NetManage Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. pre...

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I cannot write about NetManage without mentioning the months that I spent living in Haifa and working for NetManage Israel.  If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you’ll know that the reason I joined the company was because my husband and I wanted to move “back” to Israel.

Why Israel?

I’ve put “back” in quotes, because I was born and brought up in the United States.

But I went to Israel in my mid-20s, during which time I met and married my “sabra” (native-born Israeli) husband.

Even when I was a little girl, I thought that I might want to live in Israel.

As a teenager, I pleaded with my mother to let me go live on a kibbutz.  After all, I was a teenage in the sixties. The concept of a communal settlement appealed to my ideals.  No one would be poor and no one would be rich. We would all share and share alike. And at night, we’d dance the hora…

But my mother said “No!”  Both of my parents were appalled at the idea of my moving so far away.  Until I reached my twenties, I was obedient enough to abide by their decision.

So it wasn’t until I was several years older that I got my chance to live there.  By that time, I had a master’s degree and decided to live in a city rather than a kibbutz.

I ended up going to an ulpan—a boarding school where they teach intensive Hebrew—in Haifa, a port city in northern Israel.  It was a good fit for me.  I had grown up by the ocean and loved being so close to the sea.

I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to live there forever. I didn’t think in terms of forever.  But I was happy living there.

We lived there when my children were very small and I liked the fact that I could walk my daughters to nursery school and then they could walk by themselves to elementary school.  I also liked that there were good part-time jobs, with special considerations for working women with small children.

But it was very difficult financially in those days.  So when my husband had a chance to come work in California, we moved to Silicon Valley and that’s when I became a tech writer.

We hadn’t planned to stay for more than a couple of years in California. Just enough time to save money for a bigger apartment.  But the couple of years had stretched into more than a decade…

 A Time of Optimism

When we moved back to Israel in early summer of 1995, it was a time of optimism.  The Oslo Accords had been signed.  For the first time in Israel’s existence, it seemed that it actually might be possible to live in peace with Israel’s neighbors.

The Israeli economy was also thriving.  I appreciated some of the conveniences—like being able to use paper towels rather than rags, although using rags had certainly been a lot better for the environment.

Tremendous Support from My Co-Workers

Probably, the very best thing about working for NetManage Israel was the camaraderie.  My co-workers were amazing.  The friend who had recruited me to NetManage had already moved back (she was born and brought up in Israel) a few months before I did.

They had bought a large house in Danya, a more suburban-like section of Haifa high up on the Carmel, and loved to throw parties and invite everyone who worked at the company.

People knew that our 14-year old daughter—our other daughters were already in college—was having difficulty adjusting to the move.  They tried to be supportive and offer advice.

Learning What it is like to be the Mother or Wife of a Soldier

By the time I met my husband, the Yom Kippur War was over.  I was living in Israel during the war, but I didn’t really know anyone who was involved in the fighting.

Now I was working closely with women whose closest loved ones were in daily danger.  I sat right next to a woman whose son was based in Lebanon.  Everyone listed to the news on the hour.  When there was “an incident”, all of us felt it in the pit of our stomachs.  Her son would try to call as soon as he could to let her know he was okay.

Rabin’s Assassination

I had friends that attended the peace rally at Kikar Malkhei Yisrael (Kings of Israel Square), in Tel Aviv, where Rabin was assassinated.  I didn’t go—not because I didn’t support the Oslo accords.  I did.  But I was afraid of being in large rounds that were vulnerable to terrorism.  Arab terrorism.  I was even more reluctant to expose our daughter to that danger and didn’t want to leave her alone at home.

It was very cold in our apartment—like many of the apartments then, we didn’t have central heating–so we had all gone to sleep early just to be warm.  The phone rang, waking us.  We were still groggy when we heard the news from our oldest daughter, who was studying for the semester at Tel Aviv University, “Rabin has been shot!”

We stumbled out of bed and turned on the television.  Our youngest daughter got up and joined us.  All of set huddled there in blankets watching the unbelievable events on the screen, tears rolling down our cheeks.

