Saturday, July 16, 2022

Did you know what you wanted to do when you grew up? I did—with a little help

I was going through a shoebox of old photos recently and found this picture of yours truly, from October 1993.  I was 32 years old and probably the happiest I’d ever been in my life. 

I was a software developer for the Department of Aging in Allegheny County.  I started there October 16, 1989 (on my Grandma Morris’ 75th birthday) and was only supposed to be there for 6 months, but wound up working for Aging for 9 years. 

Loved the office, loved the people, and most importantly, loved my work.

If someone had told me just a couple years prior “you’re going to be living in Pittsburgh, working at a government agency and developing Managed Care software for 40-50 caseworkers” I never would’ve believed it. 

Prior to the start of my IT career, I’d been asked 3 times (that I can remember) what I wanted to do with my life, and computers never came to mind.

In third grade, before we moved to the country and still lived in town, my teacher Mr. Porter asked us to write an essay on who we thought we’d be in the year 2001.  (He’d recently seen 2001: A Space Odyssey and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Plus he was awesome.)  I wrote that I’d be 40 years old, probably married with 4 kids.  I was going to be a Methodist minister & cartoonist.  My dad had two jobs (a coal shaft engineer and musician) so I would too.

In the fall of 1978, my senior year of high school, our guidance counselor Mr. Titus met with me to discuss my future and asked if I had plans to go to college and what I wanted to do.  When I told him I’d been giving a lot of thought to teaching, maybe math, he said “No no no… we’ve got a glut of teachers already.  You want to work with numbers, go into accounting.  That’s where all the money is.  Got it?  Good.”

I did pursue Accounting in college but dropped out after one year, it just wasn’t me.  I remember in the early 1980s, seeing a news segment on the shortage of teachers in America, particularly in math & science and got my first real lesson in life; listen to yourself first.  Corny but true.

The third time I was asked was in the spring of 1986.  Dr. Jane (my dentist) talked me into meeting with Bill Lewis, a counselor she knew at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.  When he asked if I had any idea what I’d like to do with myself, I said no, but I’d spent the last 6 years selling lumber & gardening supplies for $4.15 an hour and knew I didn’t want to do that.

He recommended we travel to Pittsburgh so I could take something called the ASVAB, a battery of tests the military gave their recruits to determine their strengths & weaknesses vocation-wise.  Afterwards, Mr. Lewis said “Have I got news for you!” and I said “What, I’m in the Army now?”  He laughed and said “No Douglas, I know what you’re meant to do.”  I said “Radar repairman?”  and he said “Computers.” 

I told him I didn’t think I’d be good at repairing computers, and he said “Not repairing them; computer programming.”  I was terrified, I’d never been near one.  But I loved Star Trek, that show was full of computers and frankly that’s where I got the courage to return to school in a special 2 year college program in Computer Science.  It didn’t take long to know I’d found my calling.

All of this comes to mind as recently my sister Shawn has been going with my 17 year old niece Sophia to visit colleges.  (Sophia will be a senior this year.)  Shawn said that Sophia had initially wanted to pursue teaching, but now wasn’t sure.  Who can blame her?  How many people know what they want to do at the tender age of 17? 

I’m sure there’s a few out there who can say yes, they DID know—our own brother Duke announced he was going to be a lawyer on his 13th birthday, and he became one too. 

As for people like me…. a little help along the way certainly helped.

Good Luck, Sophia

                                 

35 comments:

  1. First off, good luck to your niece. She's at an exciting time in her life! I recall meeting a very bright young woman several years ago at a course I was attending. She was baffled why anyone would stay in a job (or employer) for 30 or 40 years. Her comment was, "if I'm not learning, I'm leaving". I think that is true of many young people.
    I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left high school, other than anything other that my mom's suggestions - accounting and teaching. I flirted with the idea of being a back up singer in my then b/f's band, but we broke up and that was the end of that. I went on to become a bookkeeper at an air charter service in northern Saskatchewan for a few years, then a car dealership, and eventually found my way into banking. When I hit the glass ceiling (though I think it was more cement than glass), I finally decided to take charge of my career and went to university for accounting.
    That eventually led me into my work at a government agency in the accounting field. When I reached my 10 year anniversary I told my boss, I'd never worked anywhere for that long and maybe I should quit. I didn't and stayed for nearly 22 years before retirement. Oh, and while I was there I became of the local instructors for various courses. So mom was right all along. :)

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    1. Maebeme, thank you for the niece wishes & taking the time to share this, I very much enjoyed reading it. You did pretty well for yourself!

