My Life as an Adult Geek

College

I went away to Portland for my first year of college to study Music and Religion at Warner Pacific College.  I became concerned about the cost and wanted to develop my talents not only in music but in acoustics and the STEM skills related to acoustics, so I was advised to study architecture at Fresno City College.

But they found humor in almost everything.  One day Mahrooz was stumped with a Physics problem in the book.  It said that a car loops the loop going into the loop at a particular speed, and I don’t remember the rest.  But she stopped, looked puzzled, and asked me, “What does it mean ‘loops the loop’?”  I explained it and she burst out laughing, said some things in her home language to her brothers, and then they all started laughing.  I missed out on the joke, but I still could not help but laugh.

Fresno State introduced me to many cultures.  Earlier, I formed friendships with Americans but also with several Iranians.  I studied Physics with an Civil Engineering student named Mahrooz, a Muslim girl with brothers who were atheists and who found it humorous that two people in Engineering could actually believe in God.

By the time I finished my B.A. I had completed a Math major and a Physics minor, competed in Fresno State’s mathematics competition taking first place one year and 2nd place the other, and I worked my way through school as a software developer.

From Programmer/Analyst to Unix Geek

After working as an IBM mainframe programmer for Fresno Unified School District for about 4 years, a friend told me about a cool operating system called “Unix”, and I needed to explore it.  I bought a book at the bookstore, read it in a single sitting, and got an account at the local branch of UC San Francisco’s medical school at the Veterans’ Hospital.  I tendered my resignation at Fresno Unified School District to work as a volunteer or intern at UCSF developing C programs under both MS-DOS and Unix to assist a neurologist and psychologist doing research into the effects of damage to the parietal region of the brain.

My work at UCSF was a success, and after I completed my own realtime graphics and statistics program, I helped a struggling CSci PhD student complete his handwriting analysis program and later went to work for my old college, Fresno State, in support of their new Computer Science Department.

Return to Fresno State – Sink or Swim

My first day back at Fresno State was the previous technical staff member’s last day.  He was moving to Los Angeles.  He handed me some reels of 9-track tapes, one with a live backup of a Unix installation, one with the Berkeley 4.2 Unix source code in C and assembly, and one with VMS and he showed me once how to compile the operating system kernel and said “Bye” as he left for Los Angeles.

Now as Fresno State’s sole Computer Science Techie, I supported the faculty, most of whom were once mathematics professors and had taken interest in starting a new Computer Science Department.

My Math and Computer Professors

Dr. Haslam, my third semester calculus professor, was now the head of the department and wanted me to call him Harold.  I will never forget Harold.  On the first day of class in 1977, we sat waiting for the professor to show up.  I saw a hippy one row to my right and up one or two seats also waiting, and that seemed fairly normal.  But we were waiting for a man to come in the door in a suit carrying a briefcase.  But then the hippy went to the front board and started teaching the class.  It was Harold — Dr. Harold Haslam.

The man was brilliant.  He could be a bit gruff and his language was not particularly polite.  He did not mince words.  But he had a lovable manner about him regardless.

Harold Story 2

I will never forget the day he went to the chalkboard, filled up the first board trying to solve a problem, went to the second board about 2/3 of the way down, and a student pointed out an error about 1/3 down from the top of the first board on which everything else depended.  Harold threw the eraser at the wall, swore, turned to the class, smiled sheepishly, tripped over the trash can by the table, went to the wall, picked up the eraser, looked back at the class, erased everything following that error, corrected it and continued.  He may have a rough exterior, but he was still one of my favorite professors.

Dr. Yeung and Dr. Yeung

Dr. Yeung and his wife, Dr. Yeung wanted me to call them Henderson and Grace.  I loved them both and was deeply saddened when they ended their marriage.  Henderson was my matrix analysis and complex analysis professor.  I never had a course from Grace, but we were good friends and she asked me to speak in some of her database courses years later.  I was sad to learn that Henderson passed away recently I believe from cancer.  I found out when I returned to look up some of my old professors who I missed.

Dr. Holt hailed from Canada and he was actually a Computer Scientist of one kind.  He was a good friend who seemed to care about the students and the department.  Dr. Seiki who I never got to know very well,  seemed like a sweet person, a Computer Science professor from Japan.

Brent Aurenheimer was a young, new Computer Science PhD from U.C. Santa Barbara  who was skilled and up-to-date with the new technology of that time, a real asset to the university.  Walter Reed was my old statistics professor from years before.

NASA and Silicon Valley

In 1989 I took on a 9 month contract to work for NASA in Mountain View.  I rented a room from a couple and their young daughter and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.  They told me I was the ideal roommate as I was almost always either at work or visiting my girlfriend or my family in Fresno.

