concurrent with the end of development, one of the staff programmers was to retire, so the department had a position open for a maintenance programmer. The lucky applicant was Brad Herrington, who materialized from the Pentagon for his introduction to the rest of the team in an Army dress uniform and a friendly demeanor. Brad was perfect for NEA. Not only was he a former mathematics teacher in a Washington state public junior high school, but he also had experience with financial software, a curiosity about making things work, and a knowledge of mathematics that would serve NEA admirably.