Interview with Dan Vandenberg, 05/02/2016

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Zach Holdridge, Interviewer | uwocs_Dan_Vandenberg_05022016.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |


ZH: I'm Zach Holdridge and I'm here with Dan Vandenberg. Could you please spell your name?

DV: Okay. D-A-N V-A-N-D-E-N-B-E-R-G.

ZH: Okay and we're conducting this interview for the Campus Stories Oral History Project. So let's start with a little bit of background, so where did you grow up?

DV: I grew up in Freedom, Wisconsin.

ZH: And what was that like? Small town?

DV: Yeah, it was very small, it was I don't know, I think it was about 400 people.

ZH: And that's in the area isn't it?

DV: Yes, it's kind of, maybe, like five miles north of Kaukauna and about the same or less to De Pere. That's where my dad was from and his father.

ZH: So continue the lineage there.


DV: Yeah, all of my great grandparents lived in that same area.

ZH: In that same general region?

DV: Uh, my mother's was more in Rockland which is near De Pere.

ZH: Okay, but northeast Wisconsin.

DV: Right. Yeah.

ZH: Alright. So, where did you go to high school?

DV: [Inaudible] in De Pere.

ZH: And was that a small high school?

DV: Yeah. Yep. I think there was like 80 students in my class.

ZH: Okay so and what year did you graduate?

DV: Uh, let's see. 73. Yep.

ZH: Okay. What did you like initially aspire to do out of high school?

DV: Become a programmer. I actually decided on that when I was ten.


ZH: Really?

DV: Yeah.

ZH: You must have been on the cutting edge of that time.

DV: I mean yeah, pretty much, when I came to Oshkosh we were one of the first places doing online updating.

ZH: Oh really?

DV: Yeah, there was a lot of places that felt you could display things but couldn't update them.

ZH: So what sparked that? Like what got you interested in programming and computers?

DV: Okay to be honest, it was like Science Fiction shows.

ZH: That's what I was thinking.

DV: At the time, I mean, until I, I think it was maybe my last year of high 3:00school the first time I actually saw a real computer.

ZH: Really?

DV: Yeah. I mean they had them out but they weren't things, and you know, I went to school at NWT, well it was NWI, but now it is NWTC and they had one computer for the school.

ZH: I guess you always hear about Bill Gates with the punch-card computer that he was big into, I mean smaller scale.

DV: Yeah, definitely, it was, they were expensive and quite rare.

ZH: How big were the computers? You hear that supercomputers back in the day could like take up a room?

DV: They were, let's see, probably about the size of a refrigerator.


ZH: So definitely slimmed down.

DV: Yeah, I mean yeah, probably, that was about the, that was just the computer itself, you usually had another, more devices well you had your disk drives, and that didn't include disk drives and the connections to the terminals and that. That was [inaudible].

ZH: So do you remember any of the specific shows you watched that got you interested in it?

DV: Probably Star Trek.

ZH: Okay. That's a pretty common one.

DV: Yeah.

ZH: I can relate as a prospective Comp Sci major, that was one of my, a lot of shows, can lend interest in that. I can definitely relate. Were you parents 5:00supportive of going into that field?

DV: Yeah.

ZH: Was that like a popular thing at the time? Going into programming.

DV: Um, let's see. I guess fairly. I mean it, it was probably, it was more, it was a newer thing so it was something you couldn't really have a lot of examples of.

ZH: More the you're on the brink of it.

DV: Yeah. Right. It wasn't really anything anybody in my family could understand. So.

ZH: Alright so how many people lived in your house?


DV: Growing up?

ZH: Growing up.

DV: Um well, five, I was the oldest then a younger brother and sister so.

ZH: So what did you guys do for like fun?

DV: Uh, I kind of spent a lot of time building things. Weren't that good, but.

ZH: So growing up in Freedom, take it that was a pretty small town, pretty homogenous, white middle-class people.

DV: Right. Yes.

ZH: At what age did you know you wanted to go onto higher education?


