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Grow up already

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on September 7, 2007

In order to get a little more out of work, I decided to join Toastmasters. Although I’ve felt fairly comfortable giving prepared speeches and presentations, I could definitely use some help in thinking on my feet. Further, I think it’s valuable to be able to both plan and deliver an exceptional speech on just about anything.

I’ve been attending meetings and dipping my feet in table topics here and there, but on Tuesday I delivered my first speech. To achieve the first level of the communication track, you deliver 10 speeches. Each speech has a specific goal. The first speech, the Ice Breaker, simply gives you the opportunity to get started with a speech and you talk about yourself, however you choose. In my speech, I spoke about my career path, or in reality, my lack of one. Or at least until this past year. The speech went really well, and I was completely invigorated by it for the rest of the day. I think that was the clearest sign yet that I’m building a strength here, rather than fixing weakness. If you’ve got some time on your hands and want to learn a little of my history, here’s the Kerouac-written essay that shaped my speech:

(I’M HANGING OUT ON THE SWINGSET WITH A FRIEND)
ME: What do you want to be when you grow up?
FRIEND: I don’t know. As long as I get to 2nd base before high school, I’ll be happy.
ME: (LAUGHS.) Come on, really.
F: Well, it would be cool to play guitar for Pat Benatar or some rocking lady singer like that. You?
ME: I want to be Lee Iacocca.
F: Who?
ME: LEE IACOCCA! He’s this billionaire business man.
F: Oh, ok, cool.

What do you want to be when you grow up? We ask ourselves this question from surprisingly early stages in our lives, but the funny thing is that we’re usually not taught how to make this decision. We’re not given the tools to look inside ourselves and to not only determine our natural talents and strengths but also to recognize the activities and situations that really light us up. This pretty well explains how I got to be standing here in front of you.

Going back a couple years, I was a mostly average student through grade school. There were however, some flashes of excellence along the way. In second grade, I remember doing those 3 minute, 100 question timed math quizzes forced on us seemingly daily. I feared these tests when we first encountered them, and I typically finished about 60 problems when the bell rung. But before long, I was finishing the tests with time to spare. I found I actually enjoyed them! Into third grade, my teacher posted my handwriting for the entire class to view as the example of good penmanship. Mrs. Stapley would be disappointed to see my scratch now! Maybe if she saw me wield a keyboard, she’d feel a bit different. Moving along to fourth and fifth, my math skills evolved and my ability to write well began to emerge as well. I hated to read. I think I felt slow. But I still had to do it.

During those years, there was a group of students, “gifted” students, who left class one day per week to participate in ELP – Extended Learning Program. These students were the crème-de-la-crème, and many of them were my friends. But I was an outsider, an underdog. Each and every time I topped them in a math score or another grade, I relished it. It motivated me. In 6th grade, however, I broke through. Late in 5th grade, I absolutely crushed the standardized test we took at the time, the Iowa Test, scoring in the 99th-something percentile in the math portion. After summer, just after the start of classes in sixth grade, I got a visit from Mrs. Lloyd, the ELP teacher, asking me if I’d like to join. Of course I would! I can handle the extra work, bring it on, baby! ELP was absolute bliss. We did mind-bending math problems and puzzles, had open discussions about things we were learning, and played “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” on 5 1/4″ truly floppy disk. And during this time, I came to believe that I had the ability to do absolutely anything I wanted, and with hard work, I could be among the best.

This philosophy carried me successfully for a long time. I raced through junior high and high school, learned to enjoy reading, and found myself shunning team sports. I wanted to stand on my own accomplishments. I didn’t want to be dragged down by any single slacker. I earned a tuition waiver for college and for the first time, encountered THE BIG QUESTION head on: what do you want to major in? How about, everything! The Industrial Engineering department sent me a packet explaining, at a high level, what IE’s do. And of course, it pointed out the fact that they were the highest paid engineers out of college. Sweet! I took the bait and started this way, but I quickly found myself tormented with other possibilities. My diverse interests and thirst for learning pulled me in all directions, considering everything from mechanical engineering to English to physical education to anthropology. Somehow, after speaking to counselors and professors across the university, I convinced myself that I needed to learn how to do something, to solve problems, rather than get a degree I could receive by simply going to the library. So back to Industrial Engineering, the broadest of the engineering disciplines, I landed.

My scholastic excellence continued through college, and I eventually landed a couple of different internships, the latter being here at Intel. In school I had taken an Information Systems course where we used Powerbuilder, a rapid-application-development tool that has now almost faded away. The Intel recruiter mentioned there was one job that was “IE related” and another that was “IE related and also used programming.” So I took the latter. And I used that work ethic to succeed in fairly short order. Although I had little software development training in school (or at work for that matter), I learned the way of developer quality and excellence, and over the years, had numerous great successes.

Despite those successes, I noticed an increasing dissatisfaction to my job. Programming began to feel tedious; I was solving the same problem, over and over, and was just using different tools to do it. Worse, a lot of time was spent fixing badly written and/or designed software by folks who probably shouldn’t have been developers in the first place! We have a joke here that asks, why is it that bad developers get to write new code and get promoted, and good developers are then brought in to fix and maintain it? This unfortunately gets an agreed laugh as most folks here have seen it.

If not programming, then what do I do? At various points during the last couple years, I explored other possibilities within Intel. I conducted informational interviews, attended innumerable “planning your career” seminars, and got mostly nowhere. Finally, last fall, I decided to hire a career coach to help me find my way. I had been reading this coach’s blog for a couple years before I contacted him, and always liked his approach. We began meeting regularly and we examined all the things I’ve ever done that I enjoyed and/or succeeded at. We dug deeply into these things, and from this we generated what he would call my “passion profile.” This profile is now a framework that I can use, for the rest of my life, to evaluate and generate career moves and project decisions. For the next step, that’s exactly what we did. I generated, to his surprise, over 300 remote possibilities, and began chunking down the list. I narrowed it to 30, and then devised a way to score and rank those. This gave me a top 5 to really dig into. For each one, I did a lot of reading and a battery of informational interviews. I met a lot of great people!

And now, I have it down to one. It’s going to be a big change, and it’s going to take a while to get there. But I’m dreaming of work where my talents AND desires are in alignment – imagine the productivity and energy! And I have an awful lot of career left. Why not make it the career that kids dream about? Somebody has to do it, and I choose me.

In the speech I also mentioned that my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Barilar (buh-LAR), told my mom that I’d end up either a mass-murderer or a genius. Don’t let your fifth-grader watch R-rated horror movies, you never know what kind of stories they will write! Luckily, I landed somewhere closer to Mr. Barilar’s latter prediction, or at least I’d like to think so.

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One Response to “Grow up already”

  1. Rui said

    what a big tease! how could you build that up without letting us know what the five potentials that fit your passion profile? what is the winner?

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