“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all”
People arrive at their careers though many modes.
Some are literally born to do it. From the time he was three years old, my cousin’s son regularly attempted to cook meals. His mother actively tried to discourage him: stoves and ovens aren’t safe for small children to operate. He not only survived these impulses to cook, he grew up to satisfy them.
Others are born into their careers. When I met Martin in the summer of 1968, his future in the family business was all laid out. As a member of an English upper class family, he didn’t have much input into the process, but it didn’t conflict with any deep passions. By training and temperament he was an amiable fellow amused by the vicissitudes of life and willing enjoy what he found, so he would call his future good.
For the rest of us, many get to what we’re doing through planning, preparation, and accident. We get there through determination and dumb luck. When people ask me “How did you get into programming?” my answer is “the Creative Writing class was full.” That’s the truth, but not the whole story.
Kathie’s employer offered a tuition reimbursement, so she decided to take a course at Mt SAC, the local community college. Just for something to do, I thought I’d take a course too. We drove there to register, and I thought the Creative Writing course might be interesting. The evening sessions were full, so I looked for something else. There was space in the Introduction to Data Processing class, so I signed up.
The class was moderately interesting. No early “wow” or “ah-ha” moments. As an introductory survey course, it didn’t seek to provide fresh challenges, just background material. Part of the DP lore it covered was an explanation of the Hollerith code for punch cards. Decoding a card that had been punched without printing the characters on the card was one of the assignments. I didn’t feel the mastery of the Hollerith code was something that would be a useful skill, so I just duplicated it on the keypunch machine.
Another student had a more extreme position on instruction and skills mastery. The woman teaching the course felt that some items were important for us to know and would help with further work or studies, so she made it point to emphasize them. When she did that, this one guy always wanted to know “Is that gonna to be on the test?” In his view, the point to taking a class was to get a passing grade or better. Any benefit beyond that was not in his scope of concern. The repeated clash of values annoyed the instructor. She got so fed up that one time, she cut him short. She followed up the point she was making with “And you can bet that will be on the test, sucker.”
A few weeks later, I sat in class, and during a lull, looked around the class and sized up how everyone was doing. Mr test question was still there, so was most of the class. As I sized things up, it occurred to me, “I could do this. I could be good at this. I could do this for a living.” I finally had the career “ah-ha” moment. I followed up by taking programming and analysis courses to build on the math and science courses I’d already taken.
I was now launched on the course of my career. Actually landing the first job is yet another story.