PCCA’s Programming Department Keeps Business Running Smoothly
By Lynette Cockerell
An underlying web of programs and applications written and diligently monitored by PCCA’s programming staff make it possible for the daily operations of the various divisions of the cooperative to run smoothly.
Ultimately, 11 people are responsible for the programs required for PCCA to market cotton, operate cotton warehousing facilities, manufacture denim at the American Cotton Growers textile facility, offer an accounting system for cotton gins, provide reports for all PCCA divisions, and support the day-to-day operations required by a large-scale cotton business.
The programming staff in the cooperative’s IS (Information Systems) department is vitally important to PCCA. Computer programs tell the coop’s computers what to do—which information to identify and access, how to process it, and what equipment to use. Each of PCCA’s programmers has a particular area of expertise because programs vary widely depending on the type of information to be accessed or generated.
For instance, the instructions involved in updating financial records are very different from those required to track inventory at a cotton warehouse. Work is not complete once a program is written because programmers continually update, modify, and expand existing programs. The seemingly unending process has been going on for years at PCCA.
“We have one of the few state-of–the-art information technology departments in this area,” Joe Tubb, PCCA’s vice president of Information Systems explained. “In the early days, PCCA had an in-house programming department when not many businesses did, and it has been an asset to the coop. PCCA still invests in innovative technology, and I applaud Wally Darneille, our board, and our members for being forward thinking and allowing us to do so,” Tubb added.
A company known for its innovation, PCCA’s programming department has existed for more than 30 years. In the 1970s, an electronic marketing system called TELCOT was developed. The introduction of TELCOT changed everything, ending forever the days of trading cotton armed with a bale book and telephone.
The TELCOT system provided a centralized place for buyers and sellers to trade cotton via computers connected to PCCA’s mainframe computer. It also opened up new opportunities at PCCA, especially in the area of computer programming. TELCOT eventually became the foundation for The Seam, an online trading system which led to the conversion from a mainframe system to an Intel- based system in 2000.
“During the four year conversion from mainframe to Intel, the programming staff re-wrote 5,400 programs and 1,500 screens that had been created in the last 30 years,” Tubb said. “We cleaned up 30 years worth of programming and started virtually from scratch. Currently, we have approximately 7,500 programs and more than 2,000 screens.”
Bill Curnow, PCCA’s application infrastructure architect, is responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining the software and systems that are the foundation of PCCA’s applications. He actually creates the software the other programmers use to build PCCA’s systems. Curnow specializes in process automation and optimization and serves as PCCA’s webmaster. He also is the author of PCCA’s web-based security system as well as its job-control and printing systems. Curnow brought the technology to PCCA that eventually allowed the cooperative to make TELCOT a web-based system.
The system dropped in their laps was completely foreign to them, and yet, in four short weeks they managed to move our entire trading system over to the new system. That’s no small accomplishment and speaks to the quality of PCCA’s people.
“That was the start of a very frantic and exhausting, yet exhilarating, conversion,” Curnow said. “During the height of the conversion, I was working an average of 75 hours a week, and it seemed like we spent more time here than at home,” he added. “I’ve never been more proud of my co-workers. The system dropped in their laps was completely foreign to them, and yet, in four short weeks they managed to move our entire trading system over to the new system. That’s no small accomplishment and speaks to the quality of PCCA’s people,” Curnow said.
Debbie Bolding, PCCA’s Applications Manager, was instrumental in the conversion, and has seen many changes in her 19 years with PCCA. Bolding was on the team of programmers that developed and patented electronic warehouse receipts (EWR) and an electronic title system (ETS) in 1989 which worked hand- in-hand with TELCOT. EWR and ETS were developed to eliminate the need for paper warehouse receipts, improve efficiency, lower costs incurred by gins, producers, and cotton buyers, and to expedite shipments to textile mill customers. Although PCCA owned patents on the two programs, the cooperative shared the new technology with the U.S. cotton industry, making it the standard upon which ownership of U.S. cotton is transferred.