It reminded me of when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  His was the first of many assassinations to follow in those tumultuous years.  Before JFK was killed, we had thought that assassinations were something that happened only in history books or in South America.

Before Rabin was assassinated, Israeli Jews would never have imagined that such an act could be perpetrated by another Jew.

Remembering that time still brings tears to my eyes.

Lack of Support from the Israeli Schools and Problems of Two Working Parents

If only the schools had been half as supportive as NetManage, my husband and I would have been happy to stay in Israel.  There was a special program, a type of ulpan, at one of the Haifa schools for children of new immigrants.  But 99% of the class was Russian.  Our daughter was the only student from an English-speaking country.

Due to the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the ulpan had study materials that made things easier for the Russian students. But they were not prepared to handle students from English-speaking countries. Our daughter felt totally isolated.

It didn’t help matters any that both my husband and I were working full-time.  Although my husband had rented an appealing apartment in a nice section of town, he hadn’t realized that the public transportation to that new neighborhood was nearly nonexistent and the school with the ulpan required my daughter to take two buses.

After many tearful tantrums, we submitted to our daughter’s request to transfer to a regular public school and supplement with tutoring.  Suffice it to day that didn’t work either.

When it became apparent that she was skipping school, we realized that the situation was becoming untenable.

Returning to California

It was with heavy hearts that my husband and I gave up on our dream of moving back to Israel.  We had moved over our entire household and it was no easy feat to move back.  In fact, we left all our furniture in Israel rather than paying for the expense of bringing it back.

But the fact that I continued to work for NetManage did help to make the transition easier for me.

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Holey Pipe


Puerto Rico - Color

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I wonder how many residents or one-time residents of Silicon Valley have worked at a startup companyIf you worked at NetManage or worked at some other startup in the valley, I’d love to hear what the experience was like for you.

Some people who worked for startups made lots of money. That holds true for some of the people who worked for NetManage, too.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people.

But all of us—from the top executives to the clerical staff—enjoyed some unusual perks and privileges when NetManage was in its heyday.

Granted, it wasn’t like working for Google or Facebook—we didn’t get fully subsidized meals three times a time, didn’t have on-site massage therapists, etc.  Sigh.  But then, NetManage wasn’t anywhere near as wealthy as either of these highly successful companies.

I did get treated to travel with my husband all expenses paid to a five-star hotel in Maui one year and in Puerto Rico another year.  That included round-trip transportation, all meals, and a choice of additional activities.  I tried scuba diving for the first time during the company trip to Puerto Rico.  Anyone working for the company at that time was entitled to this offsite trips and could bring along one significant other.  At the time we went to Puerto Rico, I was working for the Haifa branch of NetManage.  The offsite included all the employees from both USA and Israel.

I still remember a team-building exercise we did in a jungle area of Puerto Rico. This activity was exclusively for NetManage employees (spouses and significant others could relax on the beach or choose something else).  Someone randomly assigned us into smaller teams and we had to tackle an obstacle course.  Does anyone reading this remember participating in this?

Some of the obstacles were things you might expect, like climbing over a rope structure, or forging our way across a river.  One of the tasks I remember best was less of a physical challenge and quite revealing with regard to our abilities to function as a team.  What I remember about this is that we were given a hollow pipe with lots of finger-size holes drilled into it.  We had to pour water into the pipe and see how long we could keep the water inside before it leaked out through the holes.

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The Chameleon


Panorama haifa

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After getting my first tech writing job at Tall Tree Systems, I didn’t have to look for other jobs.  They came to me.  Do you remember those days?

As I said in my previous post, I was quite content at Tandem.  They sent me on some interesting business trips, encouraged me to continue picking up new skills by letting me study during company time, and provided facilities for exercise (swimming and an exercise gym) on company grounds.

But, crazy as this must sound to some of you, my husband and I wanted to move back to Israel.  Although I was born and brought up in the USA, I had always wanted to spend time living in another country and was particularly drawn to Israel.

