Thursday, November 13, 2008

A good test engineer studies the details, part 1

Back about 14 years ago I created my first website.  It had maybe a dozen different pages, talked about different interests, had a few jokes on it - the usual stuff that people were doing on the web way back then.  In 1997 I decided to upgrade my computer & ran into all sorts of grief debugging it.  Feeling the need to gripe about it afterwards (blogs weren't invented back then), I wrote a page about it and added it to my website.

I applied for a job at Hewlett Packard a year later.  During the interview I found out that the hiring manager had looked me up online - Google was invented back then -  and found my website & description of the upgrade.  One of the reasons he brought me in for an interview was because he was impressed over how I had a) dug into the problem, b) tried out several different solutions, c) identified the problem (bad EIDE plug on the motherboard) and d) fixed it.  It was that kind of attention to detail and problem solving skills he needed in a test engineer.  I got the job, moved to California, worked there a couple of years, and loved it.

That website is long gone, but last week I dug around and found the original HTML files I had created.  So, here's the complete page that helped me land the job:


The Upgrade From Heck

Early in 1997 I decided that my poor 486DX had seen its last. Fancying myself a clever fellow, I decided to upgrade on my own. I mail ordered a motherboard, Cyrix 686, 72pin memory, and a PCI video card, carefully shopping around to get the best price on each.

Tragedy struck. First, I found that the screwhole locations on motherboards are not standardized. Solution: epoxy plastic standoffs to my sturdy metal case. Then, the board would not recognize my hard drive. Here are the steps it took to fix this:

  1. Played around with the BIOS settings. No luck.
  2. Borrowed a brand new Western Digital drive from a friend. Still nada.
  3. Called tech support, who returned my call several days later with no answer.
  4. Borrowed a plug in IDE card from work that goes into an ISA slot. When I plugged the old hard drive into the card (rather than the built-into-the-motherboard EIDE plug), the computer did detect the drive.
  5. Faxed all these steps in a long memo to tech support, who shipped out a new motherboard free of charge. Problem solved.

Below is a picture I took of my version of dual-processing. During the month I was working on this problem, I still wanted to work on my computer. So I would have to unplug the new board (bottom), plug in the old board (top), turn on the computer, change the BIOS settings, and go.

Okay, I'm done venting now.

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