DV: Uh, let's see I guess ten. Yeah, for that I would move on. So

ZH: So were you a good high school student? Strong?

DV: Yeah. Yeah. I was actually valedictorian.

ZH: Alright so where all did you consider going to college?

DV: Okay well I went one year at UW-GB, then I went to NWTC because they actually had a better program, they didn't really have much in programming out in Green bay at that time.

ZH: So then how long was that program? 2 years?

DV: Yeah. 2 years. It was a very good program.


ZH: Okay, how was the job market when you left college? Was programming as popular as it is now?

DV: Yeah, but I didn't have very much luck. When I, okay, I have a lot of trouble talking to people and so basically I got two offers all together, and one was at what we now call a consulting, consisting of, and he did kind of 9:00contract computing and so it was just one guy and he had like two key punchers and he wanted another person to work in front. So. It wasn't much bigger than this room.

ZH: So not ideal.

DV: No. And I went there and got the interview and a week later he called back and said he lost another company, he lost a customer so he couldn't hire anybody at the time but he'd keep my name on file. And a year later he actually called back and asked if I still wanted the job.

ZH: But at that point you were pretty set here?

DV: Yeah.

ZH: Okay. So being from the area how familiar were you with UW-O when you applied here?

DV: Not much really. It was sort of out, I knew about it, but kind of the area 10:00that we went through for things went down to Appleton and kind of cut off. This was a little bit.

ZH: So out of the way of what you were used to?

DV: Yeah.

ZH: When you applied and got hired, what reputation did you hear about this school? What did you know about it?

DV: Actually at that time it had a reputation as a party school.

ZH: Some things don't change.

DV: I mean that's this was, like when I was in high school this wasn't considered the place for people who wanted to get a serious education. I mean 11:00that probably wasn't fair, but.

ZH: Well yeah all schools have their rep.

DV: Okay when I started, okay so at that time we had basically people who were here longer who actually wrote out specifications for the programs, then they gave them to people like me who were new to actually do the coding. So we got to some fairly involved programs fairly soon, things like [inaudible] working on the billing program, and the cost calculation program. And at the time, 12:00everything was written here, the whole system, we didn't buy anything.

ZH: Everything was in-house.

DV: Yeah. And we were, when I started we were in the middle of redoing the student financial and student accounting system.

ZH: So it was things like that. So other than that what type of things did you guys do? Like data management? What were you guys keeping track of?

DV: Um, okay, so what the work was?

ZH: Yeah.

DV: It was writing programs. That's, like I said. For the first few years it was 13:00you know, somebody would write out specifications for what the program does and then I would write the program.

ZH: Just wondering how it compares to nowadays, because I'm sure you guys have system admins and networks that I'm sure you guys are involved with. So I'd assume the work has changed.

DV: Yeah. Um yeah. Yeah it, okay I still do a lot of programming, but we hired one person now who's going to be more into that, but for the last 4 or 5 years, I'm the only one who's actually done any programming versus.

ZH: So you've got the history so they kept you in that role.

DV: And the interest. But yeah I mean, we had, so we basically had like 7 14:00programmers and 2 were what we call system programmers at the time which would now be a System Administrator.

ZH: Okay. So how has the campus changed in your time of working here?

DV: Uh… how has it changed. Uh, I think they've, I think it's become more 15:00progressive in the sense of like they're trying to like be more innovative in the education. Where, when they started, they didn't realized it, it was just another university. I think they're trying to get more of an identity.

ZH: Trying to find their niche areas.

DV: Yeah like the sustainability. There was none of that. Which actually Green Bay had a reputation for that at the time. They started out as like this ecology university. Think they kind of abandoned that.

ZH: Okay, so when you got this job did you move to Oshkosh?


DV: No still in De Pere.

ZH: And you still do nowadays?

DV: Yeah.

ZH: So what was your work-life balance like? What did you do for social activities as a young hire?

DV: I don't know, just, didn't really have any. I wasn't a really very extroverted person. I did a lot of drawing and reading.

ZH: So more just like personal. Were you comfortable in Oshkosh?

DV: Um yeah. Well I mean I had took this job with the intention of getting one 17:00someplace else.

ZH: So this was supposed to be step one?

DV: Yes. I mean I would go for a job and they would say do you have any experience and I would say no and so basically I was going to work here for a year or two then get another job. And I did a lot of interviewing at places and didn't get any of them.

ZH: One of my next questions was going to be did you look at any other opportunities? So I assume yes.

DV: Yeah and then gradually I just got used to the place.

ZH: Used to the grind.

DV: Yeah so I got kind of fit in with the people and I just kind of stopped looking.


ZH: That happens.

DV: Yeah.

ZH: So what year did you start here? 76?

DV: 76.

ZH: And so you've been here almost 40 years.

DV: Yeah, thirty yeah. It'll be 40 years in November.

ZH: So I'd assume you're the longest tenured IT person.

DV: Yeah, right now, yeah. Right now I don't personally know anyone who's been here longer. I mean, last year when we had that retirement thing, there were a 19:00couple people who I knew who were, but they retired and right now, yeah. In IT right now, uh, there are a couple with ten or fifteen years, but most of them are less than five.

ZH: So a lot more fresh people coming in?

DV: Yeah up until, I would say ten years ago, most of the people, there was, there were still quite a few people who had been here twenty years. And then they started retiring.

ZH: So how much contact does your area have with the student body?


DV: Um, okay, the area I'm in myself, not very much. Directly, I mean obviously there's other parts of IT that do. I mean, if we do, it's more and more student workers in our offices.

ZH: So not very directly involved.

DV: Yeah.

ZH: So I guess it's hard to answer, but has that changed at all, did there used to be more contact? Or pretty consistent.

DV: No, yeah, programming it's kind of like we're working two levels back.


ZH: Making sure the stuff runs.

DV: I mean, we see the results of what we do, but we…

ZH: You'll hear if it doesn't work.

DV: Yeah, but we're not the one's they contact.

ZH: Obviously limited contact, but have you noticed any changes in the student body or even in the student body's demand or what they expect from their programs?

DV: Yeah, I mean. There's definitely, well and this comes from the other offices 22:00and how students perceive the systems. At one time it was kind of like, is it doing what we need it to do and the appearance of it all. Because it was basically employees working with it and as long as it was something they could work with we were okay. Now it's students go to something like TitanWeb is it going to be something they can follow easily because perspective students look at that, you know, and if they look at that are they going to want to come here.


ZH: So the demand for user friendly.

DV: Yeah user-friendly and now there's mobile. So yeah, I mean, so I think there's an awareness of how it's perceived that wasn't there before.

ZH: So has the Information Technology department always been a separate thing or was it part of administration?

DV: Well yeah it's always been, well it's always been its own department as long as I've been here. The where that department fits in has changed, as not sure where, at one time it was underneath the library.

ZH: Prime real estate.

DV: What?

ZH: Prime real estate.

DV: No, not physically located there, but we reported to the director of the 24:00library. Because it was information, and then most of the time it was under the provost, and then under the administrative services, and now it's under the chancellor. So yeah, but it's, I mean, the name keeps changing but it's always been a separate department as long as I've worked here.

ZH: So that hasn't changed.

DV: No.

ZH: So where is your office?

DV: Third floor Dempsey. I've moved two doors down in 39 years. It's expanded 25:00somewhat, what I work now, where my office is now used to be a classroom.

ZH: Has it gotten roomier?

DV: Um, well somewhat yeah.

ZH: As your progression down the hall continues, are your rooms getting bigger?

DV: Not, well somewhat yeah, I mean like I said we had seven programmers and a manager in one.

ZH: Tiny room.

DV: Yeah so it was probably about ten years ago now, they did extensive remodeling, before we had these burnt orange [inaudible], from back in the 70's 26:00and we used to have these steel desks, probably from the 40's. I mean yeah. Probably ten years now, it's when they did a complete remodeling, it's pretty nice now.