After grad school, I went over there, studied intensive Hebrew, and got a job.  When I met and married an Israeli, I assumed that might lead me to spend more or most of my adult life living over there.  That was okay with me.  I was happy at the time and didn’t think longterm.

However, after several years of living there, the economic pressures brought us to California. We thought that we would just live here for a couple of years, earn enough money to buy a nice apartment over there, and move back.  But the years kept passing, our kids were growing, and we were getting more entrenched in Silicon Valley.

Still, we were torn with nostalgia for the life in Israel and kept looking for opportunities to go back.

An Israeli woman friend that I had worked with at Tymnet was working for a startup, NetManage.  The CEO was Israeli, Zvi Alon.  The company had a large division in Haifa, Israel.

“Come work with me,” she suggested, “It might take some time, but I think we can arrange for you to work in Israel.”

Right away, she assigned me to write documentation for engineering projects that were being done in Haifa. I met some of the key engineers when they came for business trips to Silicon Valley and they also sent me to Haifa for a couple of business trips.

There were other benefits to coming to NetManage that I hadn’t anticipated.

Camaraderie

I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that permeated the company in those early years.  I think there were about 100 employees when I joined in 1994.  It wasn’t as small as Tall Tree—but small enough that the Zvi Alon participated in my entry interview.  The different functional groups (engineering, tech support, sales, etc.) didn’t feel like separate enclaves.  We all were part of the same team. All of us were cheering for the NetManage chameleon–our logo and mascot. We had company-catered lunches every Friday, where new employees were introduced and Zvi gave us pep talks about how well the company was doing.

Human Interface Experts

Back then, Google didn’t exist.  Microsoft Windows offered limited only limited networking capability.  NetManage had developed a TCP/IP stack for Windows that could be used as a basis for networking applications.  They gussied up and enhanced features of pre-existing command line UNIX applications, providing user-friendly interfaces for email,  search tools and more.

Instead of writing for programmers, I was writing for end-users.

In my previous jobs, it had been sufficient that the software would run correctly and reliably.  Now, there was a new dimension.  The company put a high value on having the software be as easy to use as possible.

We technical writers began serving an additional function.  Instead of just explaining how the software worked, we became involved in improving the interface.  That made the work a lot more interesting.

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A More Humane Company


One of my colleagues, an editor at Tymnet, had moved on to another data communications company, Tandem.

Kim called me, encouraging me to join her, There’s a Senior Writer position open in my group. I think you’ll like it here.  They have a Philosophy department…

They have what?!

Yes, she continued.  I’ve taken some interesting courses.  Not just technical stuff.  And we have beer busts every Friday.

It sounded more like a university campus.  Perhaps, it wasn’t as laid back as all that, but it was dramatically different from Tymnet.

They were the first company I knew where you could earn as much money and respect rising in the ranks as an individual contributor as you could by becoming a manager.  They even gave individual contributors nicer offices with windows.  We had large offices, not cubicles. Two individual contributors shared the room, but it was large enough that some people brought in additional furniture like sofas. Managers received smaller, private offices without windows.

Jimmy Treybig, the CEO, was willing to talk to anyone.  Not long after I had started working there, Treybig stopped me one day as I was walking in the corridor and asked, in his warm Texas drawl, How are things going?

He succeeded in giving me the impression that he actually cared what I thought.

Treybig also starred in a monthly program that was broadcast on a Tandem internal television network and included skits, modeled after Saturday Night Live.  The skits were educational—explaining some aspect of Tandem technology so that even non-technical staff could understand–and surprisingly entertaining.  My documentation group was in the building next to the studio, so we tried to be part of the live audience whenever we could.

We still worked hard.  But my workday now included time for other things.

I had been assigned to lead some cross-group projects that required me to give presentations, which led me to join Tandem Toastmasters.  Toastmasters helped me to get control of my fear.  Participating in the Tandem club had an added benefit.  I was meeting and becoming friendly with members from Development and Customer Support, which also improved my business interactions with the people in those groups.

