Latitude, Respect, Opportunity
By Laurie Permaloff, IT Business Applications Manager
Before coming to Multi-Tech, I had worked in property management, low-voltage installation, purchasing, and sales/marketing of vacation property. I had taken Electronic Engineering training and received an Associate’s Degree.
At the onset of the 90’s, Multi-Tech had a full suite of Distributors, Resellers, and Manufacturer’s reps, so there was a training manager here who had been my instructor in Tech School (above). He brought me in as a tech writer – creating user guides for some of the newer products. Multi-Tech had been making modems, had expanded out into AS/400® support and other gateway emulations. It was a great time to come on board because the technology was simplex (modems and muxes), but moving into more compound products (gateways, remote access servers, and multi-function modems). Each composite product built a little bit on the previous technology, so learning the products was like drinking from a bubbler.
The internal technology was WordStar® for writing technical and marketing materials – which were then sent to a “stripper” (a person who printed photo-quality outputs and then cut-and-paste laid them out as masters for photo generation. Those photos were then used as the printing masters for the brochures or booklets). In those days, we had a lot of back-and-forth with the stripper because images were being placed in the wrong positions for the text that referenced them.
I had used a bit of VisiCalc in the past and had done some programming in high school, but a printing rep we were using encouraged me to get PageMaker® - a complete page layout program for pre-press work. Multi-Tech bought me this program as my desktop publishing environment. As I was learning the program on the job and writing about fax/data modems, I had the inspiration to try our technology to get position-only graphics into the document so the output would have its text wrapped at the correct size and position. I requisitioned a fax modem for my computer, went over to the fax machine and sent myself a copy of the image. It worked! How exciting to be in a marketing role for a company and have the products work as advertised! This lead to me requisitioning a scanner and drawing program – and eventually all publishing was done in-house (printing was still done professionally).
Later in the 90’s we started having live presentations at our trade shows. I began working with the script writer to create the presentation and then requested MacroMedia Director to create on-screen animations to support the actors. We had a theatre, projector, sound system, and a hot-wired keyboard I rigged up to give the actors a button on each mic to advance the screens (they wanted $700/day for a “tech” to sit in the back room and push the button). I hit a “back” button on stage to reverse directions if needed.
Mid-90’s it was time for the web. With my marketing writing, desktop publishing, and graphics design background J I asked to be the webmaster, even though I wasn’t sure what a URL was. I had help configuring the router, but I built up the Windows domain, the web server, and the search server. In 1997 (after a couple of years playing secretary for the web page updates, I build an Access-based web using Purveyor® (Microsoft’s IIS didn’t yet support ODBC). I created forms on an intranet that the tech support staff could use to update drivers, firmware, and software related to products. We were just migrating support from the BBS to the web, and this allowed them to retain control of the content while centralizing access to Multi-Tech information on the web.
In 2000, we started an e-commerce initiative, which meant an overhaul to the way we described products. At the time our ERP system didn’t track the concept of “Product”, much less brand (tradename), series, line, group or family. I manually aggregated about 10,000 items into the hierarchy the leaders wanted on the web, interfaced the e-commerce system with the ERP system for order entry, confirmation, tracking, and billing.
So much of my early days at Multi-Tech were about learning new things, taking on new responsibilities, implementing technology to give subject matter experts more control over the end product. The culture at that time was “you spot it, you got it”. Which, for me, meant the doors were wide open for advancement, innovation, and experimentation.
I have stayed at Multi-Tech these 27+ years because there’s nowhere else I’d have this kind of latitude, respect, or opportunity.