Really, when it comes down to it, every one in this department is dedicated to our work, and we love what we do.”
Bolding, a native of Morton, Texas, graduated from Midwestern University in Wichita Falls, Texas, before accepting a programming position at Mathis, West, Huffhines & Co. Five years later, she joined the PCCA staff. She now oversees programming on all software for gin services applications, the denim mill, merchandising services, sales, warehousing and all in-house applications.
“The people in our department are a family,” Bolding explained with a smile. “We work very hard, but we have fun together at the same time. We never know when a problem will arise, and there have been times when we’ve stayed at work all night so things will run the next morning. Really, when it comes down to it, everyone in this department is dedicated to our work, and we love what we do,” she said.
Bolding oversees seven other programmers and one intern, all of whom have degrees in Management Information Systems (MIS). The majority of PCCA’s programmers are from Texas; Kym Yelvington and Brandon Smith are originally from Lubbock, Michelle Browning is from Canyon, Todd Bovkoon hails from Brownfield, LeShel Rich is from El Paso, Adam Foley is from Garland, and John Duncan grew up in Gruver. Intern Linda Hageman traveled to Texas from Gardner, Mass., 25 years ago and has called Lubbock her home since 1987.
Although Hageman began her internship in February of 2007, she knows more about PCCA than the usual new-hire because she is not the typical intern. Her first PCCA internship began in October 1991 while she was in school at Texas Tech University. The internship went well, and Hageman became a full-time employee. Four and a half years later, she left the cooperative to be a stay- at-home mother. After Hageman’s second child started school, she decided to re- join the work force and begin a second internship at PCCA.
“When I left PCCA 11 years ago, we were beginning to make changes to the mainframe programs in preparation for the year 2000,” Hageman explained. “We had different programming languages than we do today, all processing was handled on the large IBM mainframe, and backup files were stored on tapes. Processing now is handled via Microsoft servers which is much more efficient for PCCA. Thanks to PCCA’s ability to be futuristic in its thinking and planning, the coop is in a very good place, developmentally,” she added.
Tubb estimates more than 50 students have completed the four-month internship program at PCCA since its inception in 1988. Several of PCCA’s current IS staff began at PCCA as interns and were hired as full-time employees upon graduation.
“Our internship program is a win/win situation for both the intern and PCCA,” Tubb said. “The intern gets class credit and real-world experience. It gives PCCA a great opportunity to grow people from within as we get to ‘try out’ a potential employee for a four-month period to see how quickly they pick things up and how well they fit into the cooperative workplace. If we have an opening to fill and an intern who we believe would make a good fit, we try to keep them on with us,” he said.
The talented employees currently on staff certainly fit together. Bolding describes her crew as “a quirky bunch with a great sense of humor.” No one enjoys the individuality and fun spirit of the programming department like Bobbie Weir.
The administrative assistant to the vice president of Information Systems, Weir joined PCCA’s staff almost 10 years ago. She retired early from her position as an elementary school principal in Floydada, Texas, and decided to find a job in a completely different field.
“This is the quirkiest, most individualistic bunch of people I have ever worked with,” Weir said. “The most amazing things happen when each and every one of us bring our strengths to the IS table, and it is such a rich blend when it all comes together. Most days, there is more laughing than fretting, and you couldn’t find a better staff even on their worst day of the year,” Weir explained with a smile.
The future will be filled with continual changes in technology, programs that break, and innovative new programs to be written. PCCA’s programming department will be ready to tackle any challenges that may come along.
“We have a strong programming staff that is able to think logically and pay attention to detail,” Tubb explained. “Our folks are well-rounded because they are involved in programming for almost every aspect of the cotton business. They are good at what they do because they are patient, persistent, and are able to get the job done under pressure, and I am glad to be associated with them,” Tubb concluded.