Thursday, February 2, 2012
Being brought up Christian, one of the values I was raised with a type of humility, and out of that, I did not often talk about myself or speak of my accomplishments. Still, today, it seems a little awkward for me to do so, even though I logically recognize that such dialog helps build relationships. That, coupled with a desire to remain anonymous online for my family, is probably why I hadn't thought of doing a bio before. Here it is...
Childhood and Early School
My childhood, thanks to my parents, was spread across Florida, New York, and Tennessee. I claim to be an Yankee or a Southerner as it's convenient. ;-) Or neither when claiming Florida.
In many ways, I felt blessed growing up. We were firmly in the lower-middle class, but, largely taking the Christian message against money to heart, I never really felt like I needed or wanted more.
I had a greater-than-average intelligence, but I had problems with my speech. In elementary school, both the gifted program and the speech program were adders, meaning that I had to remember to pull myself out of class to go to these programs at certain times. The problem was that I was so bored in class that I would distract myself with daydreams, or using my pencils and erasers as toys, and loose all track of time. I regularly missed the gifted and speech programs.
I nearly flunked a couple grades in middle school. At that time, my parents had gone through a divorce. Psychologists would probably suggest my school problems were due to this divorce, but I was actually OK with the divorce. My biggest problem, again, was boredom. School was still very slow, and not very interesting. Although the speech issues had cleared up by then, spelling was my new nemesis, and it still haunts me today. (Curse you, English language!)
I remember one frustrated middle school teacher yanked me out of class one day into the hallway with a grade book in hand. She pointed to a number a bit larger than 100 next to my name and said "Do you know what this is?" I sheepishly said, "No." "This is your IQ, mister," she said. "There is no reason for you to be doing this poorly in school. You need to get your act together, young man, or you are going to end up held back." Of course, at that time, I didn't even know what an IQ score was, let alone what was a good or a bad score.
I still don't know how, but I made it to next grade, 8th. The classes started to get interesting, as I had a couple of really good teachers. I started to pay a little more attention to the teaching, and my grades reflected it. Then we moved.
So I finished 8th grade and the rest of high school in a new place, but my attention to learning continued. I still got bored, but I had learned when and how much I needed to pay attention. I was mastering the art of doing the least amount of effort to get a good grade. My memory was a real boon to this effort. At the end of year long classes, I would have a notebook with maybe five or ten pages of notes for each class. My classmates, holding their voluminous notes, would marvel at the discrepancy.
I was placed in all of the Advanced Placement (AP) classes which the high school had, but it was a new program then, so that was a very short list. Still it saved me cash and time for college credits. :-)
I graduated Magna Cum Laude.
In high school, I had worked as a car wash attendant for a few months, then at a restaurant as a cook and a waiter for the remainder.
I went to a community college while living at home. "Harvard by the Highway" we used to call it. There I earned my Associate's degree with a focus in preparation for engineering. For a little school, it had some fantastic teachers who kept me interested, but I was still in a minimal-effort mode.
While there, I joined their "Brain Bowl" academic competition quiz team at the recommendation of some of the teachers. Every now and then a question about the Bible would come up during a competition, and I remember feeling pretty embarrassed that I didn't know the Bible better. I wish I could say I was the star of the team, but I wasn't.
I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, a scholastic honor society for community colleges, and I graduated Cum Laude. My minimal-effort strategy wasn't as successful here as in high school, but it was still pretty damn good in college.
While at the community college, I continued to work at the restaurant, but I also worked as a math tutor in their Math Lab. A great deal of students arriving at the community college, having graduated from high school, still needed remedial training to get up to college level mathematics. That was one of the most rewarding occupations I have ever had. Helping people understand, helping them get to that "aha!" moment when the knowledge really becomes theirs, is something special. I had considered going into teaching because of that. (I veered away from teaching, but today I still contemplate teaching or tutoring again once I retire.) On occasions, my fellow classmates would also stop in to see me for help with Chemistry, or Differential Equations, or whatever.
