Compuware Turns 45: Six People Who Grew with the Company
Today’s average worker will change jobs 10 to 15 times throughout their career, but job-hopping isn’t new, especially in the software and IT sector. Even in 1987, Compuware Territory Account Executive Eric Florence was expecting to lead a more itinerant professional life after graduating from Santa Clara University in the middle of Silicon Valley.
“They said I would change jobs three-to-five times in five years. I thought I was supposed to be moving around,” he said.
Instead, Florence is celebrating his 31st year with Compuware, while some of his colleagues are celebrating close to 40 years with the company. These are remarkable milestones, and they’re more meaningful in light of Compuware’s own 45th anniversary this April.
Compuware employees’ willingness to learn new things, experiment with change and always support each other are a few of the core qualities that have helped our company persist as a mainframe stronghold. These are also qualities that have helped Compuware remain as great a place to work in 2018 as it was four decades ago, even after years of changes.
Forty-five years later, Compuware is better than ever, and many long-tenured employees would tell you they have regained the startup feeling they first experienced at Compuware in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As you will see here, its evolution into an Agile-DevOps software company releasing new innovations for the mainframe every 90 days is a testament to how far a group of people can go when committed to a deeper meaning derived from customer-focused work, passionate learning and a sense of community.
The Beginnings of a Future Software Stronghold
Founded in 1973 in Southfield, Mich., Compuware began providing customers with professional technical services. By 1977, it acquired and launched its first mainframe software product, Abend-AID. It was the company’s sole product when many of today’s most tenured employees joined the company, including Senior Software Developer Donna Schroeder, who started in 1981.
“I was at the beginning of a new wave of hires. I started out writing some utility programs and then I was on technical support. Because we were a newer company, I had to learn a lot,” she said.
But Schroeder’s colleague and Technical Consultant Bob Yee says she had the technical chops to pull it off. They joined Compuware around the same time after working together at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“We were doing real cool stuff back then,” Yee said. “At Wayne, Donna wrote an application driver for word processing on the mainframe. She hooked it up to a Compugraphic Typesetter and people used her software to format text. At night, the typesetter would set off and the next morning you had your typeset of documentation in a 50-foot roll. We were pioneering stuff like that. What’s even cooler, is that we’re still pioneering stuff today.”
Despite the technical skills they had amassed in the early years of their IT careers, arriving at Compuware still felt like an experiment.
“We were used to systems programming. This was application programming, and the development team was only 10 or 12 people,” Yee said. “We were a startup, but I think we made our first million that year. We had plastic wine glasses and celebrated.”
Ask anyone who has been with Compuware since the beginning and they will tell you about the early days of fast growth and constant celebration. They will also tell you they are feeling that state of excitement at Compuware again today. It was one of those days in 1983 that Director of Contracts and Pricing Susan Hawk started at Compuware.
“It was the company’s 10th anniversary, and the entire office was a time-tunnel theme. They flew everyone in from around the world,” Hawk said, recalling how quickly Compuware was growing.
But even with rapid and consistent growth, it wasn’t always a party.
“We would go through hard times and then get back on track. That journey has been an education for me. You don’t just learn from the good times but also the bad times,” Florence said.
Compuware wasn’t facing rough times alone. The mainframe industry itself was beginning to hit speed bumps right as Compuware was becoming a stronghold.
“We saw the low points of the mainframe. People were starting to say the mainframe probably wouldn’t last that long, that it was going to go away,” Yee said.
But then as now, companies knew they needed the platform, regardless of what mainframe-critical pundits said, and Compuware was there to help.
A Place of Opportunity
Professional Services is where Account Consultant George Kachnowski kicked off his career in 1981. He was working for another consulting firm when Compuware asked him to join as a COBOL programmer analyst in the Professional Services division.
“I advanced my skills a lot. People were willing to share their knowledge. They were willing to direct you, guide you, help you excel,” he said.
Few people have shut the door to questions, and those who did not readily share haven’t lasted long because this is a company of sharing people.
Customer Solutions Technical Analyst Deborah Pritchett also experienced that communal support firsthand. After filling in as a temporary receptionist for a friend, she went back to court reporting until she was offered an interview for a full-time job at Compuware. In 1981, she joined Administration, but after a few years, a director asked if she had ever considered becoming a programmer.
“I still thought my skill was court reporting. But the director said if I was willing to learn COBOL, he would get someone in-house to teach me,” Pritchett said.
