The 1-2-3 career path
Successful, self-taught Lotus 1-2-3
developers and consultants.
About 10 years ago,
John Shepard was a ski bum in Montana. Then the restaurant where he tended
bar began time-sharing a computer. Shepard, who had done "a little
light programming" in college, took a stab at creating a payroll
system for the restaurant. Within a few keystrokes, he decided that
writing code was more fun than serving drinks.
34-year-old Shepard charges $ 125 an hour to write custom applications in
1-2-3. "Your earnings potential is limited only by your ability to
sell your services," he says.
Shepard is just one
of many computer users who have translated a proficiency in writing 1-2-3
applications into a new career. For example, Jeffrey L. Pulver, now 27,
developed such useful applications while working at a Long Island
accounting firm that he formed his own company, Spreadsheet Solutions, to
market them as commercial 1-2-3 add-ins. Dan Trznadel, 26, is a CPA and
senior tax associate at the mammoth accounting firm Arthur Andersen &
Co. He is also one of the chief authors of the tax-calculation templates
used in more than 100 Arthur Andersen offices nationwide.
How did these and
other 1-2-3 experts do it? There seems to be no standard route to success.
But most successful programmers are young, driven, and self-taught. Few of
them set out to become software specialists. Shepard, for example, majored
in economics in college, with an emphasis on international development.
"That certainly helps when you are writing code every day," he
Most learned 1-2-3 on
the job. D. Scott Stephens, 23, who graduated from college two years ago
with a degree in systems analysis, learned 1-2-3 last year at NCR Corp. in
Dayton, Ohio. Stephens had never written a macro in his life when his boss
handed him a copy of 1-2-3 Release 3 and the Lotus Add-In Toolkit for
Release 3. About four months later, Stephens had completed the
sophisticated profit-planning model now used at NCR offices worldwide to
project the profitability of new products.
The experience taught
Stephens firsthand what software developers say is the one universal truth
of their business: Good programmers must understand the world for which
they write applications. "We want people who understand the business
application, as well as how to make 1-2-3 work," agrees John E. Haner,
a partner at Arthur Andersen and manager of Trznadel and nine other 1-2-3
specialists. "We look for people with both accounting and computer
More than writing
consultants emphasize that an applications developer needs far more
sophisticated skills than an ace macro writer. Many consultants advertise
themselves as 1-2-3 experts, but true applications developers are less
application isn't necessarily intuitive, and the 1-2-3 documentation
doesn't tell you how to do it," says Brian Murphy, a former financial
planner. Murphy is now manager of Lotus Applications Services at the New
York office of Lotus Development Corp., a branch that provides consulting
services to large 1-2-3 customers. "It really comes from hours and
hours of playing with the code. And if you're in another job, you're doing
it on your own time."
self-taught," agrees Shepard, who spent some time at Lotus's San
Francisco office as an applications developer. A little over a year ago,
Lotus phased out its San Francisco applications-services office, so
Shepard formed Sierra Data Consulting, which he runs out of his house in
Belmont, Calif. His first two customers were former Lotus clients.
Like Shepard, Jeffrey
Pulver used his relationship with his employer as a springboard to another
business. Pulver had done a fair amount of free-lance programming, in high
school and college, by the time Margolin, Winer & Evens CPAs, a Garden
City, N.Y., accounting firm, hired him in 1984. The following year, as
head of a small group of programmers, he persuaded the firm to offer
computer services to its clients.
realizing that I had some expertise in problem solving," he says. So
in late 1987 he formed Spreadsheet Solutions. But rather than divorce
himself from his employer, Pulver invited the firm to provide venture
capital for Spreadsheet Solutions. "Not only did we not want to lose
his far-flung abilities," says Paul Silpe, the managing partner in
the accounting firm, "but we also saw an opportunity to broaden our
@Ease, and @Fixed_Income--grew out of Spreadsheet Solutions' work for
private clients at brokerage houses and financial institutions. In
addition to providing the commercial packages, Spreadsheet Solutions' nine
full-time employees do custom work ranging from single @functions to
full-scale templates. "People on Wall Street are willing to pay a
premium for the right tools," Pulver says, "which makes this a
low volume, high-profit area."
But some companies
rarely hire free-lance programmers. Arthur Andersen, for example, has
established a 60-person applications-development group at its Chicago
headquarters. The group is responsible for creating software for and
supporting microcomputer use in the firm's U.S. tax practice. Its flagship
product is a five-year tax planner for individuals. "We learned to be
very efficient in our use of memory," says Trznadel, "because
the spreadsheet grew into about a 1-meg monster." Arthur Andersen
chose to write the application in 1-2-3, he says, so that it could be
easily updated to reflect changes in the tax law.
The need for constant
updating was also the reason NCR Corp. decided to redo its profit-planning
model in 1-2-3. "They wanted an information system, not just a
template," says Stephens.
programs often take a long time to develop and are expensive to maintain
when done the traditional way," says William Hahn, NCR's director of
program financial management. "But this kind of product allows us to
develop some pretty sophisticated applications without hiring an outside
has decided to return to school for a master's degree in busness
administration. He hopes eventually to have an opportunity to use his
business and programming skills in his own business. "To establish
yourself, you need a good background, good credentials, and good
contacts," he says. "Right now, I think I need more