This is a transcript of an audio interview. This transcript may contain errors - if you're using this material for research, etc. please verify with the original recorded interview.
Source: ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast
Interviewer: Kevin Savetz
Kevin: I'm Kevin Savetz and this is an interview episode of Antic the Atari 8-bit podcast.
Boxes! Your Atari computers and game cartridges came in boxes, someone was responsible for producing those boxes. Joe was the guy. Joe Villialobos was materials planner at Atari in El Paso Texas from 1980 to 1982. He was responsible for the planning and expediting of materials used in the production of video game cartridges. This interview took place May 6th, 2015.
Kevin: So I understand you were an Materials Planner at Atari from 1980 to 1982?
Kevin: So responsible for the planning and expediting of materials used in the production of video game cartridges?
Kevin: Can you tell me what that means?
Joe: Sure. Actually I was responsible mainly for materials that are involved in the creation of the cartridges, for example the packaging, the carton that used to package the cartridges, but I also expedited the plastics as well as the labels. The cartridge also took on some springs and of course some electronics. My emphasis was mostly in the packaging end, for instance the cardboard box which housed, or was the master for all the little boxes that housed the cartridge. I remember distinctly that back then we were running into problems where the production lines were getting congested with so much packaging material and I found out that the reason behind it is because the way we work material transferring our inventory from the stock room to production basically lends itself for an accumulation of that inventory. So I developed a system, it was a manual system where I setup a rack, so we physically and visually see how many pallets of each of the materials was on hand for production and only move the materials when we saw empty spots in the rack. That basically took care of the problem which we had so much congestion of packaging material back then. So that was one of the concepts that I introduced while I was at Atari. But uh, one of the biggest benefits that I received personally from working with Atari is that fact that was my first job where I really learned that I could work with materials and materials management which basically opened my doors to other bigger companies later on and it was a fantastic first step for me to actually be at Atari and work for Atari.
Kevin: So you said you were mostly dealing with the boxes, the cardboard for boxes. Would Atari, was it buying material like that was preprinted by some other place, or where you guys actually running a print shop to print boxes.
Joe: No, no, we did not have a print shop, we basically, that was what the buyers would basically buy, there were stationed in Sunnyvale California. We would only purchased orders, it was up to me to actually expedite, in other words get the materials moved from the suppliers over to the factory and do it in expedition manner. And if we needed to expedite it, it means we were running low on something, and the material was not there it was up to me to call and coordinate the shipments and then get it, get it moving. So that's basically what I was doing back then, was expediting the material. [???] orders through suppliers throughout the United States and it was ordered originally from out headquarters in Sunnyvale California.
Kevin: Do you know how many SKUs you were responsible for, about, was it thousands, hundreds?
Joe: No, no, it wasn't that much. See the thing is that the plant I worked with in El Paso Texas all we manufactured was the game cartridges. We later started building the consoles. That was towards the end when I was there. But during the duration that I was employed there we were basically building the cartridges, and the cartridges don't really require that much amount of material. You basically have a housing, a plastic housing, you have some wires in there and of course you have the electronics there are already, basically built through an electronic company. And then the workers would basically assembly that cartridge that plastic cartridge, pack it into a printed carton and then it goes in to a master carton of cardboard boxes and into a pallet. There really wasn't that much, so I think from a SKU perspective I think I was managing somewhere between 20 and 30 SKUs, but it was the volume, the amount of volume we were moving through that factory, it was substantial and very fast moving.
Kevin: Can you tell me a story where something was, there was an interesting problem, or perhaps something was much more popular then you expected, or you had to many of something, or that was trouble during you day?
Joe: So yeah, the biggest problem that we were running back then, and bear in mind it was before the introduction of high caliber computers which now a days takes care our inventory. Back then we were running a cardex system, meaning materials come in somebody was responsible for writing down the receipt and if there was any excess, then you have to basically go into those card systems and adjust them. So it was a challenge, it was a challenge back then to keep our inventory straight. And, uh, what I remember in helping in the cycle count system, so we would take those cardex we would go out into the stockroom and physically count what our material was and then come back and adjust if we had variances. The problem at the beginning was pretty substantial, I mean we were getting quite a bit of variance, but just going through the cycle count process we discovered that we could learn from, from some of the variance that were were seeing and be able to make a study of why we were getting those variances and then of course come back and re-adjust out processes and procedures so it accommodate and improvement [???] of it, and slowly but surely we started getting that inventory under control. Later on we asked a person that was working there who knew a little about programming, to maybe put something together in a computer, that we could maybe just start recording some of our entries and exits and see if a computer would help, and it helped a little bit but then again the computers back then weren't that powerful. So it didn't really help and we continued with the cardex, and to the side we ran little computers. It was a challenge, it was a challenge back then. I remember using the cardex system. And then of course you know nowadays we have these high powered computers and uh, it take care of everything for us, it's just a matter of learning how to use them and learning where all the buttons are and what they do, and the navigation behind them. It's quite interesting.
Kevin: So you're using a word I don't know, card-ex?
Joe: Oh, cardex, ok. So a cardex system is a filing system for cards, you know like index cards. That index card basically was, you know had lines, where you can basically have you date and your quantity and maybe a section for a comment. Basically that was your record keeping that you know you record when your receive material and then you record when you move material out. So it was like an in and out type of register.
Kevin: So how did you get your job at Atari.
Joe: It was through a friend. It was my first job right after college. I, uh, had just recently graduated from college with a business degree, but a business degree what I've learned early on was that a degree was only worth as much as what your experience was, so that was one of the things that was holding me back really moving forward in business. But I had a friend who was working there at Atari and she put in a good word for me and I started working there at a very low grade, but I was more interested in was to gain the experience. And it really worked out for me because my next position that I had after Atari, I landed a job with General Motors and that really really helped quite a bit.
Kevin: Wow, nice. It looks like you've been in in one way or another in materials management your entire career.
Joe: Yes, yes, I am going on 30 years. Currently what I am doing right now is I'm working with a software company that does materials management.
Kevin: And how did you time at Atari come to an end?
Joe: It came to an end and I got an offer from General Motors through a recruiter, a recruiter called me up and asked me hey, would you be interested? I said, General Motors, of course I am. So I interviewed and General Motors hired me first as a contractor, and then a year later they gave me a full time position as a General Motors employee. It was really fantastic, it was great. But it basically started from me having that two years of materials management experience at Atari that [??] General Motors.
Kevin: What haven't I asked you that I should have about your time at Atari.
Joe: Oh, yeah, you know interesting enough, I think some of the postings you have on your website, basically the engineers, and that is very interesting reading of course. You know my end never really talked about, I never really did the actual programming or invention of games or involved with the electronics. I always through that was pretty interesting, but at the same time someone needed to take care of the business and that was me, that was my side, making sure we were running that material and people had plenty of work to do during the day but at the end we met our goals financially as well as business oriented. I find it pretty interesting logging into your website reading some of the people who have already contributed, and it's mostly at the end of engineering, I find that interesting. You're talking to someone who's not an engineer by trade.
Kevin: No, no, not at all, I am tried to talk to engineers, and I've talked to secretaries, I'm talking to everybody who worked somehow with the Atari computers. Well thank you so much Joe, appreciate your time.
Joe: Ok, have a nice evening Kevin, take care.