I started out as a Vax/VMS systems administrator and added the Unix network of the Information Sciences Division while working on a project plan to migrate the division’s scientists from VMS to Unix.

A friend warned me that budget cuts would likely lead to one of my assistants and me being laid off.  So, when Ingres, a database company offered me a better, more permanent job, I took it.  Ingres was in beautiful Alameda next to a pretty shopping center next to the Alameda-Oakland tunnel.  From many offices you could see ships going through the eschuary.  We had one white building and the ones we called “RBB” for “Red Brick Building”.

At Ingres,  I had a great opportunity to take courses directly in Ingres and to build up my Unix skills as well going to Usenix in Nashville where I met Dennis Ritchie, one of the inventors of Unix, Eric Allman, the inventor of sendmail, and many other top Unix geeks. 

In 1991, Nellina and I were married and moved to Pleasanton.  And in 1993, our daughter, Michelle was born, and my life as a father began with more joy than I ever thought possible.  Meanwhile, at work, I applied myself to studying soft skills in time management, project management, and pretty much anything related to management in addition to the technical courses I took in Unix System Administration, Database Administration, and Development.

Indonesia 1

In 1993, I was offered an opportunity to live and work in Indonesia for Bank Danamon.  My parents were happy to babysit Michelle until we returned, and we went to Jakarta.

The first night in Jakarta was interesting.  We were assigned a hotel called Hotel Cipta, a reasonably nice looking hotel, but with little water pressure for taking a shower.  With the heat and humidity in Jakarta, showers were critically important.  We decided to change our location to the Hilton for the next night just to have a chance to be alone together, and then for the remaining time we stayed with Nellina’s parents and sister.

I went for my interview with a French consulting firm for Bank Danamon.  Bank Danamon wanted to expand their operations across Indonesia and needed someone to help with establishing database connections between the offices.

Jakarta

A young woman in the IT Department tried to size me up asking, “What’s your specialty?  Making resumes?”  I laughed it off.  Then the team let me know they had been struggling unsuccessfully to get an SCO computer to speak to an Ingres database on an HP Unix system.  Apparently the team did not know how to make it work with C2 security, and I fixed the problem almost immediately.  Meetings seemed spurious and frequent, and it felt more like a startup environment than an organized environment.  These days that might appeal to me, but I found it difficult to deal with the fact they were already talking about yanking out the HP system and replacing it with a VAX/VMS based system.

In retrospect, I should have taken the job anyway for the experience working as a consultant in a foreign country.  Since Indonesian was my second language, it would have been a perfect fit.

But I returned to the U.S. and to Ingres. My manager and friend left for another department, and the woman who was hired to replace me became the manager of our team much to the team’s disappointment.

A Challenge to Overcome

This manager, Becci, and her director, Anne made life a nightmare for the entire team.  They put the entire team on a peformance plan to whip us into shape, so I was given a suppoorting star award in the morning and that day my own performance plan.

Everyone wanted to walk out immediately and leave them without support. I understood well.  But rather than running away from a problem, I encouraged them to stay, face the challenge, and take it as an opportunity for victory.  I did not tell them not to leave, but when they leave, not to leave to get away from a problem since that could land you in a worse place, but leave to go toward a better goal and use the current job to get there.

And on the final day of the performance plan where each person would be told whether they satisfied the requirements or not, everyone met the requirements well, and every team member had an offer for his or her ideal job and gave notice.

The director and manager were left without a team.  The director left to work for Gupta and Gupta collapsed.  Computer Associates bought Ingres two or three months later and the entire engineering team took their severance pay and left.

Oracle and Stanford

Shortly before Ingres collapsed, Oracle offered me a position with their Production Unix team, and it seemed like an awesome team to work with.  And it was.  The pay was higher.  The company was more solid.  The database engine was more robust in my opinion, faster performing, more able to withstand abuse such as someone kicking the plug out of the wall.  Replication actually worked.  But I loved my management from the manager immediately over me up to the CEO.  Although the CEO had a reputation for being demanding, I appreciated that greatly.

At Oracle, we could study remotely at Stanford, and I felt it was time for me to gain a good formal education in Computer Science.  I’m glad I did.  Stanford was a tough school.  I was disappointed with their lack of competence and commitment to real integrity in grading and making sure remote students had a playing field equivalent to what on-campus students had.  But the quality of teaching was exceptionally good.

I was eventually asked to help form Oracle’s Enterprise Systems Center later known as the Large Systems Support Center where we performed applied research into performance, scalability, and robustness of exceptionally large database systems.   After some time there, a manager at PeopleSoft started pulling on me to get me to move to PeopleSoft.  My commute would drop from one hour to five minutes, and I would have an opportunity to learn their technology as well.  So, I eventually said yes in spite of loving my job at Oracle.