A year and a half later, after late nights and weekends learning COBOL from colleagues on her own time, she began programming proprietary applications and systems for Compuware customers. During her 13 years in the field, Professional Services thrived, and Compuware’s nascent software business began to flourish too.
“In the mid-’80s and ‘90s we started buying products,” Yee said. “There was a lot of stuff going on. As the company became more successful, it was an exciting place to be.”
“It was nice to know you were at a reputable firm,” Hawk said. “I saw where we were headed, and the company gave me opportunities to grow and learn.”
Big opportunities: After moving through sales support and administration and into license management, where she was promoted to supervisor of maintenance renewal, Compuware asked her to move to Amsterdam for nearly three years to implement licensing and maintenance policies and best practices on a global scale. By the time she moved back, Compuware was building its new headquarters in Downtown Detroit.
Florence also found Compuware to be a place of opportunity where he was encouraged to pursue his greatest passions: coding, business and even football. After building an impressive background in business and computer science during college, having even written an AI app and another that kept track of work in progress, he chose to pursue professional football in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
It was during the transition to a team in Saskatchewan that he took a job with Compuware as a Field Technical Specialist in 1987, with the company’s approval to continue playing professional football. After a year, he decided to turn his focus to Compuware and left the sport, but through that journey he had learned a valuable lesson:
People want to be on a winning team, but they often don’t realize it’s people who make it a winning team.
Leveraging an Open Support System
Although Florence had never touched a mainframe or written in COBOL—having cut his programming teeth on C, Pascal, Assembler and Basic—he realized he could be successful because he had the backing of a company and people who wanted him—who wanted everyone—to succeed.
“I said, ‘A computer is a computer,’ so I learned mainframe, learned Xpediter, how to deliver it. I met with developers regularly, and they helped me understand everything,” he said.
Developers like Schroeder were always looking for ways to improve things for people like Florence who were new to the mainframe.
“I wanted to make sure the next person who came in would have good training, so I started setting up processes to follow that would make it easier for others to get up to speed as the company started growing,” she said.
Hawk says this kind of culture, one that provides an environment for learning and opportunity, is what convinced her to stick around.
“People really help you grow and see that you want to learn. There’s a lot of knowledge in the company. I learned to listen to people and tried to learn everything I could,” she said.
The fact that such a support structure exists at Compuware is also why Kachnowski urges people who are just starting their careers here to always look for growth opportunities.
“Talk to people. Ask them what to do to take an opportunity to the next level. They will direct you and guide you,” he said.
A Modern Mainframe Stronghold
Perhaps most recently that guidance and direction, not to mention through difficult change, was most realized when Compuware CEO Chris O’Malley joined and reinvigorated the company in 2014 with his firm beliefs in the mainframe industry and in Compuware.
“The change from Waterfall to Agile was another point where I saw the importance of sticking with something good and being flexible,” Pritchett said. “Even when you are afraid, you have to keep pushing through change. It’s not always necessarily in your job, but in your thinking.”
Florence echoed something similar:
“You have to be secure in yourself, trust where God has placed you and just commit. When you do that, there’s less distractions and you can take every situation as a learning experience. That’s what I’ve done.”
Positive and determined people like these have come to serve as remarkable examples for the next generation of Compuware leaders. When it comes to thinking about what you can do to follow in their footsteps, Yee has some advice to keep in mind:
- Make mistakes: You can’t learn otherwise. If you don’t try, you can’t be successful.
- Speak up: If you have something on your mind, say it. If you have an idea for how to do something better, communicate it.
- Think it through: You have to think for yourself, for the good of the company and for the good of the customer. How does what you do affect the mainframe, the company, the customer? Put some thought into it.
- Volunteer: If you see a problem, don’t wait—volunteer to fix it.
Looking back, Compuware’s longevity is clearly the product of talent and passion, but it has perhaps been made most possible through people like Eric Florence, Donna Schroeder, Bob Yee, Susan Hawk and George Kachnowski and Deborah Pritchett—people who saw value in “sticking with something good,” who chose to “just commit” and advance their careers within a company they believed in and saw going somewhere.
After 45 years, Compuware is still innovating with startup-like grit, still supporting a culture of continuous learning that openly supports passionate explorers, and still evolving its role as the mainframe software partner it set out to be from the beginning—one constantly looking for ways to disrupt the status quo through customer-driven innovation.
Learn more about Compuware here.
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