How It All Came to Pass – My Unhappy Accidental Life in IT

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When I need to work things through in my head, I write them down. Writing helps me refine things, get them into quasi-logical order. Getting intangible thoughts put down where I can really look at them helps a great deal.

I share a lot of those thoughts here, because I enjoy sharing things with people. Too, if someone reads this and is assisted in some small way, then I feel I have accomplished a little something. Rarely, when I’m “on,” I believe my writing is pretty good. Other times, such as now, it is merely long-winded and self-indulgent.

But I’m going through this process right now, and I need to write.

Before we go forward, let me take you back twenty years. Yup, that’s a long time; you won’t hurt my feelings if you bail now.

I had a ridiculously easy time with pre-college schooling. My brain was a sponge, my attention span laser-like. Unlike now, when a mole in the next county farts and distracts me away from whatever I’m doing, people in class could carry on entire conversations I would just Tune Out and focus on the teacher. Easy Mode. My grades reflected all of this (all except for Algebra II, mind you, which I barely passed.)

At Umich, I went from being very much above average to just exceedingly Average. Possibly below average. I’ll never know, because I never fully applied myself. But I’m skipping ahead here, let me go back to freshman orientation.

As I was being oriented, we were led, cattle-like, through the mazes of Registering for Classes. During this process, I had to declare a major. Without hesitation, I declared Biology. I remember it printed out very neatly in dot-matrix lettering. All-caps: BIOLOGY. I thrilled with anticipation.

Later, probably that same day, I took a look at the actual Biology course of study, and I noted with huge alarm how much Chemistry was involved. My Chem experience in high school was not easy or fun. Later, at LCC, chemistry would be a bit easier and a bit more fun, so perhaps it was the high school instruction that led me down the wrong path chem-wise, but I saw those stacks of Chemistry courses and I ran fleeing.

I didn’t even look back.

Nope, I redeclared as English (ENGLISH). There was no chem in the English curriculum, thank goodness. Later, I would re-redeclare CLASSICAL LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE, which was the closest thing to Mythology Umich had. Yet later, I would re-re–redeclare several more things. In the end, six years after I started, I needed a fast exit path. I was fried. I found Sociology to be the shorted distance between me and my BA and I jumped on that train.

Let me back up slightly, yet again.

Trying to take classes my freshman and sophomore years was a stupid idea. Having come from a repressive mother who controlled my every action, I was far, far too busy discovering what sort of person I was outside of her sphere of influence. There were people to get to know (myself included,) new things to explore, all manner of harmless trouble to get into, especially in a co-ed dorm. I quickly befriended the boys’ floor two stories down and we spent all of our time playing Euchre, Pinochle, watching Batman and Get Smart, going out dancing and so forth. Those amongst us who were Motivated also went to class. I stayed up all night and slept most of the days.

Those days hold a bright and shining place in my heart. I made wonderful friends, only a few of which I managed to keep in touch with, because I am the world’s worst friend. I can reach out and touch their faces in my mind, though, particularly Jon, Julian, George, Mike, Little Christine, Howlie, and Dawgnut. My little pack. My tribe. All of whom have gone on to be fabulous and brilliant and quite well put-together.

Being an only child from a small town, I think I was more overwhelmed by all the light and noise than they were. I faltered.

The classes I enjoyed, I 4.0’d. Those I did not, I barely passed. Some, I failed. Others, I withdrew from late enough to have a permanent “W” on my student record. I was on academic probation more than once. I enrolled in classes that sounded awesome (European History, Art History, Political Science, Religion, Biological Anthropology, Socio-Linguistics,) but few of them could compete with becoming my own person. Celtic History, Creative Writing and a few other classes made the cut and I adhered to their schedules almost religiously.

Lectures with study sections were a whole nother story. My TA’s often had no idea who I was, because I rarely showed up to sections. I often didn’t turn in my homework. Once, I showed up to what I thought was an exam review session in the general lecture and walked into the final exam itself. FUN TIMES (I will be happy to share with anyone how that series of events went in a non-public forum.)

In 1991, I realized I was in too far over my head. I had been working at a nightclub, and in that atmosphere I got sucked into all the odious, sticky drama. I had obliterated a truly amazing relationship, my roommate and I had a hard-core drug addict living with us in our tiny, shitty, filthy apartment, I had no money, I was failing more classes than usual and I was depressed. I moved home to my parent’s house, found a job as a receptionist for a real estate company and said “screw this school nonsense.” I had Washed Out, man. Failed.