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  2. Hi Doug, love this story! Always interesting to hear how people come to be in the career they are/were. I don’t recall ever even meeting a guidance councillor in high school. As you said it is ridiculous to expect a 17 year old to know what he wants to be. My brother like yours was annexception. He knew he wanted to go into broadcasting and did do that for the first twenty years of his career. I got married not too long out of high school and became a nanny after that. I have been a stay at home wife now for years. Chuck kinda fell into his military career. We wanted to get married and with high unemployment at that time it seemed the best option. He became an aircraft electrician but during that time got his construction/maintenance electricians licence so he could work on buildings after his military time. Chuck has done that for the last ten years.
    So wonderful you found your calling and enjoyed it for years.
    Have a good weekend Doug!❤️
    Robin

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    1. Thank you Robin, and thank you for sharing! I was hoping people like yourself would share their own stories. Isn't that interesting you had a brother too who knew what he wanted early on. Broadcasting for 20 years, wow. And I can see you as a nanny too, you have a giving nature and kindness about you you know. And that is awesome about Chuck I admire his ambition. Thanks again, Robin. ♥️πŸ™‚

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    2. Thanks Doug!❤️❤️
      Robin

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  3. I became the teacher and lasted to retirement where I took on a tougher job which is caregiving. My goals when young were nebulous. I just wanted a job to support myself. Teachers encouraged going to college. I went to college. I think God puts you where you belong.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Ann--what you said about wanting a job to support yourself, honestly I felt the same by my mid-20s. Between teaching and caregiving, I can't imagine things being much tougher than that.

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  4. Interesting the turns life gives us. I wanted to be Mrs. Roy Rogers from a young age. Not sure how I planned to get rid of Dale Evans:) Outgrew that but marriage and children were my goals. My marriage eventually failed then I went into several jobs. Banking where I ended up after 10 years in charge of 9 offices and 40 girls but was starving. I had no set ambitions except for briefly wanting to be a marine biologist. Went to college late and was on my way when "Jaws" came out. I'm such a weenie:) Finally made a decent living at the Power Company. I realized as long as I liked who I worked for, with and could work with the public plus with an active social life, I was happy. No regrets.

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    1. Patti my dear friend, you always manage to put a grin on my face! You're always kind about commenting on my posts but I was really hoping to hear from you here. And I think your last couple sentences summed up things wonderfully. Thank you for sharing. πŸ™‚♥️πŸ‘

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  5. My first comment seems to have disappeared...
    Well, here I go again. I don't think I had any idea of what I wanted to do or be when young. All I knew was that I loved animals. When I was college age, I thought working for the airlines and traveling was a good opportunity, so I applied to American Airlines and was accepted to start training as a Stewardess. BUT... my parents convinced me to 'try' a year of college and see if I liked it. I ended up going to LSUBR and loved it! LSU didn't have a Veterinary program back then, so I ended up with a BS in Animal Science with the plan to go on to Vet School at Texas A&M. That didn't happen as DH and I got married 2 days before graduation (I did return for graduation). Before we knew it we had 2 kids and one on the way... so leaving them for Vet School was never an option. However, when the AMT program came into existence locally, I took advantage of that and ended up with an Associates degree to add to my BS. With this I could work alongside a Vet and at least use some of my degrees. Worked in a specialty feline hospital until I retired - as both a Animal Medical Tech and the Office Manager. I loved it!

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    1. Rian I'm sorry about your first comment, but I appreciate you coming back and sharing this. This was wonderful! At the same time, I could see all of this with no surprises, giving your great fodness for animals. How terrific that someone like yourself was able to pursue that. Good for you! πŸ™‚πŸ™‚

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    2. PS Rian, your first comment went to my spam folder - no idea why it did that, I'm sorry. The next time I post a blog I'll have to check my SPAM folder more regularly.

