the Bohemian years

February 1994 – March 2000

The sometimes comic and sometimes sad memoir of the life of a stranger in a strange land. The title is a little pun and omits my favourite half of the Czech Republic, Moravia.

Initially went there on whim and a particularly lucrative contract on what turned at to be the worst IT project I have ever been involved with. Unisys were implementing a whole new banking system for Česká spořitelna the biggest bank in the Czech Republic. Met by taxi at Prague airport, I was taken 200 kilometres to Brno, the country’s second city, 1 February 1994. After my first day at work in the Brno data centre, I was taken to the Brno Holiday Inn which is where I lived for 3 months. The job itself was to train, mentor and support the bank’s operations and technical staff at its Brno data centre. Phew ! Only a couple of them spoke much English so we the Brits in situ depended on two interpreters.. There were just the four of us compared to the massive ex-pat presence in Prague where the development work was being done, developing localisation for a team based in Uxbridge, UK. The aim of the project was quite simple – to provide the bank with an all singing, all dancing IT system where each and every transaction was applied in real time to all affected accounts such that the individual customer and the bank would know their position in a few seconds. Nice except that Unisys UK had sold the bank what is known in the trade as vapourware and a lot of fine  hardware. – it was a multi-million dollar contract. Us grunts in Brno were cut off from what was going on a Prague, did our jobs diligently and developed relationships with the Brno staff. Except we began to develop doubts about the systems not bring deliver and not working when they were. We kept in touch with Prague in the UK with a very early analogue mobile telephone and via fax. Our suspicions ere aroused when the end of day house-keeping run took more than 24 hours to run – do the math – and this was supposed to be an essentially real time system. Hohum. The project was financialy corrupt too, since the contract specified that the bank would pay the expenses of Unisys staff, there was am expense feeding frenzy in Prague. The basic contract was very good and the expense allowance absurd so all lived very well. Everyone was entitled to a flight back to the UK every weeks  at the going rate between Prague and Heathrow  for a full standard economy return was £450 (the two national carriers, British Airways and CSA, operated a very cosy cartel). Vienna Scwechat was much closer, albeit across two borders – Czech republic -> Slovakia -> Austria – to Brno than Prague so we in Brno made our own travel arrangements. It was suggested that the Unisys CZ person responsible for all travel arrangements was making a considerable personal commission from each £450 fare that was booked but I could not possibly comment. Of course there were taxis at each end, one of life’s simple pleasures has got to be arriving at LHR and getting a black cab to east London. On top of the lucrative travel arrangements, ex-pat staff had their accommodation cost paid plus a per diem equivalent to $25 a day. Lush. The theory was work hard, play hard but in reality there was much more of the latter. There is a lot of good beer in the Czech Republic so the whole of the Prague set-up was conducted in an alcoholic haze, revolving around just a few pubs.’ Well if you give everyone close on 1,000 CZK a day in an environment where a pint (actually half a litre)  costs 40 CZK a day… and after pub closing time, there was always a choice of clubs to go to…


About warriet

little known
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