Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Journey Into Geekdom

or There and Not Back Again, the tales of Jay Imerman

Tonight as I lay in the hot water of my tub at the Sheraton Le Centre in Montréal, it occurred to me - what really is the difference between me, laying in the luxury of a really nice hotel (paid for at the expense of the local utility company), digesting fine French cuisine and imported wine, and those guys laying on the brick floors of the Montreal Underground, escaping the cold because they have nowhere else to go?  What decisions and actions have led me to this point in my life?

Really and truly, the merest of things separate us.  I think back to 1975, shortly after my parents started their business they bought this thing called a Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 Model II computer.  How many small businesses back then had a computer?  How many people back in 1970's even thought that computers would totally revolutionize every aspect of modern life (if they were aware of them at all)?  Certainly not I.  I don't even think that Gene Roddenberry put that into Star Trek - the only thing people used computers for was to talk to and run the Enterprise.  It never occurred to me then that these things would become as pervasive as toilet paper; they were just the coolest thing I had ever seen and I was instantly addicted.

My parents have always been forward-thinking, proactive, and both afraid and not afraid to embrace new ideas, new ways of doing things (if they offered a better way).  In 1991 or 1992 when I told them what a domain was, what the web was, and told them that they had to get a domain name, they did.  It took probably 10 years before it started making money for them, but when it did, it was the difference between success and failure.  I was also lucky enough to have the same parents be loving, supportive, and disciplinarians.  Their endless patience have seen me through some 11 years of developing computer knowledge and skills, only to select Biochemistry as an undergraduate major.  (What was I thinking?)

After getting goose-eggs in Organic Chemistry (that's a 0.0 grade for those non-students) and 3 years, I realized I didn't want to be a biochemist, or any other kind of chemist for that matter.  I dropped out of Michigan State University in 1987 with somewhere barely over a 2.0 GPA.  After living with my parents for what must have been (to them) an unbearable few months, they kicked me out to survive on my own.  For some reason, it had occurred to me to get a job selling those magical devices I always loved (that's what I was doing when they said it was time to go out on my own), and now I thought they would soon be everywhere.

After a couple of years selling and training in computers, it was obvious I had to finish my undergraduate degree.  I was really turned on by the small campus of University of Michigan and the option of night classes.  (Dearborn that is.)  So it wasn't hard to convince my parents to help out, and I finished up with close to a 4.0 GPA.  During that time, I had considered finding jobs, but the last job I had, I had told my boss I wanted to go back to school in the evenings and finish my degree, a goal that he applauded.  When it came down to it, though, he found it interfered with the job, and had a talk with me about my performance.  So, out with the job after a year, and I had to do something for money.  I found bulletin boards on campus with lots of opportunities for consulting, for someone who knew what they were doing, and I made a cool $25 an hour, working as many hours as I wanted (usually 20-30 a week).  Good income for the early 90's and a student.

Matriculating at UM-D was fantastic.  We were like a small family - 20 students or so per class, and the professors.  We went out together, did field trips together, and by the time I graduated, I had job offers left and right (think the boom days of IT, when anyone who had a degree in Computer Science was instantly hired and given a good salary).  I had 5 years of experience working in the industry upon Day 1 of graduation in 1993.

So it was, I got into consulting.  A profession where they pay you for your opinion.  Really!?  They pay me to play with computers, and for telling them what I think?  Can you really imagine anything much better than that?  OK, maybe a couple of things, but not much.

From consulting, my career transitioned from "hard-core" computer stuff (hardware installs, software installs, etc.), to specialized tools like Lotus Notes (business consulting), to software development and implementation, and finally, the pinnacle, to application of technology to engineering design.  I always say, I am the guy that makes the sales person's promises come true, and helps companies to implement software in a complex environment - the environment of getting people to work together to accomplish the same goals.

And so it is, I am come to Montréal.  To better skills in customizing and deploying engineering software.  At a company's expense.  If only there were no NHL strike, the Bell Centre is across the street from my room!  And so it is, the road not taken, where I so easily could have fallen into the habit of playing video games instead of doing productive things, or drinking and going to bars instead of getting married and raising a family.  Or, lavishing in a tub after eating at Le Mas de Olivier's instead of cuddling on a cold brick floor in an underground tunnel between high-rise office buildings.  Or settling for a so-so job instead of pursuing the one I wanted more.

Life is a series of choices, with actions following those choices.  Very rarely, you can point to a single choice or set of choices as pivotal.  Typically, it is a string of choices over a long period of time that have us arrive at a particular point in time.  And those choices also govern the choices available to us when outside forces intervene.  I think back to my "choice" to jump into that TRS-80 and start writing programs in BASIC.  It's funny that at 8 years old began a lifelong obsession with a technology that is so fundamental to our lives today, that we cannot even imagine a life without it.


  1. Jay - how very true. I well could have been one of those guys in the tube tunnel as well ... and at one point was picking up bottles to get money for canned beans. I started college at 24, after six years going the wrong direction. And it was there 2 fundamental things changed. 1 - I finally discovered I did have something in me to offer and could excel at someting important; 2 - for the first time in my life I had someone explain to me my need for Christ in my life.

    If would be easy to trivialize #2 - blow it off as "gettin religion" or something. But the truth of the matter is, it - that encounter - so changed the core of me, that I was never the same - and that really is what literally altered the trajectory of my destiny.

    What would life have been like? I don't know - I do know my future would be different, perhaps truncated. I do know many have come down this road and jumped of at a point of inconvenience or disappointment. I have not yet, and I truly hope I don't, as it would be great loss.

    It has taken us some places I never would have gone. Starting a non-profit clinic/orphanage project in SE Asia was never on radar ... yet it became part of this rather extraordinary adventure. Being married is probably something everyone aspires for ... but 9 kids? I would not trade even the ornriest of the bunch for the nicest Fararie.

    Yes... our choices define our future. I agree.

    God bless and Merry Christmas.

    John Lopez

    1. Thanks for the comment, John. It's truly an inspiration to have met you, and hats off for the 9 kids! I agree, if our 4th one had been first we say he would have been an only child, but we wouldn't trade them for anything.