What I Have Been Up To – The Nerd Edition

For those long lost friends that want to find out what I’ve been up to …

Roll the clock back to 1986. In my senior year of high school, I was pretty sure I wanted to move far away. Or at least out of Michigan. I had fantasies of Ivy League or something close to it. I did the college visit trek–Tufts, Colgate, Darmouth, etc. However, despite that it was situated dangerously close to home, parents, and the years of public school humiliation, a wee little college in the middle of the mitten survived my thorough scrutinization and systematic search for quality higher education in computer science. I figured I’d give it one afternoon visit but by dinner time on the day of my campus visit, I had been converted into an Alma Scot. I guess I’m just a mid-westerner at heart. I mean the people at Alma SMILED and said HELLO and stopped and TALKED to me even though I was a complete stranger. Feeling wanted goes a long way.

So, four years and several web pages worth of adventures later, I had a BS in Computer Science and a strong interest in database technology but still lacked confidence in peddling myself as a “computer scientist”. So, I did what most women seem do to build confidence … go get some more education.

Off I headed to the University of Virginia School of Engineering and began the most humbling two years of my adult life. I found I had fair amount of catching up to do academically. I had never before had an experience where I was really trying everything I knew to study effectively and still not cutting it. Up until then, school had always been this backdrop for personal growth and social drama and I had always fairly easily done well enough to earn the right to continue this unconscious agenda. But then all of the sudden I found myself being held to the standard of really motivated people from all over the world who were there for one thing and one thing only: the study and research of computer science. It took me a while to really catch on that I was circling the academic drain.

I know you all are shocked to hear this, but I’d always been a “good kid” and largely avoided trouble. As you might have sensed, all that was about to change…. Somewhere in that first year, I went through some major, unrelated personal crises, was arrested for drunk driving, spent the night in jail, lost my license, went to court, not to mention that my townhouse caught fire and was burned to the point of being unlivable and a bird took a crap upon my head during lunch one day. I mean, you can’t MAKE UP a more pathetic story. I guess it comes as no surprise that that year I pulled grades substandard enough to warrant being excused from the department. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. But then the goddess of computer science lit upon my shoulder (in a much more fortunate fashion than the previous winged entity that sent its sentiments down upon me). The department saw fit to keep me under probationary conditions. I was “encouraged” to do research with the one prof who was known for berating and emptying his temper on his students. Well, it turned out to be a sort of mutually supportive effort for both of us. Some of my peers and my new advisor gave me some focus, cut me some slack and basically hauled me up out of my academic quagmire. All the next year, I fought with depression while living on a regimen of minimal sleep and meals out of the candy machine. I audiotaped every class and set up a team of transcribers for each one. I didn’t miss a word that any of my teachers said. No one had notes more complete than mine.

Somehow I made it through – I have have degree (MCS) to prove it – and my future really began to look up. And if you’re still reading this long drama, I’m flattered. I jumped from Virginia to Colorado, hired by Digital Equipment Corporation to work on their heterogeneous, distributed database product. Since most of you have never heard of this product (once called RDB*), you can probabably guess what happened next. So, ultimately, the job didn’t entail quite what I had planned, but I had a great time and experience at Digital (R.I.P). I stayed there for over 2 years. Eventually through lay-offs and project cuts and re-orgs, the morale at Digital went into the toilet. I got tired of working with people who didn’t really want to be there. And, besides, Colorado Springs just wasn’t Boulder. It was time to move.

I arrived at Sybase in Boulder, CO in January of 1996 via a Boulder medical software company that has been since swallowed up in the merger fad. I’ve worked there on the main database server, a homegrown JVM, some database gateways (mostly LAN to DB2/MVS) in C and C++ on Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Linux and–it pains me to say this–yes, Windows. I enjoy grousing about greed in the software industry, making light of technological posturing, exercising my acerbic wit in the face of customer catastrophes, and playing lay-off dodge ball. In short, by some miracle, I seem to remain useful and they keep paying me.

Oh, and the only ticket I’ve had since my arrest was from photoradar when I got stranded in the middle of an intersection during a traffic backup along a construction site. (I tried to contest it in court. Unfortunately, the judge was not impressed with my elaborate drawings and use of high school trigonometry to demonstrate my innocence. I find odd ways to amuse myself. 🙂

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