Two years later, I was going to Lansing Community College for 16 credits and working full-time. I was excelling. I had my academic groove back! And thus, I went back to Umich to finish what I had started. I found my Sociology, Criminology and Deviance path, cranked out all 3.5’s to 4.0’s in those last two years, and graduated. It was not particularly climactic; it had been, after all, seven years since I started. Most of my friends were all gone on to bigger and better things, or had gone on to smaller and worse things in some cases. I wasn’t the only one who had washed out, but we were in the minority. It was probably my relative isolation that accounted for my success. Not only was my resolve renewed, but I had far fewer distractions. I actually read textbooks! Insanity.

I was just so glad to be done with school – “Never. Again.” I vowed, firmly believing that I couldn’t ever possibly bring myself to go through all that nonsense again. I had nightmares for well over a decade about the failures, missed assignments and generally being A Bad Student. The thing is, though, I brought it all upon myself. Had I balanced out school and play, I would have been fine. I likely would not have graduated in four years, because I had a lot of mind-making-up to do, but I would have come out a better person, and certainly a better-educated one. I missed out on a vast number of opportunities, purely because of bad decisions and confused priorities. So it goes.

The exact chain of events leading me to work for the Umich Information Technology Division is one of life’s little details that is somewhat foggy. I avidly participated in an online conference called Meet:Students, and I suspect one of my geeky friends there got me in. Too, my dad spent much of his career as a geek, and when I was young, he taught me a lot about the current technology – how to program in BASIC, how to use the remote terminal services at the MSU library (this was back in the 70’s.) I had a fairly high degree of confidence in the technology arena.

My first ITD position at Umich was simply a computer babysitter; I handed out computer assignments in the brand new Angell Hall computing facility, stocked to the gills with its shiny new Mac Quadras and SE’s. Later, I was promoted to a support person, where I manned a support desk in the same center and helped students who had inserted their disks into the Macs upside-down and backwards. I showed them how to use MS Word and how to check their email. I learned how to write HTML and set up my first website – a collection of about 1000 pages even less interesting than the blog you’re reading now.

I was still excelling, and it was still easy. The technology was small and friendly and mostly GUI-based. I got passed up the chain to more important spots and finally found myself on the Unix team. This is where things began to go very badly. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true – but I was in over my head. I performed the most menial tasks on the team, but I was still having a good time. I had a spacious office that I shared with a really cool woman, my schedule was basically “come and go as I please, just get stuff done,” and I got to hang out with The Cool Nerds. It was fun and nice. I got sent to various and sundry Solaris conferences and received various Certifications, but this is when things stopped sticking. I realized I didn’t have a natural gift and that things were progressing far beyond “here, let me show you how to stick a paperclip into the eject hole.”

There were various and sundry personal dramas along the way, naturally, but I’ll spare you all those details. You’re welcome!

I looked up to many of the people I worked with; they were brilliant and very good at what they did. I, too, wanted to be very good at what I was doing, but I was having a hell of a time getting there. I took to Unix like a fish takes to gravel. I started getting antsy, and took a month off to ride around the country on my motorcycle. I still recall riding across the Michigan/Indiana border on a glorious, sunny morning and thinking, “I am not going to be back here for a whole month,” and how good that felt. I’d met some pretty awesome people called Long Distance Riders, and had spent a lot of time in various parts of the country meeting them and having a hell of a great time. During a week I spent in Seattle, I decided that was where I wanted to be.

When I returned home, it was the end of September. Three weeks later, I had a job interview back in Seattle, and a week after that I had secured a job at Boeing as a second-level Unix support team lead. I moved Christmas Day. At Boeing, I was 100% completely over my head. Fortunately, I was in more of a supervisory position and did not actually have to do a lot of support. I was making pretty good money, too, and that’s what really sunk the hook into me. It’s also what led to my financial deconstruction a few years later, but that’s another story.

That long-winded explanation demonstrates a few things, naturally, but the two main points here are 1.) how I got into the IT field, and 2.) how I can effect Big Changes Very Quickly if I am motivated. Damn skippy.

Time to do that again!

Posts at least a little bit like this one:

Failures, Lifestyle, Mental Well-Being

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