Sunday, December 23, 2007

My first Christmas bonus, part 1

One of my two jobs now is with a private school who run their business more like I remember my days working in industry. There are both good and bad aspects to this, but definitely one of the good aspects is that I got a Christmas bonus. This got me to thinking about my very first Christmas bonus at the second company I worked for after college. That company was Atari, long, long ago when the most popular home video game system was the Atari 2600, also known as the Video Game System or VCS.

My first boss was Dennis Koble. He had been a video game designer and programmer before he was bumped up to management, and a very good one. Inside of a year of my being hired at Atari, he left to join a new company called Imagic, where he went back to game design and made Atlantis, one of the most popular games Imagic ever produced.

So it was November of 1980, and I had been hired in mid October. Dennis came into my office for a chat. He looked serious and I worried that I might be in trouble. "Matt, we're really happy you are here. In December, Atari gives out the yearly bonuses. I want to tell you not to expect a check. It's not an insult or anything. It's just been decided you haven't been here long enough, okay? They will probably give you a gift certificate for a ham or a turkey."

I had to smile. The job I had before Atari was at a chip manufacturing company that closed down during Christmas week, so the last week of the year was forced vacation and if you didn't have any vacation time stored up, it amounted to an unpaid week off. At least Atari paid you for the week of almost no work between Christmas and New Year. A gift certificate for a ham would be great. We shook hands and Dennis left my office, thanking me for being so understanding.

Fast forward a few weeks to December 19th, the Friday before Christmas, was the day the bonus checks would be handed out. They were delivered to us by the secretary, and I was handed an envelope with a window with a slip of paper showing with my name and address on it. Kind of a funny way to wrap a gift certificate, I thought.

That would have been true, but it was a perfectly normal way to wrap a bonus check. $500! Five hundred U.S. dollars of completely free money! It's wasn't the biggest check I'd ever seen in my life, not by a long shot, but it was the best feeling one. The other programmers, all of whom had been there at least a year, were getting much bigger checks, $1,500 to around $5,000, but no one was actually happier than I was. I went to Dennis and showed it to him and thanked him. "They must have changed their minds." he said. I have always assumed Dennis went to bat for me, though he never said as much. Thanks again, Dennis.

I was on the moon! I believe my eyes must have actually twinkled, because Carla Meninsky, one of the few female game programmers, asked me directly "What color are your eyes?" (Hazel or greenish grey, but when I'm happy they look a little more blue.) Nearly everyone was in a perky mood, as young folks should be when they are presented with free money.

"I've got an idea." said Rob Fulop.

Tomorrow, Part 2: The original Scumbag-athon begins.

New to Flags of many Lands™!
Sudan! Hopefully from the peaceful part of the country.

Now playing: The Chieftains - I Saw Three Ships A Sailing
via FoxyTunes


jolie said...

ah matty boy - thanks for the wonderful story!

we had a real cold snap in austin last night - seriously, below freezing! - and again tonight. I have a full forest of pots of avocado and ivy, geranium and kalanchoe, hiding out inside, fugitives from the cold.

very festive weather!

cheers to you and yours!

FranIAm said...

That is a great post and your enthusiasm shines through when you write about getting that check. Unexpected gifts are the best.

Happy Christmas to you dear Matty, and happy and merry everything or anything or nothing else if that suits you. Just happy- that is all.

It does not surprise me that we may have the same color eyes, BTW! Haha. You are my brother!

dguzman said...

Oh MattyBoy, you're the coolest. This is such a great story. I remember that little Atari system; my cousins had one and oooh was I jealous. To think that you had a part in the early days of that--wow.

And free bonus money--sweet!

Matty Boy said...

Thanks to all for your kind comments. I do lotsa 'splainin' on this blog (Duh!), but I leave my personal life out for the most part, except maybe the Math Is Hard posts. I thought I'd reminisce a little about my time at Atari this week, sonce several of my memories are connected to the week between Christmas and New Years.

Happy solstice and Hannukah and Christmas and St. Stephen's Day and Kwaanza and New Year's to all my cherished readers and commenters.

8bitjeff said...

Hey Matty.

I want more Atari stories!!! I work at Atari rival Mattel now, but back then I was an Atari guy through and through. Ironically, we had Rob Fulop in the other day to teach a class on game design, and he told us that HE did receive a Turkey gift Certificate the same year his Missile Command cart sold 1,000,000 copies! Must have been a management change by then =)

-Jeff Fulton

Matty Boy said...

Hey, Jeff! Nice to hear from you. Rob's a great guy and the star of the next installment, which will be published later today, Christmas Eve 2007.

There will be a few more Atari stories this week as well.

FranIAm said...

Matty I know you don't like to talk about yourself so much... In direct contrast to say - me - who cannot STFU about herself.

So while I appreciate your more contained nature, I do want to say- More please!!!