Economic pressures caused me to think about my choices for a career. I was learning quickly that raising a family of four daughters is expensive! At the same time, I realized that my income potential was limited as an instrument repair technician. At the same time, I noticed people who were making lots more money than I, but who were not very good at their jobs. Over a two or three year period, thanks to these incompetent people, I gained confidence that I could make a career change. I thought to myself that there was no reason I could not do at least as well as these people. During that time, I swung back and forth emotionally between feeling that I loved what I did so much that it didn’t matter and realizing that if I didn’t do something soon, my family would be in for a difficult future. Family won. I decided to make a change.
It seems like answering one question generally leads to a host of unanswered questions that I had never considered before. This was not different. My decision to make a change merely led to a much bigger choice. What will I do, specifically? The only marketable skills I had were around repairing instruments. I knew I would have to return to school, but to study what? Where? At 31 years old, could I do it? Was it too late? These were very real, very scary questions in my mind.
I visited the local library and looked through the Occupational Outlook Handbook, (which is now online here). This book lists every legal job available in the United States. It tells what kind of person would excel at the job, the qualifications needed, any geographic constraints, how much one can make in the profession and what the future looks like in that field. I sat at the library table with this huge book and a pad of paper. First I scanned the table of contents and wrote down every job that I was interested in; no matter how remote the interest. This was a dreaming session. Next, I looked up each of these professions in the book to get the details. One by one, I eliminated all of them except Engineering and Computer Programming. I weighed those two in my mind for a few days or weeks and eventually made the choice to go for computer programming because I could do it with only two more years of school. Time was a huge factor. With four little girls, I didn’t want to bite off any more than I had to.
Back to School
I signed up for classes at Trident Technical College, a community technical college in North Charleston. PEL grants paid almost everything, my first year (tuition was cheap). I approached the whole thing with much fear and trembling. Could I really handle school along with working full time and being an involved dad? I got into school and did very well at it.
One of my classes the first semester was Statistics. I enjoyed the class and I understood the material perfectly. On my first test, I got a C. I didn’t mind my grade being low, but the reason it was low bugged the crap out of me. I understood the material, I had made careless mistakes in my calculations. From then on, I changed my ways with test taking. My approach was to skip any questions I wasn’t absolutely sure of. When I finished, I would go back over the test and do those questions I skipped. When I finished that second time, if I still had time, I started over and checked my answers. Usually, I was the last one to finish each test… But there were no points given for finishing faster! I quickly learned the ropes and made straight A’s.
I not only went to school full time, I also worked full time, and was a full time dad. My job at Fox Music was ideal for me while going to school. As long as I did my work, they didn’t care when I worked. I was paid a straight commission, so I had the incentive to do the work quickly and thoroughly. Since I had a key to the repair shop, I could work around my school schedule, which was much easier than it would have been to schedule classes around work. I spent many late nights at the shop after helping tuck the girls into bed.
Another way I survived was by finding ways of combining studying with my other resposibilities. When I studied my text books, I took notes on 3×5 cards. I would outline the text and write words and definitions. Immediately after class, I reviewed my notes and copied them onto 3×5 cards too. I put a clue on the back side of the card, so I could use them as flash cards. After I finished making the flash cards, I put away the book and my notes. Everything I needed to know was on the cards. Every free second, I was studying those cards. When I stopped at a traffic light, the cards came out. At work, I had the cards out on the bench while I fixed instruments. I took the cards on outings and campouts with the girls. Wherever I went, the cards went. As I reviewed them, I separated out the ones I knew and kept the ones I didn’t know. However, I didn’t throw the ones I knew away, I saved them for the final review. For that final review at the end, I put all the cards back together to make sure I relearned anything I might have forgotten . It was a lot of work, but it was a perfect method for me. It allowed me to keep doing things that were important to me, while adding a huge undertaking to my life. In a way, I had my cake and ate it too.
I made some great friends at school. One of these friends was Cindy E. She was also an adult returning to school for computer programming. Along the way both Cindy and I learned of an IT job opening at Westvaco, a local paper/chemical manufacturing plant. Now we were in competition for the same job! We polished our resumes and prepared for the big interview. It seemed like forever that we had to wait to hear their decision. Did one of us get the job? Did it go to someone else altogether? Finally, the big day arrived and we were both surprised to learn that they wanted us both. It had taken a long time to respond because they had to create a second job in order to get both of us! Thus began my career in IT.
Next time, Westvaco.
Workin’ for the Man Series