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"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 supremely fortunate.

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 child" status.

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 to home.

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.

Author Bio
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries. [email protected]

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