ZH: So what are a few memorable on-campus events that have happened over that time?

DV: Let's see…

ZH: Or walk through a few that were memorable to you.

DV: The biggest for me is when we changed to PeopleSoft. We went through and we had to convert everything, and they had this Y2K problem where, okay yeah, so 27:00when we wrote these programs all the years were two digits, memory was very expensive.

ZH: A cost prohibitive thing.

DV: Yeah, so you didn't waste two spaces if it was always going to be nineteen, so when I started, I started on the financial system, they had, at the time, they figured that would last about three years, it lasted until, well basically we shut it down in 1999. I mean…

ZH: So right up until then.

DV: And it was because, we had a fiscal year in there in two years, we shut it 28:00down on when fiscal year 2000 started. I mean, yeah, we were like days away from when it would fail.

ZH: So not giving yourselves a whole lot of time on that one.

DV: No, well cause starting, starting around 2000, we had planned to go develop a new system using a database they called AtaBase (sp?), probably the biggest mistake anybody has ever made. It didn't do what it said, it was the worst and 29:00it came with a language called natural that was the worst language anybody ever created. And we wasted five years trying to develop a system in that.

ZH: That's a lot of time wasted, was that a big monetary investment too developing?

DV: Yeah. I mean.

ZH: I guess there was a lot of people committed to working with that.

DV: Yeah so we had basically five years of work thrown away. I mean, and then after that, well, then we went and looked at PeopleSoft, and we were working with Whitewater and La-Crosse at the time because we tried to work together. I 30:00think it was the programming director at Whitewater who said we have to look at PeopleSoft to prove it won't work. Because, at the time, this idea of buying a system and bringing it in.

ZH: Just not what anybody was used to.

DV: Yeah, nobody. There was just kind of, everybody, that he said it but everybody kind of felt that way. But we looked at it and it looked like it would work.

ZH: Yeah so no objections at that point except all the work that has already been done on everything else.

DV: Well we know we weren't going to go the way we had been. I guess we hadn't 31:00really given up on it yet, I don't know, my opinion was there was no chance of getting that to work, but I don't, we were running out of time and we were kind of surprised that it would handle, it looked flexible enough to handle the things we needed to handle, so then we had a big project converting to PeopleSoft and it didn't run very well at the beginning. So that's, in the time I've been here, probably wasn't the biggest thing on campus but it was the biggest thing from my standpoint.


ZH: So I guess this is a more off-topic community question, you've been here for a while, so you've been involved, or present for all the St. Patrick's Day riots, so what's been your opinion on that stuff? How has the campus underwent changes of unrest like that over the course of the years?

DV: Um--

ZH: Have you ever felt like that was a present thing or are you so far removed?

DV: I mean it's yeah, it's a concern when it happens, but yeah. I know it, yeah. 33:00It's never been, it's more been something I've heard about, then actually.

ZH: Like been legitimately able to see take place. Probably more something more straight administration, would have more to comment on.

DV: They did, I mean I remember when they moved the spring break, because they used to have spring break during St. Patrick's Day.

ZH: Up until like ten years ago, then they finally moved it back.

DV: Yeah, they deliberately moved it. And what they said, what I heard most of the problems wasn't with the students, there was people who came in.

ZH: That would make sense.


DV: It was attracting people who came here to just cause trouble.

ZH: Okay so what were the, you said you started when there were seven programmers, what were those people's qualifications like? Or like there experience coming in?

DV: Yeah, well, when I started, there were quite a few people who had been here, before, I mean they were the first programmers.

ZH: So they started it. If you wondered why something was how it was you could just ask them.

