[Here I’m going to geek out for a page or two…to skip it look for the note ‘End Geek’]. I eventually got a call from a small, minority owned, government contractor by the name of J.A. Reyes. They said, “We have no idea what that risk business is about. But we like your experience with Department of Transportation data. And you appear to have good computer experience.” They offered me a job to build a database application, the first and only I would write myself. The DoT wanted a national standard for roadside truck inspections. Defining and building that tool took me to a host of highway patrol offices in a bunch of states. I called the new application SAFETYNET. It was in full national use by the time I left the program in 1986.
Thirty years later (today) I looked it up online and found a reference to it on DoT’s website. “SAFETYNET is a database management system that allows entry, access, analysis, and reporting of data from driver/vehicle inspections, crashes, compliance reviews, assignments, and complaints. It is operated at State safety agencies and Federal Divisions and interfaces with Aspen, SAFER, MCMIS, and State systems.” I am sure that the name is the only remnant of my original system. Still, it is rewarding to see that even a little of my work remains in place. I loved my time at J.A Reyes but it was a hand-to-mouth operation. My own work seemed solid and stable but I saw constant insecurity and turn over in the other teams. After a little more than three years, I decided to move on.
The next company I joined was a total disaster, but I hit it at a fascinating time. The Davis Group was a newly minted minority firm with a government contract at the Washington Navy Yard. The Navy Yard was a major hub on what was known at the time as ARPANET, the direct precursor of the Internet. They gave me a ‘data scope’ and told me to start reading packets as they arrived. I was to check them against a set of specifications that included things called TCP/IP, FTP and SMTP. This was at a time when these specification were still very new.
I found myself involved in a major competition between two government support teams. One team was the Defense Data Network (or DDN), and the other was my ARPANET team. The Navy’s Admiralty Board announced it would select one of our technical approaches. The winner would become the foundation of the new ‘Internet’. The loser would pack up and go home.
I awaited the outcome from my cube in the warehouse office next door to the Board meeting. An aside, my family still teases me about how I had to answer the phone there: “NARDAC Code 42. This is not a secure line.” When the Board announced in favor of the DDN, I immediately feared the worst. But within the hour they followed the initial announcement with a second one. All ARPANET team members would continue working, but we would be part of the DDN team. So yes, I guess I am joining Al Gore in saying ‘I was there at the beginning of the internet’.
Two other things that happened at that time, the second far more important than the first. First, a colleague on the ARPANET project was teaching at Bowie State. He asked if I wanted to join him there. I taught graduate level Data Communications and Database Management classes. I worked out of the University of Maryland system’s offices at Fort Meade, which houses the NSA. [End Geek]