Baldwin EMC retiree Joe Sopr sits down with employee Tommy Higginbotham

Mr. Joe Sopr retired as Information Technology (IT) manager in 2010. We asked him to sit down with Tommy Higginbotham, who has served as the co-op’s IT manager since October of 2015.

Tommy Higginbotham: What was it that brought you to Baldwin EMC back in 1979?
Joe Sopr: I had been working for a bank in Mobile and heard that Baldwin EMC had a computer system but was looking for a programmer. I applied and was hired about two weeks later.

T.H.: I understand that you basically programmed all of the systems (the co-op) used to store member data and all the reporting.
J.S.: Yes, we were using an old Honeywell system when I got here. Back then, everything was batch processing. We had punch cards for payroll, billing, inventory, accounts receivable and that was about it. Of course, we only had two billing cycles and about 14,000 accounts.

T.H.: How many locations did the IT department have?
J.S.: There were four of us in the department and we were all here in Summerdale. We didn’t have a network at all until IBM came out with a system that was small and had internal drives, a lot more memory and a lot more disk space, and that was a Godsend.

T.H.: What were some of your challenges?
J.S.: Actually, one of the biggest challenges was getting all of the data off the Honeywell and onto the new system. The biggest part was converting the (member) database. On a Friday afternoon we shut down early and had to take five or six of these disk drives to convert over the weekend. I put them in the trunk of my car and my wife and I drove from here to Atlanta to the Honeywell service center to convert all of the data to tape. We did that, drove home, and got up on Sunday morning to drive the tape to the IBM center in Mobile to convert the tape
back to diskettes. We plugged those into the IBM on Monday morning and everything was running again.

T.H.: What are some of your favorite memories about working here?
J.S.: We were able to develop so many applications after getting that IBM system and that was a lot of fun for me. I liked the challenge of coming up with a system to make another
department more efficient. Like for the vehicles – transportation needed a way to systematically maintain the vehicles, so we came up with a program and every Monday they would get a report about which vehicles needed an oil change or were due to be serviced.

T.H.: Is there anything you miss about working at Baldwin EMC?
J.S.: My favorite thing about the job is also what I miss the most, and that was working with everyone in all the other departments to help them solve a problem. For a long time, since I developed a lot of the programs, I also knew how to fix them when there was an issue. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the people I worked with every day.