I got news that my first project was at Evanston, IL with a firm called ZS Associates. So we had to pack barely a few into a new place. By now, I was getting used to America – the big roads, big trucks, cars, etc.
We landed at Evanston and took a cab to a Red Roof Inn somewhere closeby I guess. Kirti, Sriram, Shiva and myself were all assigned to ZS. I was supposed to be a SAS expert and I didn’t know one bit of it! At ZS, I met two Young Indians. One, Murali and other a girl called Veena. Both probably grew up or studied in the US as they had an accent. Murali was the lead, just an year or so after college. This guy would drive me nuts later on.
My work started with me having to do SAS programming. I struggled not knowing what SAS was. Another Indian, Biju, was also on the team. I am not sure how I learnt SAS or what kind of contributions I made. All I remember was the crazy work schedule.
Before I get to that, the business process was something like this. There would a requirement to deliver analysis of prescription sales to Physicians and to patients. ZS would get tapes of the data and the programmers would write programs to analyze using some SAS functions or custom algorithms. The deliverables would usually have to be out in about 48 hours.
Once we had the tape, the lead (as I will call him now on) would be on our backs trying to get us to get the work done. To meet the schedule, we would start our days around 9 AM and work till about 5:30 PM. Then I would go home, have dinner and be back to work at about 10 PM. Then we would work till 2 or 3 in the morning. This went on for about 2 months. In those 2 or 3 months, I remember logging over 300 billable hours each month; that should be some kind of record. We never got any bonuses. The contract was we would be charged $200/hour for 8 hours per day and none even if we worked any more. I guess this should have been the part of the contract where the motivation was to extract as much work as possible.
Anyway, the days were crazy! Rama and Vikas were confined to the apartment (We had moved into Heritage apartments in Des Plaines); Rama was still not driving. Amongst all the work mania, I managed to get driver’s training from a guy Aarton – an Italian – who had this vague accent. He was say Left Turn as ‘left toorn’. He was good anyway. On the day of the test, he took us all out early and made us drive in the predetermined route. I guess he knew the route. He went into the Driver’s License office with a big box of doughnuts. The instructor seemed happy to meet him. Our test was uneventful. I thought I would fail, but I passed.
While at ZS, the late night hours were marked by the playing of the ‘The Sign’ tunes from the group ‘Ace of Base’. The songs were melodious but had a haunting quality to it. Whenever I listen to those songs, the rather un-enjoyable memories come back. Another song that was popular at that time was Tom Petty’s ‘You don’t know how it feels’.
When Chandra Shekar, the project manager, came to visit us I made it known that I wanted to get out of the project. In late March I got news that my next project would be at Grand Rapids, Michigan. I didn’t know that Grand Rapids would give us the best memories of our lives with little Vikas.