Going Digital

Life after Analog

Countrywide

I worked on 2 separate contracts for Countrywide, well let me clarify, the first contract was via Microsoft as Lead Programmer on a DOS conversion program called Direct Lending Plus.  The second contract was on the next generation of the same program but directly for Countrywide.

 

Contract #1

The first contract was a very difficult and troublesome contract to be working under the umbrella of the Microsoft brand.  You see it was a Monday when I started and on the Friday before Countrywide had let about 50 programmers go in general cutbacks.  So seeing me show up under the Microsoft label I was immediately alienated as everyone, except the VP (Brain) I was working for, thought I was making $200 per hour.  That was what Microsoft was billing for my services I think I was only actually getting about $35-50 per hour, still a huge pay check back in those days.  I also had a Microsoft employee as a Project Manager for this project.  The project was 6 months late in delivery and we, the PM and I, were told up front that we ware going to be the bad guys as we had to get the job done and we had limited time to deliver a finished working product.

The product was a commercial loan locking program for the agents in the field.  It basically worked like this.

  • A commercial writer field agent would request a loan on say three commercial building for $15M
  • The program would check the buyers credentials and credit information from the three big players
  • The program would lock in a loan rate for a limited number of hours, anywhere from 3 to 72 hours.
  • After that the loan would die and the application would have to start again.

That would be a very simple task for todays programmers and all the "services" that are floating around out there.  But you have to remember that this was the late 80's and most of the data was on old main frames or AS400 machines who administrators hated the new "Client Server" environment that Microsoft and SQL was offering the world of business.  Getting data from one machine to another was politically very tough but also communications between such different environments and machine was unheard of.  We had to invent ways for the machines to talk to each other.

I remember that we had a daily team management meeting set for 8am every day and on for the first three of four days we (the client server side) were the only ones who showed up.  So I dug back into my bag of tricks to try and think of what I could do to get these stubborn people to the table (remember also that these were department managers of even junior VP's).  Well I pulled the old food trick out and low and behold a dozen bagels and cream chees did the trick, for a few days then I had to start mixing it up.  After the end of the first week I went back to Brian (the VP I worked for) and requested that the company kitchen provide the breakfast, he agreed and so it was put on our project tab.  But we had great food and even got people to start talking about how we were going to resolve these issues of departmental politics and methodology.  Now we could get down to the real work of writing a program that would work!

The team of programmers I was left with after Countrywide's big layoff was a bunch of junior programmers at best.  So I was spending most of days sitting with on or another teaching them how to write code.  And in the evening writing my code.  It was a very long and arduous contract and I earned every penny that time.  But we somehow managed to get the project completed and on time, but we were over budget on labor as my time and the PMs was way over but it was acceptable in the overall picture of things and costs.

 

NOTE:

  1. If you are asking yourself Countrywide had a kitchen and staff?  Yes they did.  Back then they were on top of the hill in Simi Valley, which they bought from a bank I think, and it came with a full kitchen and staff and Countrywide would provide lunches, very cheap, every day for there staff so they didn't have to leave the hill.
  2. In those days and even up through the early millennium 80% of projects would fail due to cost overrun, feature cutbacks, or plain poor quality.  The reasons was simple we had entered an era where we had no idea what we were doing or how we were going to do it.  Then there was the client who would ask for what they thought they needed , based upon their old paper system, then half way through realize that the needed something else, so their target was moving all the time and they never wanted to sacrifice one feature for a new one!  We had what was coined as "scope creep".  Both of these scenarios would produce budget overruns.

 

Contract #2

The second contract I worked on for Countrywide was a direct contract and not through Microsoft.  I was working for the same VP (Brian) but this time without all the BS of the MS umbrella or the "Bad Guy" method, I was just another senior Client Server programmer with a mortgage banking background.  No more DOS or Main Frame computers but the AS400 was sell imbedded in the banking industry so we had lots of interface with that group.  But this was several years later and we were all one happy family, well kind of!

As I stated back in the beginning this contract was on the same Direct Lending Plus program but a much later and greatly improved and expanded program.  The program was now the flagship interface for all there sales staff, internal and external. It was also using Microsoft's Visual Basic and it's accompanying report writing program.  VB as it was known was the flagship code writing program for Microsoft and we were on about version 3 I believe when this project came around.  There was lost of really cool buttons and bells (features) that we could use in this new version just by dragging and dropping them onto the interface without writing any code.  Some feature would auto write their own code to connect to data objects and the like.  It revolutionized code writing for ever.  It also was the first version to give the programmer the ability to create visual objects that had a 3d appearance, shadows, highlights, indents etc.

Now we could not only write some really cools stuff that actually did lots of stuff but have some really cool looking stuff on the screen too!  The problem was we wanted to use all these new 3d objects on every screen we designed and it would look terribly crowded, so we had to be careful not to use all our bag of tricks on the fist load but spread them out.  Back in those days as a programmer you not only wrote the code behind the screen but you had to design the screen, and write all the connectivity code to the databases, then of course you had to write all the SQL code within the database.  You were a one mad army of coding.  Today things are much easier, there are people that do nothing but create the interface, and people who only write the SQL Transaction code and people who write the business layer of code.  It was much more fun back then, today I would be bored stiff if I had to be a programmer. 

We had it so good back in the 80's and 90's.

 

NOTE:

During this contract Countrywide actually started to open branches of its own bank.  At the end of the second Countrywide Mortgage contract I was picked up by Countrywide Bank in Pasadena to help work on there new systems.
Countrywide Logo
 

Created by Phillip Seaman
Modified 10/31/2015