I moved into an apartment, and started the rest of my college education at, let's call it, Big State University, or BS U for short. ;-) I signed up for Mechanical Engineering, and I actually kept that major. I still hadn't progressed beyond the minimalist-effort strategy for school, but that didn't stop me from being inducted into the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi., and the mechanical engineering honor society, Pi Tau Sigma. It did, however, stop me from graduating with Latin honors, despite earning a 3.5 GPA four and half years later. Four and a half years later? Yes, I was working full time for about four of those years, taking only a part time load of classes, so that I could pay for said classes, and some nice vacations.
Speaking of work, when I first moved down for BSU, I got a job schlepping seafood at a supermarket. At the time, I didn't even like seafood, so it was a lot of fun coming home at night reeking of dead fish. Lemon juice works wonders.
Anyway, that was part time work, and I had no long-term plans of staying there. Through a good personal connection, I snagged an interview for a full time technician's job at, let's say, Mega Engineering House (MEH). This wasn't like a "technician" technician. This was essentially technically focused engineer's helper. I won the job.
Contrary to my school strategy, my work ethic was completely the opposite. If someone was paying me, I made sure that they got their money's worth, and then some. If I didn't have something assigned for me to do, I would think up side projects for myself. I would do projects to make my future work easier, and the work of the entire department easier. I taught myself Visual Basic, and ended up implementing an automation system which eliminated double manual entry (which had resulted in a number of costly typos). I didn't study hard, but I worked hard, and that earned the respect of my group.
At the same time, I became a little disillusioned, as not everyone shared that work ethic. Aside from a handful of exceptions, MEH was full of, well, average performers. And it did not seem to matter if they had earned a Master's degree, or had even achieved a Doctorate. (Of course, I couldn't see that where it really mattered was the paycheck.) Not only that, but there was very little direct engineering which was done beyond the Bachelors' level, and only rarely at that. Most calculations were done with established proprietary equations or through finite element analysis programs. So I decided that a higher degree was not really worth pursuing unless I really just wanted the knowledge for myself.
Just before I got my degree, MEH promoted me to the level of engineer. The salary jump from technician, while substantial, was well below market value. The actual salary didn't bother me, but the fact that I had work so hard but had not been compensated appropriately for it was a little insulting. So soon after I graduated, I jumped over to something completely out of my field; industrial simulation gaming. This was for the company, let's say, Polygons Flying Terribly (PFT).
For a year and a half, I worked shoulder to shoulder with computer engineers. It was a bit of learning for me, but, to me, my degree was little more than a certificate showing that I was capable of learning. (I never really clung to the identity of a Mechanical Engineer, except for comedic effect.) In a way, the PFT world was similar to MEH, in that there was very little actual engineering going on. Far from being outgunned by my computer-focused colleagues, I was able to shine again with my Visual Basic skills by creating a parsing program to identify errors in thousands of log files which they were still manually reviewing via random inspection.
Not impressed with the way PFT was headed for me in the long term, I took a series of steps which headed me back to MEH. Given the good impression I had left with, my old group at MEH welcomed me back with open arms, and a much bigger salary. That particular group's job was handing issues which came in from the field, from customers using our products. This was really a great fit for me, because you never knew how a customer would break something. It kept you guessing at times. :-)
After several more years in a comfy chair in the security of the cubicles of MEH, I initiated a change. Well, a couple changes. Due to some marital issues, I filed for divorce. Relatively soon thereafter, I decided that I wanted to go out in the field and see these products myself. (It was pretty amazing to think that I had been recommending repairs on multi-million dollar pieces of equipment when I had scarcely seen them other than in drawing form.) So I joined a different division of MEH, and the road became my office.
When I am not traveling for work, I am home, left to my own devices. It is through all of this spare time that my Bible studies have gone to the next level. Now over seven years into it, I feel I could go head-to-head with several of the best scholars when it comes down to what the Bible actually says. However, my scholarship is not as robust as many of those other scholars given that I have nearly completely focused on the Bible itself, as opposed to learning Hebrew or Greek, or about Roman law, or any of the other million ancillary details which could provide the "most complete" picture available.