One summer, I learned how to do free-style swimming in the company pool.  I had learned how to swim as a child.  But for some reason, we did more breaststroke and sidestroke.  At Tandem, I learned how to breathe properly so that I could successful do laps of free-style.

After five years, I got a paid 5-week sabbatical.  My manager was switching to another type of job and suggested that take her place.

Her suggestion was tempting.  I really liked Tandem, felt ready to try management, and would have been happy to stay—except that my husband and I wanted to move back to Israel.  So I let myself be recruited by another company that would fit into that plan.

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Feeling like a Chinovnik


ATM-Max

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Before I accepted the job offer to Tymnet McDonald Douglas, I had never heard of telecommunications.  Like most of the people back in 1987, I had never heard of the internet.  Strange as it must seem to younger folk, email and search engines were not part of everyday life.

“What is telecommunications?” I nervously asked a savvier colleague from Tall Tree, as I was saying my goodbyes.

“It’s what allows you to get money from the ATM,” he explained.

With that minimal knowledge of what I was getting into, I took the next step in my technical writing career.

On the plus side, I was given a base salary that was more than twice as much as I had been earning at Tall Tree.  And in many ways, the workload was much easier.  Instead of being fully responsible for all the technical documentation in the company, I was now merely a member of a team.  An editor read my work prior to publication and could catch not only minor errors of spelling or omission, but also ask me questions that led to further revision and improvement.  I no longer dealt with the printing house, bargaining with salespeople to get my company the best pricing on paper and production runs.  Specialists dealt with that.  I dealt only with the research and writing.

Moreover, the company sent me to classes on telecommunications during company time.  At first, I couldn’t believe my good luck.  They were paying me to improve my marketability by teaching me to understand telecommunications, SNA and other wide area network protocols that were being used at that time.  I had studied languages (Russian) and linguistics – including Chomsky’s transformational grammar–in college.  Learning the networks protocols seemed very similar to learning another language.

On the other hand, I had exchanged my five-minute commute for a 45-minute to 1-hour commute in aggravating traffic.  We did not have flex hours in those days and we could not work from home—because networking wasn’t yet ready for prime time.  So even though the demands of the work were easier, I had a harder time balancing my workload with my responsibilities at home.  My youngest daughter was now in first grade and her sisters were still in elementary school.

The other problem with my new job was that the company was so hierarchical that the higher level management seemed totally disconnected from the lower level workers.  The only manager that I had any sort of relationship with was my immediate manager, who really was a very nice, understanding, accessible guy.  But what a contrast to my previous company where the CEO and chief engineer of the company knew all my children by name.  It made me feel like a chinovnik—a petty clerk in a Russian novel.

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Dawn of Desktop Publishing


Original IBM Personal Computer motherboard (IB...

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When I first started working for Tall Tree Systems, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want additional memory for their IBM PCs.  What would they do with that extra memory?

I had learned how to install the JRAM memory boards in the PC motherboard and could even answer simple tech support calls about how to adjust the setting of the board by moving the little shunt from one set of pins to another.  I could also tell users how to set up a RAM disk. But I had no idea why they would want to do this…

Until an application was developed that made my life easier. Ventura Publisher! One of the early desktop publishing pioneers,  it allowed me to see the actual page layout,  even the pictures, all on my computer screen! This saved me so much stress and time.  I loved it!

And I was one of the early beta testers, because John Henderson had invented another little board that could be added to basic Canon printers and would channel the JRAM memory to the printer allowing it to print the variety of fonts now supported by Ventura Publisher.

I became an expert user.  I contributed to a book about Ventura Publisher and even got some royalties.  I also contributed my knowledge to one of the subgroups of the Silicon Valley Technical Writers’ Association. I invited the group over to our company to show them how I produced manuals using our company’s hardware additions and Venture Publisher.  John was pleased to be getting the publicity. But the activity brought me in contact with an editor at another company who quickly recruited me to join their technical publications group at Tymnet McDonald Douglas Corporation.

