In 1987, I returned to the Chicago area with a newly minted liberal arts degree in economics, with honors, from the University of Iowa.
I had no clue how I was going to enter the adult world and get a real job.
During a few interviews, I felt totally uncomfortable and unprepared for entry-level jobs at these big companies. I wasn’t feeling it, which is a nice way of saying nobody hired me.
In those days, if you got a degree, then you got a job at a sizable company and kept going. That was how it worked for college grads if you weren’t going to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher. Startup, entrepreneurial, venture capital and successful tech companies were not big things yet. Those wouldn’t be common or cool until ten years later.
As I was floundering in my job search, my best friend Joe said, “Come work with me at Egghead Software. You can do that until you find a real job.”
Egghead was a fast-growing retail chain that sold packaged software, back when software came in a box with floppy disks and a manual. Tiny Egghead stores were showing up in strip malls in busy shopping areas all over the country. Their helpful approach to selling newfangled and complicated computer software was a big hit. Normal people could enjoy computers too!
I had worked retail jobs through college, but I had no experience with personal computers. I was uncomfortable when I interviewed for this job too, but I ended the interview with the line, “You know you have to hire me. I’ll be Greg Head from Egghead!”
Thankfully, I was hired that week. I started working with my friend Joe at the Egghead store in my hometown of Arlington Heights, Illinois. I was a retail salesperson in a suit with a nametag, working alongside other misfit college grads who liked software and weren’t going to work for big companies either.
My starting salary was $15,000 plus commissions. That salary worked out to $6.50 an hour, which was better than the $3.35 minimum wage I had earned with my part-time jobs in college. I had to figure out how to sell software quickly so I could make a little more cash.
It took me a couple weeks to learn the basics of the IBM PC with DOS, Apple II, and Macintosh computers. I bought a PC XT “clone” computer. I worked all the hours I could at the store and played with software every night. My panic about selling computer software faded in a couple months.
I didn’t want to let Joe down. And I didn’t want to find a job at a big company.
I threw myself into it and started making decent commission checks. I loved all the geeky computer and software programs too. I worked long retail hours, on my feet all day, but I was having a ball.
I also discovered I am actually an extrovert. Before then, I was pretty shy, unconfident and bookish. Talking to 100 different people a day at the store turned out to be great practice for me. Soon I was talking to everyone, and I couldn’t shut up about software. Surprise!
In three months, I became the assistant manager. Soon after, I became the manager of my own Egghead store and ended up managing the busy Egghead store in Schaumburg. I worked very long hours and kept learning new things. New software products appeared every week–I’d rip open the boxes and figure them out at home.
I sold my old car and bought a new VW Golf for $6300. It was the base model with no options: no air conditioning, no automatic windows, no floor mats. But it was a new car and it was mine. And I had moved out of my parent’s basement. Big time!
“When are you going to get a real job?” people would ask me. Computers, software, and Egghead were fads and just for computer geeks, right? That’s what it looked like back then. It wasn’t obvious to anyone that the software industry would eventually become so huge, so important and so valuable.
I worked at Egghead for two and a half years and enjoyed it all. I fell in love with selling, software, working hard, managing people and managing busy stores. It was the beginning of my 30-year career in the software industry. This software thing might actually become popular someday!
My friend Joe has been in the computer industry since then too. He runs a successful software consulting company that helps companies in the Midwest with their business systems.
I am grateful to Joe for pulling me into the software industry at the moment it was really just starting to grow. I am truly lucky to have started in the software business when it was just getting started.
Software has become a huge industry in the last 30 years, but it started out as a very small one. Most people didn’t use computers, only the crazy misfits worked in the business, only scrappy small companies made software. I had found my people and my calling.
Every day at that Egghead store, people would walk in and look at my nametag. They would pause and smile. “Does everyone here have a funny name?”
“No, just me,” I’d say. “Uncle Egg gave me the job.” That would get a laugh. Then I would sell them some amazing software that would keep their smile going.