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  6. When I graduated from high school (1960) I was told that girls didn't go to college, I needed to get married. So, I did and got pregnant (not necessarily in that order) and didn't go to college until I was well into my thirties. I never earned anything but a two-year degree but had a really good thirty-year career, starting as a secretary and ending up as a writer/editor. Not bad for a girl. :-)

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    1. DJan, I didn't mean to smile so much from reading this but we both know you are not just a girl. You remind me of Jane Fonda to be honest, she started out as a playing it safe conventional actress and wife & mother - her words not mine- and of course became so much more. I'm glad you did too. πŸ™‚πŸ‘

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  7. My gosh! You've been SO CUTE all of your adult life! I'm not sure how ministry and cartooning could work out. Glad you like programming computers. That scares me!
    I was going to be a Music Therapist. After one semester at college, I decided I didn't want to be one. Went for the Mrs. degree with the first college boyfriend. After two more Mrs. degrees, went to more college one class at a time while working full-time and raising my son from the 2nd marriage. I became an RN for the secure income at 48 years old, when my kid was in jr. high. His watching me study showed him what work it would take if he wanted to be a veterinarian. Yep, he mustered that. Trying to work until I'm 70 for the better social security check.
    Congrats on your dandy career. Come clear out my computer any time! KC barbeque provided. Linda in Kansas

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    1. This sure was nice to see first thing this morning, thank you Linda! I really enjoyed reading your own story here, those Mrs degrees are great but becoming an RN at 48 and inspiring your son in the process - - that's amazing! Thank you for the barbecue offer, you never know... πŸ˜‰πŸ‘πŸ‘

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  8. I had no idea what I wanted to do and still don't. I loved working in the shoe factory and when it was closing down a few of us took a trial test for a computer course which could lead to a really good job. I didn't think I'd done well on the first night, so didn't go back. I heard later I'd been very near top of the class, so missed a fine opportunity. Also the class was at night and I'd be travelling alone by bus to and from and I didn't feel safe enough, being already over 40, what if I got mugged? So I became a checkout operator instead and got really good at it, but hated the supervisor. I stuck it out though for twelve years.

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    1. River I really liked your first line here. Well I'm sorry the computer class didn't work out but it still sounds like you did alright for yourself. And boy do I know about lousy supervisors... good for you for toughing things out.πŸ‘

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  9. Good luck to Sophia! I think the lesson we've learned is that we have to be adaptable. They didn't even have software developers when you were a kid -- right? -- so how would you know you wanted to be one? As for me, I never got any guidance or advice -- so I'm jealous of the support you got. I actually thought I might want to be a teacher when I was in high school. That didn't last. I liked to read, so eventually I went into publishing. I enjoyed the work, and my colleagues, but it takes some of the joy out of it when you're in a declining industry. So now I've been thinking ... I'll learn how to make buggy whips!

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    1. Thank you Tom! Well, my niece has her head screwed on better than I did at that age so I'm excited for her. I'm sorry you didn't get the guidance I did, but I didn't get any until my mid 20s. I've often wondered where I'd be right now if my dentist hadn't been so proactive. And too funny about the buggy whips πŸ˜„

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  10. Good luck to Sophia. I am glad you found your calling life in your 20s, which is not late at all. Cograts on having such a successful career. As for me, I got my BA in Sociology, then traveled the world, then spent 2 years at Columbia Univ to get my MA in Music, but dropped out when the going got tough. Then, I worked as a legal assistant and am married with 2 kids, 2 grandkids, and a son in law. I have no complaints except for arthritis. It's been a good life, full of adventure and excitement. Take care.

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    1. Thank you Gigi, I appreciate this. And you certainly led an exciting life and now you have your beautiful family and home in Hawaii. I'd say you've done plenty right! ♥️πŸ™‚

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  11. It's crazy how early we expect kids to know what they want to do with their lives. (when many adults don't know!) You got into computers at a perfect time and your circuitous journey there matches what I've observed in most people's lives. I told myself and everyone else that there was NO way I was going to be a teacher since both my parents were. LOL I wanted to be a stewardess or a writer. However, my passion for language led me to French and then to teaching--which was a great choice for me.

