+1 (920) 475-7178
2420 Red Fescue ct. , Menasha, WI, U.S.A

How I got started

This is going to be a long post... 

I'm a software developer/consultant who works too much, exercises too little and loves good food, wine and rum cocktails.  If I get the slightest chance to get away from the winter in Wisconsin I am on my way to the Caribbean, there is an map on my office wall with pins in all of the islands I've gotten to so far.  I tend to go back to St. Martin and Anguilla a lot as thus far they are my favorites.

Professionally, I've been involved in the hospitality industry for over 35 years in one form or another.  I've worked as a hotel and a restaurant manager, and virtually every station in a hotel kitchen operation, from butcher to pastry chef.  I've worked nights as a dispatcher and delivery driver for a takeout food service.  I've managed the purchase and installation of IT systems for multiple hotels and restaurants and written a lot of custom software for the industry.  I spent 7 years writing software for Micros Systems, Inc., the largest vendor of systems for the hospitality industry.

How I went from cooking to coding is an interesting story.  I wrote software for fun and my own personal education for years, starting with the trusty Tandy TRS-80.  I ran a BBS under a couple of different names back in the days before the Internet.  Chef's Kitchen and Programmer's Haven were two of my Fido Net nodes.  Once I got my first PC, I wrote batch file utilities in C and 8086 assembly language, and also a few bigger things, an offline mail reader, and various BBS related utilities.  While I was cooking for my regular job, I took a couple of paying jobs writing software for small companies I hooked up with through friends, which led to a migration into IT and professional programming.

In one of life's weird coincidences, the assistant MIS manager for the hotel I was working at was writing a Clipper application for accounting, and needed some kind of extension written that you couldn't do in Clipper itself, you needed to do it in C or ASM.  The Food and Beverage cost controller at the property (A friend who later was the best man at my wedding) sat across the aisle from him and heard him talking about it, and told him 'Go see the hotel butcher'.

I looked up to see a guy wearing a suit and tie knocking on the butcher shop window.  I thought maybe he'd gotten lost and come in from the convention center down the hall.  He came in and introduced himself, and asked a few questions.  I pulled out a sheet pan liner and flow charted what he was looking for, and the next thing I know I'm talking to the hotel controller about working for him writing software.

I got out of the chef's whites and into a tie.  I wrote a lot of software, for everything I found that could be automated.  This was back in the DOS days, there wasn't much available for niche software at the time, so the world was wide open for custom software.  I was having a blast until the parent company sold the hotel.  All of a sudden I found I wasn't going to be making a career out of IT there; my position had been created just for me, and wasn't going to exist under the new management.

The executive chef still liked me and didn't want to see me get shafted, so he gave me a job as the pastry chef in their fine dining restaurant.  After making lots of desserts, I got a call from one of the old hotel managers.  He'd left the company and joined a small hotel chain in Wisconsin, and they needed someone for a corporate IT position.

After a trip up to see what I was getting into and doing a lot of soul searching, I took the position, and did a lot of work upgrading 3 of their hotels IT systems in a little over a year before the old company I'd left called.  They had a job offer for me in the Virgin Islands.  I'd met Malinda, who is now my wife while I was there, and we talked it over.  They'd have a position for her if I would go, we'd live in a company provided apartment and have all living expenses paid for 2 years under the contract, but I couldn't leave before that without penalty.  People who'd done it told me that the island would get old quick, but it was cold as hell in Wisconsin, and it sounded good to us, right up until the property down there got taken out by a hurricane.  They offered me another position in Baltimore, to oversee the upgrade of the Renaissance Baltimore Inner Harbor's IT systems.  That took about a year, and by then I was getting tired of hotel IT.  I looked around for a job that didn't mean moving, and found that Micros Systems was right down the road.

