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Thursday, October 15, 2009

White Pickups, Conversations: Tina Ball


An an aside: this is the 1000th post on TFM. Dat’s a lotta bloggin’.

Hi, I’m Tina. Um… what am I supposed to say?

Whatever you like. Talk about yourself, what you were doing before.

Oh, okay. I am — was — manager of Legacy Product Maintenance at Maxcom. We were one of the bigger IT outsourcing firms. You probably remember our billboards, the ones with pictures of cats. One said, “Better IT service for less scratch,” and another one was “We clean up IT hairballs.” So anyway, legacy product maintenance doesn’t sound too sexy, but it was one of the higher-margin portions of our business. I had eight people working under me, nine if you count Jaya, our contractor. We had maintenance contracts, and they could ding our margins like when Vista then Windows 7 came out, but most of the time it was just a matter of keeping the customers happy with minor fixes.

What were the “sexy” parts of an IT business?

Oh, the big thing was the worldwide data centers. We had the primary one in Atlanta, of course; there was also one in Bahrain, one in Indonesia, and we were almost done with the center in Hilo when everyone drove off. Pretty much everyone wanted to transfer to Hilo, but we had a policy of hiring local labor as much as possible. It helped with the contracts and so forth. Personally, I think the data center in Bahrain was the most interesting — it was all solar powered and used underground water pipes to help with cooling. We were doing something similar in Hilo.

We monitored loads and electric rates at each data center, and shifted applications from one to the next in real time. To the user, it looked seamless — they might notice a slight delay during the state transfer, but that was it.

So what about yourself? Atlanta native, education, that sort of thing…

Haha, who’s an Atlanta native? I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, went to Ohio State, got a degree in Computer Science and an MBA. I met Charles in college, we got married about a month before I graduated — April 7, 1993 — and then we both got job offers in Atlanta. He was teaching biology at Georgia State, and I went to the IT department at Coke. I lasted a year there, got a better offer from Maxcom, and jumped ship. He stayed with State right up to the end. Kelly was our only child, she came along in December '94 — she’ll be 18 this winter. He didn’t want to have more than one kid because he thought there were too many people already, and I guess he was right… at the time, anyway. Me, I couldn’t juggle more than one kid and keep my career. We moved out to the suburbs in 2000 when the dot-bomb dropped and it was easy to find a house for not a lot of money. I wanted to make sure Kelly had good schools and a safe environment, and the house was a good investment. We weren’t getting anything for our rent but a two-bedroom condo close to our work.

We got divorced in 2008, not long after I got this promotion. He… well, there really isn’t any way to get around it, is there? He was gay, but he said he never could even admit it to himself until then. I wondered sometimes if that was an excuse to get away… I was devoting a lot more time and energy to my career than I was to the marriage, although I tried to be there for Kelly whenever I could. So next thing I know, he left me for another man. To be honest with you, I’m still trying to process that after three years.

It almost sounds like you had a bigger problem with the gay thing than the divorce thing.

*sigh* That sounds horrible, but I really can’t deny it. Much. Let’s say they were equally big problems for me. My parents were really conservative Baptists. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell them what really happened with our marriage, they had enough problems with the idea that their “little girl” got a divorce in the first place. They started with the I-told-you-so stuff, because Charles wasn’t much of a believer to begin with. He went to church a few times with me when we were dating, but neither of us bothered to go once we moved to Atlanta. They put on a happy face for us while we were married, but they never really warmed up to him in the first place, and vice versa.

But yeah, it was like a punch in the gut when Charles “came out” to me, as they say. I’d been brought up to think of gays as “them,” and now my own husband was one of “them”? I didn’t handle it well. I told him to get out, and that’s just what he did. We haven’t talked much since then, mostly to schedule visits with Kelly. They get along pretty well, and I guess I need to start trying myself.

So what do you think happened? Why are you still here?

I don’t have the foggiest idea, about what happened, anyway. Some of the others like to throw theories around. Why I’m still here? I guess it was because when I walked out Friday, and heard that… thing… calling to me, I knew I had to decide what was more important to me. I decided I had to be there for Kelly.

Back to Episode 4…


  1. The power of love. It kept Tina from an early demise. Or so it seem, Far.

  2. Having seen certain parents give their all to the special task of taking care of someone as they come into their own in the world ~ yes, it's something special.

  3. Yup, it's basically something like that. Given Tina's relationship with (and distance from) her parents, Kelly pretty much is her family.


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