Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winds of change.

I've been finding myself asking different variations of a similarly themed question a lot more often lately: How did I end up where I am today and where do I actually want to end up?

I've been feeling like trying to decide what you want to do with the "rest of your life" as a teenager has it's drawbacks. I initially thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer because I had a strong interest in machines such as automobiles and bicycles. I used to love to draw and doodle and think of how things I drew would work in real life. I built model cars and then took them apart and made them "better" out of parts of other kits. I took parts off of all of the spare/outgrown bikes that we had kicking around in our family of four kids and made "better" bikes out of them. I felt like I would love to find a job creating new bicycle suspension designs or cars like the ones I was seeing in car and bike magazines and Popular Science... but on a tour of one of the colleges I got into (I think it was Virgina Tech) I was told that a lot of their graduates work in a "toilet paper factory down the road" designing machinery, which was probably meant as a positive that engineers were everywhere. However, I came to the opposite conclusion that to end up as an automotive or bicycle mechanical engineer was a very slim chance. I also felt that even if I did come to a find a job in the automotive or bicycle industries that I'd really end up making other people's artistic renderings a reality instead of actually doing the designing.

You would think, then, that I'd decide that a career in mechanical engineering wasn't what I really wanted... but I ended up going to a good engineering university for mechanical engineering for two years before offically deciding that I liked "computers" better. So, instead of staying there and switching to computer engineering or computer science I ended up going back home and getting an associate degree in computer information systems from a local community college, just as everyone was saying that the "tech bubble burst". At that point it seemed difficult/impossible to find a job that was "entry level" that didn't want 5+ years of hands-on experience especially in the area I lived in. So, I decided that at that point I was just going to find some sort of job and figure it out as I went. I felt that someday I'd finish my computer science degree and be a computer programmer. I interviewed around for jobs on the edge of what I wanted to do. I had been working summers at a family friend's fast food restaurant and then ended up working in a supermarket bakery department just before I graduated with my CIS degree. I spent a couple years working there followed by different positions in the same company's headquarters starting with a special project with the Bakery and IT departments. While working on that project I found out that the company had a very good in-house IT department that had quite a few functions and was encouraged to keep in touch with the people I worked with and apply for entry-level things that came up. So I continued to move around to different jobs in the bakery HQ, the corporate pricing department and eventually ended up in the IT department as a Programmer/Analyst, then a Software Developer.

So, I guess that answers the question of: How did I end up here? However, the question about where do I want to be is the harder question to answer.

How would have my life been different if continued with mechanical engineering? What opportunities would have presented themselves if I was willing to move away from my family, friends and hometown? What would be different today if I stayed in school and gotten a better degree? Would I be in this position right now if I didn't spend 10 years in a company doing different jobs while learning about the industry and systems in it?

What would happen if I decided I wanted to do something different right now? What if I was willing and able to move? What if I could afford to go back to school for something different? What if I'd rather start a business related to something I'm actually interested in? (I'm definitely losing interest in the overall mission of what I've been doing for the past 13 years...)

If I was to "start over" now, though, what would I do? The biggest question I have is that once I'm "there" would I be left wondering the same things on the other side of the fence?

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