DEC field service (was Re: HP's not cool? (was Re: pdp-11/60 Semi-Rescue))

From: Bill Pechter <>
Date: Mon Nov 22 16:23:51 1999

> Bill Pechter <> wrote:
> > ...And you folks make fun of old DEC Field Service guys 8-(
> No, the OLD field service guys were great. (At least, many of them
> were.)
> It was the NEW field service guys that we referred to as "field circus".
> Sometime in the early eighties DEC decided that instead of having module
> swapping as ONE of the fault available diagnosis and repair techniques,
> it would be the ONLY technique. By amazing coincidence, about that same
> time many of the OLD field service people quit. But since module
> swapping is so easy, DEC management was able to "replace" them with
> (barely) trained monkeys.

As the monkey who started in 1981 at DEC... Thanks. 8-)

> Of course, repair by module swapping is most effective if you have some
> idea of which modules it makes sense to swap, but that would require
> expen$ive training.

Well, one problem at DEC was the overload of Field Service.
In the early 80's DEC was selling more stuff than they could service
effectively and they were bringing new folks on board very quickly.

In the old days Field Service folk often pulled a turn in the factory
doing Final Assembly and Test or Module Repair. As the DEC VAX stuff took
more of the business from mainframes and expanded DEC from the OEM base
into end user computing they needed to gear up folks quickly to work
the field and do customer support.

Early on they used ex-military techs and plant folks, but the number of
them dropped in the late 70's and 80's... DEC invented a couple of new
tricks to get people out there.

They came up with the District Installation team. New lightly trained
PDP and Vax techs with the newhire course pushed out to install systems
coming from the factory. Often, they were sent out with a more
experienced tech to teach them the diags and to "hold down the fort" when
the more experienced tech was called to do real maintenance.

Most of us DIT's (as we were called) worked our way up to Full Field
Service Field Engineer II (T3F) tech spots as we got experience and
training. A few of us got pushed hard into spots where we were pretty
much over our heads and told to swim. Three months after being hired by
DEC out of tech school (DeVry), I was pulling Vax Standby night service
calls with minimal support and supervision. I finally got 11/780
training 2 1/2 years after I started with the company and after I was
doing standby and weekend work for almost that long.

Now, DEC's hiring practices had some good folks come in and move up
pretty quickly. One guy went from Field Service to manager in 3 years.
Sometimes folks who could barely fix VT100's without support (at a board
swap level) ended up out on MicroVaxes and then 11/780's with pretty
sorry results.

There's a lot of things that went on inside DEC in the early to mid
'80's that haven't seen the light of day. We were told in '86 in the
good old days that the gravy train of Vaxes was going to drop and that
Field Service had to increase productivity to keep from having DEC go
deep into the red ink that finally led to Palmer taking over.

Opinion warning: The following is written by a rabid DEC bigot.

I left in '86 before the slide. However, the problem was the folks at
DEC walked away from a fortune by not OEMing MicroVaxes and selling Vax
chipsets and they basically dropped the 36 bit line and began walking
away from the real time roots to chase IBM at the midrange and up...


      Three things never anger: First, the one who runs your DEC,
      The one who does Field Service and the one who signs your check.
Received on Mon Nov 22 1999 - 16:23:51 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:32:30 BST