Dan Poulin: UNIX Transition Specialist

Eight-year Army stint precedes computer career

Name: Dan Poulin

When Dan Poulin graduated from high school in Rhode Island, it was at the height of the U.S. military buildup in Vietnam. With the draft in full force, Poulin was uncertain of his future. He joined the Army in April 1969, signing up to be an intelligence analyst because he thought his chances of being sent to Vietnam would be lower.

The strategy backfired when he and most of his intelligence school class were sent to Southeast Asia upon graduation. After a year in Vietnam, he was reassigned to Europe, ending up in Heidelberg, Germany, at the headquarters of the U.S. Army in Europe. "I really liked that, and that's where I decided to stay longer in the service. The Army in Europe at the time was mostly an office situation, with four half-day work weeks."

After returning to the United States five years later, Poulin served two more years in a military intelligence training detachment before deciding he wanted to go to college. So, after eight years of active duty, he left the Army and enrolled at the University of Rhode Island. "I decided it was time to go back to school and get a degree in something that would be more financially rewarding," Poulin says. "That's when I decided to look into the computer field. It was something that certainly had a lot of potential. What attracted me, too, was the allure of working in something as new and technical as computers. Even though I didn't know what it was all about, it would be a good thing to say you did."

After graduating with a B.S. in computer science, Poulin went to work as a systems analyst in a small IBM-based data processing shop at a Pawtucket hospital. During his three years there he assumed responsibility for systems management and went through some system upgrades. "That kind of got me going in the database administration role that was really the focus of my second job, which was with Corning Medical in Medfield, MA," Poulin says. At Corning Medical, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment and a subsidiary of Corning Glass, Poulin started as a member of a two-person technical support term, serving as backup systems programmer and database administrator. When he left three years later he was responsible for day-to-day operations in technical support.

A former colleague then enticed Poulin to join Waters Associates, a division of Millipore Corp., a maker of processing filters, in Milford, MA. He was hired as technical support manager, providing support for systems programmers working on IBM systems. After a year he became data processing manager, a position he held for three years before moving to Millipore headquarters in Bedford, MA.

It was there that Poulin got his first taste of UNIX. "There was a move to standardize on Oracle and we started moving to Oracle applications running on UNIX," Poulin notes. This was a big change for a company that had been operating on IBM proprietary systems. "UNIX was kind of a secondary exploration. We were really testing relational database technology." The company had intended to run Oracle on a DEC VAX system running VMS, but a vendor from Sequent made a good case for their servers. "There was a no-risk offer to try their technology, and we liked it, and it had the potential for being a lot more price-effective," he recalls. "I decided that we would also run our business on UNIX. So our decision at the end of 1989 was that we were going to implement Oracle on UNIX systems and for all our business needs."

That decision started a consolidation that occupied Poulin for the next two years. "I went from being an individual contributor to having four data centers and a staff of about 50 people to consolidate, then through a consolidation and staff cutback to about 35," Poulin says. "We moved all four sites into one."

That transition "involved redefining a lot of operational procedures that had been in place from our older systems. "The big challenge was trying to come up with some standard way of building systems in UNIX so that they were manageable without a lot of people," Poulin says. "It was just keeping up with all the software changes that you have to make. When you start to make wholesale changes in your applications base, you have to move very quickly to manage change."

Last spring, Poulin made his latest career move, this time to the West Coast, where he is now director of IS network and operations services for Quantum Corp., a disk drive manufacturer in Milpitas, CA. There he's also a transition specialist. "All our financials run on the older HP systems on the proprietary MPE operating system, and we have a program of moving all of that to Oracle financials on HP UNIX systems," Poulin says. A part of the business recently acquired from DEC also has been pulled into the transition. The cut-over target for that transition at Quantum is July 1995.

In recent years Poulin also has participated actively in the Massive Open Systems Environment Standard (MOSES) group, which evolved from an association of Sequent users, and is now a member of the UniForum 1995 Steering Committee, helping plan the 1995 UniForum Conference and Exposition scheduled for March 14-16 in Dallas. "I think the importance of UniForum is that it's universal and allows people of different UNIX backgrounds to get together and share experiences and thoughts," Poulin says. "It helps when you're trying to get exposure in different areas. Having a network of folks that have similar interests - maybe doing it with different technology and different vendors - helps to sift through what might be the right options for you and your business."