"How did I get here?" There's a question I've asked myself
many, many times over the years. Decorum prevents me from recounting
all the contexts to which "here" has referred, but suffice it to say
that my inflection has become less frenzied as I matured.
I suppose the logical context to which "here" refers this
time would be my chosen career as a computer programmer. Of all the
possible directions I could have taken - or been forced to take -
somehow I ended up working at something I really enjoy, making a
decent living in the process. By any measure I count myself among the
Of course, it hasn't always been so. Despite every
generation's dubious claim to its original discovery, "teen angst"
was certainly alive and well in the '70s when I was a teen. Had I
known what to call it back then, I might have applied for "poster
I guess I was a pretty "smart" kid (though most of my
teachers would probably choose to narrow that characterization to
selected parts of my anatomy), and I got fair grades without trying
very hard. I had a good memory and could usually absorb enough
information to pass those simple, public-school tests by a goofy sort
of psychic osmosis. Was I lucky? I'm not sure. Perhaps I'd have
learned more if I had to work harder. It's definitely a conundrum.
While I barely graduated high school (who knew foosball
wasn't a for-credit course?), I did so with a sufficiently high
grade-point average to graduate with "honors." To this day I remember
being earnestly chastised at the graduation ceremony by a
hard-working classmate who had just missed the cut. "You didn't earn
that," she fumed, pointing at my gold tassle. I just sort of smirked,
if I remember correctly, though her words cut me as deeply as only
the truth can.
Are brains (which I pretend to have) or beauty (which, if I
ever had, I have hence given to my children) valid causes for pride?
Personally, I don't think so. After all, capable brains and natural
beauty are both simply accidents of birth, not the result of any
overt acts. In my idealistic view, pride is something that should be
earned. At least that's the belief I try to instill in my smart,
beautiful children - the ones I'm so deliriously proud of.
What lured me into the realm of making computer science my
livelihood? To some extent computer science was an accidental
direction in my life. After my cab-driving years, when I went back to
college to finish some sort of degree, I found that math was far and
away my favorite gig. The wee bits of memory capability that had
survived my youth seemed curiously well suited to the mysteries and
arcana of mathematics: I'd found my "thang."
As I progressed through the undergraduate curriculum, a weird
sort of appreciation bloomed in me: an appreciation for the
mysterious beauty and surprising consistencies of so-called "higher"
mathematics. Even at this relatively introductory level, the
logically unifying connections between previously unrelated topics in
math seemed to manifest themselves as stunning new aspects of the
"natural" world. Certainly sunsets and flowers can be breathtaking,
but who would have thought that the same could be said of systems of
equations or elegantly crafted proofs?
Just before I got my math degree, my father died rather
suddenly. He was about to start his thirtieth year teaching
engineering graphics at the local college; then he was gone, leaving
my Mom on her own. After the joy I had experienced discovering
mathematics, I knew I wanted to pursue a postgraduate education, and
now I simply had to do so at my Dad's old school so I could be close
However, at that time Dad's college didn't have a
postgraduate offering in math. I remember sitting at the dining room
table, fanning the school's catalog and literally closing my eyes and
stabbing my finger at the first open page. "Hmmm...computer
science..." Something in my head clicked, and the rest is history.
Of course, there were times when I doubted myself, suffering
a sort of "twenty-something angst." My first semester, since my
bachelor's degree was not in computer science, I signed up for the
entire undergraduate core of the curriculum - assembly language, data
structures, and compilers - in one fell swoop. Passing these classes,
while maintaining a part-time job to support my new family, almost
did me in. But fortunately there was - and still is - a certain
beauty to discover in computer science too. That search for beauty
kept me going, and the discoveries were just beginning.
I'm still searching for and finding beauty. Part of the
satisfaction I derive from writing these little bits of fanciful
fluff is the belief that you, dear reader, appreciate beauty too.
Your presumed attraction to Java - a beautiful language, indeed - is
evidence enough for me.
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester,
Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries.