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Thursday, May 13, 2010

How'd that happen?

As many of you know, I'm an IT guy. I'm the guy you call when your hard drive fails, or you think you've accidentally installed a virus. I'm the guy who comes and tells you that the reason your keyboard stopped working is the 12oz of diet coke you spilled in it makes the keyboard unhappy. (Keyboards are allergic to aspartame. Oh, and water...) But it wasn't always that way. I didn't always have the answers to your computer questions.

I was a slacker in school. From as early as I remember, I was completely disinterested in school work, homework, or just about any other activity that ended with "work". Truth be told, I'm still not all that enthusiastic about some of those words... Yard work, for example. Every time I do it, I end up with poison ivy. (just getting over a case of it now).

My personality is such that I'm extremely prone to distraction and procrastination. Why put off until tomorrow what you could do next week? My only saving grace was that I was blessed with good luck when I needed it, and an agile mind. Unfortunately, as a child, the latter of the two was used to try to figure out how to avoid work, and get away with as much as possible. ...and I was good at both of those things.

School, as I said was not a primary interest as a kid. I spent a lot of time staring out the windows, doodling on my papers, and waiting for the next break time. I had the knack of picking up just about enough information that I could squeak by, and managed to make my way into High school. Anyone who went to Brookline High (at least in the mid '90s) will tell you that the amount of freedom those students have is not necessarily conducive to learning... If you didn't have a class scheduled during a particular time, you were free to do as you pleased. Leave campus, hang out in the hallways, sit in the cafe, etc. I had a hard time understanding why some kids chose to schedule study halls during those breaks when they could just go home, or go to the local pizza joint for an hour or so. It's a shame the things that we see clearly as adults, but not as kids when the opportunities are free!

Senior year, I think I spent perhaps two hours a day in actual classes, and the rest of the day (because I'd gotten all my necessities out of the way during the first three years) at a friend's house, who happened to live across the street, playing Mario Kart and Golden eye on his Nintendo64.

The only reason I made it outta High School was that I could usually reason my way through things. Stuff, most of the time, just plain made sense to me, except for Math... I'm terrible with numbers. I struggled through that junk... But Science, Biology, Chemistry, I had an aptitude for, which for some meant an easy A. For me it meant an effortless C-/D+. Hey, a passing grade is a passing grade, and that meant my quality of life went up! I could get by, and goof off as much as possible! I'd have been a hell of a philosopher.

The luck part of things was only really just starting to manifest for me around High School. Prior to, I had no real luck to speak of either good or bad. I have three older brothers who were all IN High School when I was born. They'd made their way out, one way or another, and were but a memory by the time I hit town. However, there were still a good number of teachers who remembered them. They too were not the most enthusiastic of students, but were likable, I gather. That seemed to work in my favor. I treated the teachers like they were friends and I swear, it paid off. I even had one teach refuse to fail me because she knew I had the potential to pass. Hell yea, I thought. Less work for me! (I'd really like to go back and kick myself in the ass when I think about that.)

I applied to only one college senior year, Wentworth Institute of Technology. They accepted me. As it turns out, you can pretty much just walk into Wentworth, as long as you pay your bill... I, like millions of other kids, applied and received financial aide. I told them I'd do something for work study, which is basically getting a job on campus for which you get paid peanuts, but they give you a small scholarship, or a break on the price or something. (I never did get that job, by the way...). Somehow, I was awarded a Grant, as well as a "Merit Scholarship"! MERIT scholarship. That means, I did SO well in High School that they handed me money!! Someone wasn't doing their job, if you ask me. There's no way in hell I should have ever been rewarded for my High School work even with a diploma, let alone a scholarship! ...But there it was. I took it.

I'd selected Mechanical engineering because people told me it was good. As it turns out, it's not. Mechanical engineering, and really engineering in general just plain sucks. My humble apologies to any and all engineers who may or may not be reading this, but my friend, I hate your job. I'd rather flip burgers. About that: I don't know how any kid is supposed to know what he or she wants to learn in college, based on what they were taught in High School. I had absolutely no idea what Mechanical Engineering was, nor did I have any clue what my alternatives were... I mean, granted, perhaps I could have talked with a guidance counselor, or gone to the career center, but those things were not required to graduate, so I didn't even consider them until a couple years ago. Never occurred to me. I take perhaps half the blame there for being a crappy student, but in my defense, no one ever really pointed it out either. Or maybe I wasn't listening...