DV: Yeah, I'd say, there were three people who started when I did and the rest 35:00had been here for several years already, and most of them, there were, and so they knew everything that had been written here so far because most things like I said lasted around three years, so I mean, we'd get a new, they got new computers and the programs didn't work anymore they had to write them over. I got here kind when things switched over and got a lot more stable. But yeah, some of them had been students here, they had actually, some had been working 36:00other places, but not much, because there wasn't, but pretty much those people who were here for computer systems got started.

ZH: So I mean, I'd assume it's a pretty male-dominated field, so was it all men at the time?

DV: There was one woman programmer. We, and, then a couple years later we had a woman who was an operator move into programming, and we've had different, I 37:00think over time, yeah, more men then women, but there's…

ZH: Always been women.

DV: Yeah, but at the peak I think there were actually more women than men.

ZH: Really?

DV: Yeah, I think it was like 15, probably around 15 years ago, there was a point of having four women and two men.

ZH: So what are your impressions of how the university is now?


DV: I think, like I think it's been a lot with the University Studies Program I think it's trying to be very progressive with its education. I think it's trying to try things that other places haven't. That to me seems to be a change. I think it's more, I think it used to be more conservative.

ZH: Just the standard.

DV: Yeah.

ZH: You think it's a good direction for them to go? Do you think it's a risk?

DV: It's a risk. I mean, I mean, I think it's probably worth taking, but 39:00because, it can be something that attracts students but it can also be something that drives them away.

ZH: Yeah it can alienate a decent amount of people.

DV: Yeah and I don't, I can't say for sure what's doing more. I mean it's very, they say enrollments going down maybe it's because we're alienating students, because I know personally if I was a student and saw all the requirements I would look for someplace else.

ZH: So what are your opinions on the changes that have happened to campus?


DV: Well, I think what they've been building is a good thing. Architecturally I don't really like it. I mean, my opinion of most of what they built is either bland or ugly.

ZH: That's a fair opinion.

DV: Yeah, I mean, it's just not my style.

ZH: At least you haven't had to worry about moving into one of those, been in Dempsey the whole time.

DV: Yeah, to me, have you ever seen a picture of the original building here?

ZH: I don't think so.


DV: It's back in the 1880's or something, that was a neat building. It burnt down in 1920 something and they didn't rebuild it, which I think was a shame, but obviously styles change.

ZH: Definitely not a fan.

DV: No. Of course, my sense of architecture is stuck in the, well actually the 1800's.

ZH: What's your opinion on their like big push for sustainability? I guess that's one of the big things they stress now a days.

DV: Well, I think it's good to have something that can be identified with the university, and it's something important, and I, let's see, for me, I probably 42:00don't get as much enthusiasm for it as probably people who are even ten years younger than me. Because to me, basically I grew up in the sixties, there was a big change in the world after that, because when I grew up, ecology was something that weird hippies were interested in. It wasn't and, it wasn't the attitude kind of changed. People were kind of, the attitude when I grew up was 43:00that wasn't something normal people were interested in. And it's hard to kind of, I can understand it, but deep down, I, I think even the people like ten years, the people who grew up with that probably have a different attitude than I do.

ZH: It's something that like, they're trying to get their niche, but it's not something that would directly appeal to you.

DV: Yeah.

ZH: Okay. So what advice would you give current students either looking to go into IT or Comp Sci or just any advice?

DV: Okay. Um, well I'd say you have to probably have good skills for working 44:00with people. And it's, I mean that's you always needed that some, but it's a lot more truer today. Like I said when I started, you got specifications, we followed them, and like one guy said I was here five years before anyone knew I was here. That's not going to work today. You have to be able to kind of work 45:00with a lot of different systems working together, that's the biggest change, and kind of one that's hard for me to accept, really. I mean for me, I'd still like it if we wrote everything here. [inaudible] so I mean, I guess, it's cause you have to figure probably if you're in school now, by the time you graduate things will be different again. It's, so you need, if you go for a job, you need to 46:00know the technology, but it's not going to stay the same. I mean, so really if you can work in a team, if you can be able to learn, that's very important.

ZH: And I think that should be enough. Thank you.

DV: Okay. Thank you.

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