PeopleSoft

Compared to Oracle, PeopleSoft was a very friendly and laid back workplace, not quite as intense or pressured as Oracle.  Some found Oracle to be a pressure cooker and they quickly burned out and left.  I have a different make-up.  I found Oracle perfect for me–exhilarating.  I hungered not just for more technology to be fed into me like a blasting fire hose, but I wanted to research it and pull in that technology faster than any fire hose could blast it.  And you sort of needed to have that mind-set to enjoy working at Oracle.

After a few years at PeopleSoft, I needed another challenge.  A few of us formed a software architecture team and created an esupport or automated remote diagnostics system based on Motive technology.  We put it through a beta test with real users, then presented it at a PeopleSoft show in New Orleans, and a lady and I worked on putting together a curriculum for training the Global Support Center (GSC) and we both provided training.  Then when Motive learned that our team had extended their software into an interesting direction, they said they wanted to implement this into their core product, so PeopleSoft management decided to shut down our project until Motive had completed what they were doing.  So, our team was disbanded and we went back to our regular work.

Clickmarks – Breaking into Management

At PeopleSoft, our special project was discontinued.  A management position became open, but someone else was selected.  So when an Internet Startup, Clickmarks,  recruited me to be their Director of IT and Operations and Chief Systems Architect, I gladly accepted and moved over.

The stay at Clickmarks was perhaps the best job of many excellent jobs.  I had an awesome CEO, great coworkers, and an awesome opportunity to help build up a great, successful startup that would be loved by Vodafone–one of the world’s largest cellular phone companies if not the largest.

Tribulation–Divorce

Just when things were going well, I tried to get some data off my computer at home and accidentally saw a conversation my wife was having with another man apparently about an affair.  She confessed and I forgave, and I thought it was over.  But she became involved with someone else.

I could not focus on my work, so I started to resign, but my CEO and good friend to this day Umair, advised me to stay, take a temporary leave, fix things up at home and return.  But when I returned, I did not feel I could concentrate well enough to perform at a level I felt the company needed, so I resigned.  In retrospect, from what I learned about my replacement, it probably would have been better for the company and myself had I stayed.  Clickmarks was indeed a wonderful place with great coworkers.  

Happiness in Tribulation

The next several years were years I would rather not rehash as it was perhaps the most painful and long enduring pain of my entire life.  In the pain, there were moments of joy, time seeing my daughter shine as a lover of humanity, a natural leader, a teacher or tutor.  I was touched when a little six year old girl told me she wished I was her daddy as she and her two older sisters apparently had some deeply troubling situations at home.  Michelle helped teach her to read and she helped her older sister with English Composition even though Michelle was 2 years her junior.

In 2004, Eileen and I met and in December 2007, we were married.   I was working at U.S. Script, a Pharmacy Benefits Management company as a Senior Developer.  The company was great as were my coworkers, but the pay was substandard–a fact I knew when I took the job.

Surprisingly, I turned down a job for double the salary in San Francisco, and it was not because of the higher cost of living, or because I didn’t want to take the job, but because after I accepted that job and was planning to move, my family had long faces.  I felt i would be in for a fight.

U.S. Script / Centene

So, I decided to take on the job but only for six months.  After six months, the job rolled into a permanent position.  Three management positions opened up, and I considered taking one, but the Pharmacy Medicaid Encounters needed a complete redesign from scratch, and I was in the middle of that project.  Not wanting to leave the company high and dry, I decided to continue with the Pharmacy Encounters.

Soon after, I was happy I decided to stay in Fresno as my brother’s health took a sudden dive.  We were told he had only a couple years at most to live, but it turned out to be less than a week.  I sang some Christian songs to him with the guitar on his last night and he gave a thumbs up.  We all stayed in the front room while David was in a hospital bed in the adjoining dining room.  And at about 3:15am, I awoke and noticed his heavy belabored breathing had stopped.  He was gone.

I stayed on at U.S. Script until 2009 when the Encounters were in great shape.  But I still felt another phase was needed to make everything more maintainable and robust.  I felt this would be a good time to negotiate a raise in position.  I was turned down.

Get Offer in Writing Before Resigning

Recruiters were still calling, so I responded to one, and soon I was offered a job in Oakland closer to where my daughter lived.  I accepted and tendered my resignation.  But the Oakland job fell through before it started and i was left unemployed in Fresno away from technology once again.

The dot.com crisis hit and several people lost their jobs and their homes.  I was out of work, and the parking lots that were once full in the bay area were then empty.

Then in June 2011 my daughter graduated from high school.  When we were returning from her graduation ceremony, I received a call.  My close friend and prayer partner at church, the husband of our wedding planner had suddenly passed away, and the pastor asked me to give the information to the rest of the church at his house while he cared for the family.

