Andrew Maykuth Online
Lotus Magazine
August, 1990
The 1-2-3 career path
Successful, self-taught Lotus 1-2-3 developers and consultants.

About 10 years ago, John Shepard was a ski bum in Montana. Then the restaurant where he tended bar began time-sharing a computer. Shepard, who had done "a little light programming" in college, took a stab at creating a payroll system for the restaurant. Within a few keystrokes, he decided that writing code was more fun than serving drinks.

Nowadays, the 34-year-old Shepard charges $ 125 an hour to write custom applications in 1-2-3. "Your earnings potential is limited only by your ability to sell your services," he says. 

Shepard is just one of many computer users who have translated a proficiency in writing 1-2-3 applications into a new career. For example, Jeffrey L. Pulver, now 27, developed such useful applications while working at a Long Island accounting firm that he formed his own company, Spreadsheet Solutions, to market them as commercial 1-2-3 add-ins. Dan Trznadel, 26, is a CPA and senior tax associate at the mammoth accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co. He is also one of the chief authors of the tax-calculation templates used in more than 100 Arthur Andersen offices nationwide.

On-the-job education

How did these and other 1-2-3 experts do it? There seems to be no standard route to success. But most successful programmers are young, driven, and self-taught. Few of them set out to become software specialists. Shepard, for example, majored in economics in college, with an emphasis on international development. "That certainly helps when you are writing code every day," he jokes.

Most learned 1-2-3 on the job. D. Scott Stephens, 23, who graduated from college two years ago with a degree in systems analysis, learned 1-2-3 last year at NCR Corp. in Dayton, Ohio. Stephens had never written a macro in his life when his boss handed him a copy of 1-2-3 Release 3 and the Lotus Add-In Toolkit for Release 3. About four months later, Stephens had completed the sophisticated profit-planning model now used at NCR offices worldwide to project the profitability of new products.

The experience taught Stephens firsthand what software developers say is the one universal truth of their business: Good programmers must understand the world for which they write applications. "We want people who understand the business application, as well as how to make 1-2-3 work," agrees John E. Haner, a partner at Arthur Andersen and manager of Trznadel and nine other 1-2-3 specialists. "We look for people with both accounting and computer skills."

More than writing macros

Employers and consultants emphasize that an applications developer needs far more sophisticated skills than an ace macro writer. Many consultants advertise themselves as 1-2-3 experts, but true applications developers are less common.

"Developing an application isn't necessarily intuitive, and the 1-2-3 documentation doesn't tell you how to do it," says Brian Murphy, a former financial planner. Murphy is now manager of Lotus Applications Services at the New York office of Lotus Development Corp., a branch that provides consulting services to large 1-2-3 customers. "It really comes from hours and hours of playing with the code. And if you're in another job, you're doing it on your own time."

"It's all self-taught," agrees Shepard, who spent some time at Lotus's San Francisco office as an applications developer. A little over a year ago, Lotus phased out its San Francisco applications-services office, so Shepard formed Sierra Data Consulting, which he runs out of his house in Belmont, Calif. His first two customers were former Lotus clients.

Like Shepard, Jeffrey Pulver used his relationship with his employer as a springboard to another business. Pulver had done a fair amount of free-lance programming, in high school and college, by the time Margolin, Winer & Evens CPAs, a Garden City, N.Y., accounting firm, hired him in 1984. The following year, as head of a small group of programmers, he persuaded the firm to offer computer services to its clients.

"I started realizing that I had some expertise in problem solving," he says. So in late 1987 he formed Spreadsheet Solutions. But rather than divorce himself from his employer, Pulver invited the firm to provide venture capital for Spreadsheet Solutions. "Not only did we not want to lose his far-flung abilities," says Paul Silpe, the managing partner in the accounting firm, "but we also saw an opportunity to broaden our revenue base."

Several products--FinCalc, @Ease, and @Fixed_Income--grew out of Spreadsheet Solutions' work for private clients at brokerage houses and financial institutions. In addition to providing the commercial packages, Spreadsheet Solutions' nine full-time employees do custom work ranging from single @functions to full-scale templates. "People on Wall Street are willing to pay a premium for the right tools," Pulver says, "which makes this a low volume, high-profit area." 

Inside jobs

But some companies rarely hire free-lance programmers. Arthur Andersen, for example, has established a 60-person applications-development group at its Chicago headquarters. The group is responsible for creating software for and supporting microcomputer use in the firm's U.S. tax practice. Its flagship product is a five-year tax planner for individuals. "We learned to be very efficient in our use of memory," says Trznadel, "because the spreadsheet grew into about a 1-meg monster." Arthur Andersen chose to write the application in 1-2-3, he says, so that it could be easily updated to reflect changes in the tax law.

The need for constant updating was also the reason NCR Corp. decided to redo its profit-planning model in 1-2-3. "They wanted an information system, not just a template," says Stephens.

"Financial programs often take a long time to develop and are expensive to maintain when done the traditional way," says William Hahn, NCR's director of program financial management. "But this kind of product allows us to develop some pretty sophisticated applications without hiring an outside staff."

Stephens, meanwhile, has decided to return to school for a master's degree in busness administration. He hopes eventually to have an opportunity to use his business and programming skills in his own business. "To establish yourself, you need a good background, good credentials, and good contacts," he says. "Right now, I think I need more experience." home page   
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