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Wrong Major

9 October 2010

     "You are in the wrong major."

     It was the spring of 1992.  I was attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and  I was sitting in the office of my Human Genetics professor.  I had demonstrated some software I had written that simulated the random generation of nucleotides and then told you if any interesting amino acids would form as a result.  That may sound impressive but it really wasn't much of a program.  It generated some random numbers and told the user if a certain set of numbers occurred.  Only instead of showing the user random numbers, the program displayed words like "guanine" and "cytosine" and some other terms that I cannot remember.

     Anyway this was in 1992-1993 when it was rare for a non-engineering freshman to have a computer in his dorm room let alone be able to write programs on it.  The program was nothing big, just odd, given the circumstances.  It wasn't an assignment, I just thought it would be a fun way to implement some of what I had learned in class.

     "You're a film major?" the professor asked.

     "Yes.  I've always wanted to be a film maker," I said.

     The professor shook her head.  "You are in the wrong major."

     Of course I blew it off.  It was flattering that she liked the program but there was no way no how I was going to switch majors away from film.  Certainly nothing to do with computers.  Film was/is cool.  Computers were not cool then and, Apple products aside, they are not cool now.  I was finally free of the computer nerd stench that clung to me all through junior high (where I won two programming contests) and high school(where I always did well in science fair by writing software).  I was going to be an auteur.  Truth be told, I felt like I already was one.  Did you see my 8th video project called Tenja the Teenage Ninja?

     But the film career never got going.  I decided, for a number of reasons, to drop the film degree but I sure was not going to do anything related to computers.  That was for dorks.  Did I ever stop writing code though?  Nope.  I wrote code for my employers.  I wrote code for friends who were still in school (I dropped out of college altogether).  The bulk of what I wrote was just for me, just to see if I could make the computer do something.  I bought books on PC hardware and software development and read them cover to cover.  I eventually ended up working in the tech shop for Best Buy (this was pre-Geek Squad).  I worked tech support for Intuit where I finally finagled my way into doing some software development.  Five years of unmet expectations had finally gotten through to me.  Life had given me a mountain of software development lemons...it was time to make some software development lemonade.

     I thought about this the other day as I was reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  He talks a lot about the Rule of 10,000 which says that if a person devotes 10,000 hours or more to a certain interest they will become very, very good at it.  I set the book aside, did some quick calculations and realized that I had cleared the 10,000 hours of software development before I ever got paid a dime for doing it.  My parents tell stories of my early teenage years where they would be sitting in the den and have a conversation that went something like this:

     "Where's Jon?" asked my mother.

     "In his room I guess," said my dad.

     "He's been in there for hours.  What's he doing?" asked my mom.

     They got up and knocked on my door.  No answer.  My dad cracked open the door and there I was sitting in front of my TI 99/4A complete with b/w TV as a monitor, coding a way.  I had the headphones on with the Walkman blaring Van Halen or The Police.  My dad would come back around 11:30pm and if I was still awake he would make me go to bed, where I would read Dragonlance Chronicles  by flash light until I fell asleep around 1am.  I nodded off in class a lot.

     Anyway, I'm thirty six years old now and finally back in school.  However, I still haven't decided on a technology related degree.  I'm really digging the English courses I'm taking now, but Cognitive Science is looking pretty interesting.  It does not really matter since I plan to be in school for a long, long time.

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     Sorry for the disjointed post.  I'll do better next time.

     Next up, a tech post!

By Jon Wear