A month later, I was offered employment at Community Medical Centers and my friend’s widow was happy for us and told us that she and her husband had been praying for us and her husband would be happy for us.

Community Medical Centers

The job was intense.  I loved my coworkers.  But I felt something was fraudulent about the certification process where a vendor, Epic, could give themselves a quarter million dollars of their customer’s money just by withholding certification from one person.  Or they could retain the power to control the entire management team using the management team’s desire not to upset Epic and lose the discount.

I passed all my exams and projects with flying colors except one.  And then suddenly I continually handed in exams I felt were perfect or near perfect only to be told they were about 1 question short of the required 85%.  Since I had retaken the exam multiple times and this repetition just about 1 question short of 85% this looked highly suspicious, so rather than having me “pass” or fail and bring suspicion upon Epic and their exam, it seems they tried to cover up the situation by changing the rules mid-way and adding on a five attempt limit.

Winding Down to a Crash

My friends and immediate coworkers, Steve and Mark had passed certification–Steve with a score one point or one question over mine, and Mark with the same score but raised up during a phone call.  Then on Easter morning, Steve passed away and the following month, my mother also passed on.

When I spoke about my concerns regarding Epic’s certification process, I was fired for the first time in my life.  I also learned that it may be common practice for Community Medical Centers to fire people for reporting patient safety issues, fraud, corruption, unethical or dangerous behavior.  Apparently I was neither the first nor the last.  But OSHA does not handle reports of unlawful termination or whistleblower retaliation for non-profits or privately held corporations.  And attorneys in the area do not want to face perhaps the largest consumer of legal services as an adversary.

Building Skills and Caring for my Father

Since that time, I have written and copyrighted a song.  I have to admit I’ve been fighting for my unemployment, but I’ll keep fighting.  I have had time to see the doctor and head off some problems that could have been very serious–the beginnings of diabetes, Graves disease, and all my blood levels are looking excellent now.  I have some problems with arthritis but I have some very good options.

I took time to google up the most lucrative skills in demand and sorted them in order.  I looked at job postings and took note of the skills required or desired by employers.  I noted my own skill gaps in these areas.  I researched those skills.

I found good MOOCs at Coursera, Udemy, and elsewhere and enjoyed studying Machine Learning with Andrew NG from Stanford and Baidu.  I am enjoying Princeton’s course in cryptocurrency.

Artificial Intelligence

I already have the math skills to dive straight into these with no problem.  I have been watching Youtube videos put on by many top experts in Machine Learning.  I completed Andrew Ng’s first course with a 100% score and embarked on his 5 course series and on Geoffrey Hinton’s course as well.  I have completed the first three of Andrew Ng’s 5 course series and am working on the Convolution Nets and Recursive Nets as well.  And I am starting to get quite good at Neural Nets, though I still have far to go.  But to be fair, much of this is very new technology.

I went back to my old Quantum Mechanics book.  I felt ashamed having a minor in Physics with as little mastery of Quantum Physics as I have had all these years.  I found an online quantum computer run by IBM and began playing with it to see how it works.  Although I do find it interesting and believe there is hope that we will see great things coming out of this technology eventually, I really came to believe it would be wise to master everything I can about machine learning, deep learning, reinforcement learning and such first and then add quantum computing as a skill later.

DevOps and Other Skills

I studied DevOps and Docker specifically and dockerized my entire web and email setup.  I learned more about security than I knew before. I reviewed my mathematics which I missed for so many years.  I even considered doing a PhD in Math, Physics, and/or Computer Science.

Auto-driving vehicles are starting to mature to where a little more trust can be placed in them than before.  Language translation is getting much better as is voice recognition of course.  Google and others are doing auto-captioning of pictures, though they still produce some funky results sometimes.   But they’re getting better.

Newer techniques are being developed.  Kaggle holds comptetitions.  People are getting into Deep Learning, and Deep Learning has actually been used to beat some chess and go games built more on a Convolution Neural Network.

These technologies are being used to diagnose skin cancer often with better accuracy than a team of doctors.

And what’s cool about all this is that my daughter and her friends are into so much of this technology as well that there will likely be no end to the wide variety of opportunities that will be available to us all.

What I’m doing now

I want  to experience little shots of victory or success to celebrate each day and to make progress each day.

I want to grow, to mature, to heal spiritually and have a good, healthy relationship with God and family and others, to be able to pray and live in harmony with God rather than angry over what happened in the past.

I want to travel with my family and to have the good health to travel.  I want to see Singapore again.  I want to go to Europe again someday.  I want to see the Northern LIghts.  I want to go for TLR training perhaps in Denmark and perhaps help in various locations.

There is too much good to live for to be caught up in grouchiness and slavery to worry.

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