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    1. Thank you Margaret and wow - - I always just assumed you were planning to be a teacher from the start. A writer yes, but a stewardess? Interesting! Well you certainly chose the right path and you're exactly right, I did get into computers at just the right time. I think I'd have a lot more competition now. πŸ™‚

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  12. When I was young I had no idea what I was going to do (or wanted to do) with my life. Indeed, what I did do didn’t exist way back then.
    I had just graduated from Melbourne University with a degree in mathematics and I was sitting around at home for a few weeks. My mum thrust a newspaper in front of me one day and said, “Here’s a job for a computer programmer. Go and get it.” I don’t know if she knew what a computer programmer was, but she figured it had something to do with maths. That was 1967.
    I did just that, got the job, and that was the industry I worked in for the rest of my working life.

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    1. Peter, given the music column you wrote for years I'd almost forgotten that wasn't your profession. Well, even though you were a 20 year veteran by the time I got started, it's good to know another computer programmer. So what were you working with back in '67? Fortran? RPG? Cobol? We still have several IBM Mainframes & cobol maintained systems here in Pittsburgh!

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    2. Initially it was an IBM 360 20, with 16 K of memory, card reader and punch, printer and 4 tape drives. No terminal or paper tape reader, no disk.
      We wrote both RPG and assembler language.

      The next one, a few years later, was a DEC PDP-11, 32 K of memory, tapes again and removable disks (5K of storage space). Again we wrote in assembler (different one of course) and we wrote a COBOL compiler for that computer – the first one of its kind.
      That was sold to DEC in Boston, which is how I got to spend much of 1973 in that city, “liaising” with their tech people. That’s in quotes because it meant that most of the time Phil (the other guy who went along) and I just sat around twiddling our thumbs.

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    3. Peter I'm surprised how well you remember the hardware & stuff. Hey the first machine I worked on was a DEC VAX but all I remember was it was green!

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    4. I’ve always thought that DEC made the best, most reliable computers.

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  13. Cute picture of your niece and an interesting look at the ups and downs of your life. I knew from the age of i7 what I wanted ...to be in journalism and/or the media and that is where I started. In 2019 I wrote a book about that time ... called it "My Halcyon Days" and have it on Amazon. It was a very exciting time in my life and now at age 89 I can look back and say that even though things changed drastically I have still had a good run. Thanks for visiting my blog. Ginnie

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    1. Thank you Ginnie, and given your penchant for writing I'm not surprised to read what your own interests were. I'm a fan of your writings already. πŸ™‚

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  14. I'm pretty sure that I always wanted to be retired.

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    1. Haha! The older I get, yes me too. Thanks Debby πŸ˜„πŸ‘

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  15. We were and are always a cutie, Doug. I've heard that people change their majors 6 times on the average in college. How fabulous that you got into computers at the right time. I wish you lived next door so I could always pick your brains.

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  16. Wishing your niece well in her future choice(s). Major changes are pretty common. I planned to be a teacher. Of course in my day my high school counselor told us secretary, nursing, teacher were our choices as women. School academic offerings were somewhat limited, too. My mother had taught in a one-room school house, so I planned to be a teacher. Then, my senior year when my decade older brother visited he got me to thinking about expanding my horizons. In English class I wrote a paper exploring DuPont and the chemical world intrigued me, then I thought I'd be a Medical Technologist but was ill-prepared when I got to college with no high school chemistry having been available. I was hooked on our Sr. Class play so when I got to college, I became involved in a one hour stagecrafters class, became convinced acting in plays was my calling which was included in a Speech major then. With the addition of our campus radio station and then the development of TV, communication was it for me. In the process life circumstances required altering my plans after graduation and included my first job was as a secretary, then I worked in a bank's loan dept. before finally joining a commercial TV station. More life changes including marriage and children with more geographic moves, return to a Univ. for a Masters in Communication Disorders and I spent the rest of my working life as a Speech-Language Pathologist working in the medical field, mostly with adults focusing on communication--speech and language, hearing, swallowing, cognitive deficits -- acquired and otherwise including due to all sorts of neurological problems. I never had my fill of theatre I wanted but probably all for the best.

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