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Silicon Valley Writer — The Early Days


El Palo Alto and the San Francisquito Creek ca...

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During the first week of my technical writing career, I came home crying every day.  It was 1984.  We had just returned to the United States after spending five years living in Haifa, Israel, where I worked off and on, part-time, teaching English and writing public relations materials for the University of Haifa.

We weren’t sure at that point how long we would be staying in the States.  My husband had got a job working for an engineering consulting company in Silicon Valley.  We had no savings and living expenses were high.

With three small children—one in fourth grade, one in second grade, and the youngest, just three years old, I had hoped to find a part-time job. Although it wasn’t a very popular concept, I had heard that some women were sharing jobs in order to have more time at home with the children. So I went to a Career Center, submitted my resume, and registered as someone seeking a job-share for a writing position.

It didn’t take that long before I got a call to go for an interview with another woman, around my age, at a small startup in Palo Alto.  We hadn’t worked out the details of the job-share.  But I figured that could come later.

The main guy conducting the interview looked a little like Jerry Garcia.  Maybe that was intentional, because I found out later that he was an ardent fan.  John Henderson, the chief engineer and CEO,  sat at a desk cluttered with some sort of computer hardware that I’d never seen before.  In fact, the only contact that I’d had with computers until then had been a part-time job for a few months, writing educational materials for Atari computers.  I had learned some very, very basic software concepts about pixels and screen resolution.  But knew nothing about the insides of a computer.

“Do you know what this is?” said John, holding up a plastic rectangle with wires.

“No,” I admitted sheepishly.

He looked over my writing samples.  The most technical piece that I had written was a free-lance article about new types of packaging materials produced at the Technion in Haifa, designed to protect fruits and vegetables being exported from Israel to Europe.

“We’ll call you,” he said.

I didn’t expect to hear back from them.  When they called, it turned out that they had offered the other woman the position. But she refused because the salary was too low–$18,000 for full-time work.

I hadn’t wanted to work full-time and the salary was indeed low.  But I couldn’t afford to be choosy.

“I’ll do it for that amount of money if you let me leave at 3 o’ clock,” I bargained.  In Israel at that time, standard employment practice allowed mothers of young children to work three-quarter time and get full pay.  So I didn’t feel that I was making an unreasonable request.

In those days, the software we used to produce manuals was primitive and difficult.  It was before WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).  To draw a simple line on a page, you had to specify the vertical and horizontal coordinates of the beginning and the end of the line.  There was lot of guesswork.  And I wasn’t very good at guessing.

So not only was I struggling with trying to understand the purpose of a memory board and how to describe its installation into the motherboard of a computer, but I was also struggling with the writing tools used to produce the manuals.

Apparently, John had asked the guy who used to do the job to mentor me for a couple of weeks.  He was a preppy-looking single man, a little younger than I was.  I still remember his encouraging words,  “What made you think that you could do this?  You’re never going to be able to do it!”

I agreed.  After a miserable first week, I called to give my resignation.  John H. wouldn’t take it.  “Don’t listen to him,” he told me.  “He’s leaving.  I have faith in you. You can do this.”

As I said, I needed the money.  So I did stick with it.  Don left.  That alleviated one pain.  But I still had so much to learn.  I had persuaded my boss to let me leave by 3 PM in the afternoon, but I still had full responsibility for writing and producing all the manuals in the company without help from any editor or technical illustrator or production assistants. I even had to deal with the printing-house to select paper, estimate production runs, and do quality checks on the materials. Sometimes, I came in on the weekends to get the work done.  Sometimes, I came back in the evening after giving my family supper.

I was the Tech Pubs department for Tall Tree Systems for three years as the company grew from ten to forty employees.  In the last year, we were big enough that John let me hire someone to help me. The company made enough money that John treated us to some nice holiday parties.  But unfortunately, Tall Tree Systems,  was not one of the big success stories in Silicon Valley.

I am in touch with at least of my former colleagues from Tall Tree Systems. I’ll see if I can get her to contribute some information about those early years.

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