User Stories

Some love it - others hate it. Some work with it every day and some cannot even remember which version they used. What is YOUR story about SPSS?

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Ralph Brendler Ralph Brendler wrote on 29. April 2018 at 0:23:
In 1989 I was a happy-but-underpaid engineer at a small startup in Grand Rapids, MI. I took an interview with SPSS, with no intention of taking the job-- the plan was to get an offer and use it as leverage to get some more money from my current company.

Anyway, I started out talking with Kim Peck for a while, worked on the white board for a bit, and felt pretty good about myself. Then... they dropped me off with Andrew Walaszek. I could tell immediately that he was in the middle of something, and not happy for the interruption. He glanced over my resume, and said (in his thick Polish accent) something along the lines of "You know OS/2?" and put me in front of his computer. He as debugging some crazy low-level issue, and we spent the next 45 minutes or so chasing it down. After Andrew I spent another 45 minutes with John Werner doing a rather intense internal design session.

By the end of my interview I was mentally exhausted, and questioning my career choice. I had never seen ANYONE as focused and intense as Andrew, or as effortlessly brilliant in the details of software architecture as John. I was used to being a big fish in a small pond, and these guys were so exponentially better than me it was embarrassing. But by god, I wanted to work at SPSS so I could learn from them! I got an offer a few days later, left GR, and never looked back.

My fondest personal memories:

- The engineering all-hands where Louise announced my promotion to principal engineer. I was honestly shocked, and nearly cried. I couldn't believe that they let me in the same club as Tex, Andrew, and John Fry

- Spending countless hours with ViAnn trying to figure out the internals of pivot tables by examining Lotus Improv. We didn't know it at the time, but we were basically re-inventing OLAP from first principles.

- Andrew and I looking over Tex's shoulder while he re-wrote the MS Fortran memory manager at 4am, a few hours before the time that we needed to ship SPSS 7

- Spending more than a week tracking down a heisenbug in SPSS 6 with Lisa Childers, that eventually required us to jerry-rig an inline emulator using dumb terminal on the com port.

- Louise, Andrew, and I doing a long phone interview with PC Week about the crazy stuff we were doing in SPSS 7. When the article came out they got Andrew's name right, but I was Ralph Brencier.

- Spending many long days with Rob McKinley and Andrew at the MS porting lab in Washington. I think Louise thought it was a perk (look, a week in Seattle!), when the reality was a lot of 12+ hour days.

Thanks SPSS, for teaching me what it meant to be a professional software developer. Happy 50th!