Anyway, I stayed in Wentworth, and even though I failed classes, I was still allowed to return, and even take classes for which I'd failed prerequisites! "You can't take Kinematics until you've taken Statics, and Strength of Materials!" Evidentially, it doesn't matter if you've failed either of, or both Statics and Strength of Materials.

I still have those text books though. You know, they sell you these text books at $90 a whack, and then expect you to WRITE IN THEM! I adamantly refused to mar the surface of a book for which I'd spent $90. I also refused to sell said books back to the library for pennies on the dollar, which means to this day, somewhere... perhaps in my garage, I'm really not sure, is a pile of shiny new outdated text books doing absolutely nothing, and worth just about as much. ...but it was the principal of the thing, you understand. One of those books was a result of sheer luck too... On my way to school, I happened to find $90 on the ground. I was ecstatic all morning, until I purchased a book that cost $95 that afternoon. Found $90, for a net profit of -$5.

It got to the point where I stopped going to some of my classes all together, and played my acoustic guitar in the cafeteria all day. I figured I'd paid already, might as well hang around until I get to try again next semester, right? Drop those classes I was failing, so that it wouldn't end up as an F in my average, and take em again. Seemed like a good plan. Never occurred to me that my plan might not work.

Long story only slightly shorter, I ran out of financial aide money, and was asked to stop coming back mid semester. I missed a couple of weeks, while I managed to find the funds, and came back. However, you cannot catch up after missing two weeks of college, particularly if you were I. I failed more classes, and realized I was in the wrong place. I went out into the work force, installing HVAC ductwork.

Construction and it's related trades is a tough place to be, and if you don't love it, it's even worse. I didn't love it, but neither did I really mind it. I learned a lot about work ethic and missed opportunity while hanging duct work. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and always physically demanding. I won't say I don't miss it sometimes, but neither will I ever... EVER... go back to it.

My time in college wasn't a total waste, even though I spent a total of something like $26,000 and have no credentials to show for it. This was where my luck finally started to work for me. I met two great loves there. First and foremost, I met my wife there. Second, I had my first experience with a really good English teacher. It was also the first time in my school career that the assigned reading wasn't completely disinteresting to me. That's right, I fell in love with the written word in a freaking technical college, and realized I should have been an English major or something else to do with writing... Talk about irony.

I also had taken a CAD class (Computer Aided Drafting) which I failed, not because I couldn't do it, just because I didn't... One of the friends that I'd made there found me an opportunity to work for a Engineering firm in downtown Boston DRAWING ductwork. This was a big deal... Getting out of summer attics and winter basements, no more sheet metal splinters, no more falling off of ladders... A huge decline in industrial accident potential... I walked into the company, no appointment, no resume, wearing jeans, sneakers and an old beaten polo shirt, and asked for a job. The guy I met looked at me incredulously and said... "Oooookay...". He gave me the CAD test, and I thought I was on candid camera or something. It was a simple circle, and a few lines. It was a diagram for a water heater, but I'd drawn more complex things with both hands tied behind my back using "The Force". I was offered a job on the spot.

Computers were never really something I'd done much with, but they seemed to just make sense to me. Software, hardware, was all rather intuitive. I'd made friends with the company's IT guy, who was really a mechanical designer with some aptitude for IT stuff. One day, he quit. Because if my proximity to him, I was now the guy they relied on. The server died a few weeks later, and I got up to my elbows in parts. When I got it up and running, it was perhaps the most satisfying thing I'd done professionally in my life.

I'd like to say that I am where I am today as a result of hard work, diligence and/or tenacity... Truth be told, I owe my station in life to a series of fortunate events. It's been said before "I'd rather be lucky than good", and although I don't know if I necessarily agree with the statement, it seems to have worked for me so far!