After a couple of interviews with different departments, I took a position with Micros Professional Services, a group that wrote custom software add-ons and enhancements for the core products.  It sounded more like my thing than straight R&D work.  In my first 5 weeks I wrote an Excel reporting application that created a set of hotel specific reports from data exported from the POS.  It took what was 4 or more hours of labor for a night auditor keying in numbers off of different reports and searching for individual checks to break out various details and translated it into 5-10 minutes of Excel flashing and cranking away.  It's still being sold today in pretty much the original form I wrote it as far as I know.  At $5k per installation, it's one of the most profitable items in the installations where it's sold.  No idea as to their total revenue from those first 5 weeks, but it's not a small number.  It's getting a little tired, and I've learned a lot since then, maybe I can sell them a new version and keep a piece of that for myself this time…

I wrote a lot of code, hundreds, if not thousands of custom applications over the next several years.  From simple one off custom report generators to huge enterprise wide accounting interfaces.  Directors of client companies called the CEO claiming the success of their projects depended on me, so I worked way too much, as I liked the feeling of being needed.  It was something I was good at, because I knew the business from the ground up and could relate to the pain I was being asked to make go away.

After a while I got tired of the one off projects, I had a big idea and designed and wrote an add-on product for the table service restaurant market in between other custom projects.  It did customer loyalty, order history, delivery with caller ID, gift cards and accounts receivable for individual restaurants.  It got a lot of attention, and ended up being turned into an official product.  It’s still sold today, in pretty much the same form, the back office user interface is still the same thing I wrote setting in a corner table of the hotel bar during VSLive in San Francisco.  From what I was told it had made nearly $16 million in just license revenue for them after just a few years on the market by the time I left the company.  Sounds like it wasn't a bad idea, despite the grumbling about the way I wrote it.
In little political power struggle, I was 'temporarily' assigned to work with R&D transferring the add-on to their care so it could be a fully supported product, and while I was out of the group Micros dissolved their Professional Services department.  I ended up working for various groups with the core POS development teams.

I added the multi-lingual features to the Micros 9700.  It was an interesting project; you can flip between any of the configured languages on screen; i.e. you could toggle from English to Chinese to Japanese, etc. as well as print the order tickets or guest checks in any of the configured languages.  Printing was the hardest part, for the first trade shows it was shown at I generated bitmap images of the checks using the different language fonts in Windows and printed them as graphics on a high speed thermal printer that Epson had stuffed into a TM-T88 printer case, so it looked like a standard one.  For production we worked with Epson to design multi-lingual printing features into an interface card for their printers, so that we wouldn't have to send all the bitmap data and choke the network in a busy site.  It was one of the more interesting projects I worked on while in R&D.

But family life was getting difficult.  We now had three kids under 2 and no family within a 12 hour drive, which was making life a little rough at home, especially when I got put back on the road writing custom stuff again.  Most of our childless friends around Baltimore and DC kind of faded out of our lives once we had the kids, we weren't able to go out for dinner and drinks easily, or have dinner parties, so we just didn't fit with the BC (Before Children) lifestyle.  We decided to move back to Wisconsin where my wife's family was from, and I'd try to start up a new business writing custom software for the industry.  I had software installed pretty much worldwide with Micros customers, and thanks to the things I'd written my name was fairly well know in the reseller community, so I took the leap.  I got a few big accounts that I'd worked with while at Micros to use me and some of the dealers were quick to hand off my info to customers wanting more than they could deliver, so I hit the ground running.

In June of 2014 Oracle acquired Micros Systems and the POS world was in upheaval for a while.  One of the things that was good for us was that Oracle didn't really want to do endless customization projects, which were a part of almost every Micros install.  They wanted partners to pick up the bulk of this work and let them concentrate on product development.  It took some doing, but eventually I managed to convince them that On The Mark Solutions was a good choice for a partner that solely focused on system integration work and wasn't a reseller.

It's been 16 years now, and while I get frustrated with the business from time to time, I do enjoy the work.  I have a number of other ex-Micros employees working with me now and we're building up impressive portfolios of projects and customers.  I have a 10 second commute from the kitchen table to my office most days, get to see my kids every day except when I travel and I do work on some interesting projects.  I've decided it's time to get back to documenting a bit of what we are doing these days by writing it down, perhaps it will help me get the word out about some of the interesting work we're doing.

Mark Tutt - On The Mark Solutions


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