An Exciting Career In Computer Networking and Software Architecture
This is the first part of a brief history of my professional life, this page is about high school through college, which laid the foundation for the career I’ve lead so far. There were a couple seemingly innocuous events during this period that turned out to be very influential in how my career evolved.
If you just want a quick and current overview check out my about page.
In the Beginning …
I grew up and went to school in the city of Wilmington CA, a “working class” neighbored at the south end of Los Angeles County surrounded by Long Beach, San Pedro, Carson and the Los Angeles Harbor, aka the Harbor Area.
I went to Banning High School, at the time we had a good sports program, in particular our football team was outstanding eventually leading to 7 consecutive City championship beginning in 1976. The academics on the other hand left a lot to be desired, I think the faculty was just happy to have kids in class and not fighting.
Despite being put in the “Enrichment class” and later “College Prep”, for kids that did well on an aptitude (IQ) test, I did not excel in school, if a subject interested me I did well, if not I just got by.
Surf or Study?
I was lucky though, Wilmington, at the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula is a fairly short commute to the ocean. Decent surfing could be found about 8 miles to the South Bay, consisting of Torrance, Redondo and Hermosa beaches with Huntington Beach about 20 miles to the south.
Though surfers were a minority in Wilmington, I had a core group of friends and neighbors that surfed. I had going to the beach my whole life, surfing at a young age was a natural thing to do. By the time I had a drivers license at 16, I was hooked.
A handful of friends and myself spent almost as much time surfing as we did in class which resulted in me failing quite a few of the classes that made my first and second periods.
High school graduation was coming where I found myself a few credits short of the graduation requirements. Though I was able to participate in the graduation ceremonies, I did get my diploma.
Yes, that’s right: I did not graduate from High School.
After High School – Stuck on the Freeway
Within a week or so after High School ended I picked up a couple manual labor construction jobs. It only took me a couple weeks that summer to realize I wanted to do something different.
The realization hit a crescendo during my commute home after work one afternoon.
I left the job site in Downtown LA, it was probably a little after 4:00pm, I was stuck in traffic on the 110 freeway in my 1968 Volkswagen van, with no air conditioning, I was wearing work boots, Levis with a button up mechanics shirt. Between my skin and clothes felt like a pound of of dirt and drywall dust.
It was over 90 degrees outside and quite a bit hotter inside my van.
I made a decision sitting on the 110 that afternoon that I was going to figure out how to get a job in an air conditioned building.
Junior College Here I Come
I was lucky: in California, all you needed to enroll in Junior College was a High School diploma, or be 18.
I did not have a diploma, and I would not turn 18 until a month after the semester started. However, I went to see the Dean of Los Angeles Harbor College he allowed me to enroll in the Junior College that fall.
At JC I would finish up my missing high school credits and work toward a college degree while I continued to work construction for the next couple years.
I was a college student with no High School degree!
Math and Physics are Fun
I had no idea what I classes I would take let alone what I was going to major in. I did really admire the people walking around with the big fat Calculus and Physics books. That seemed pretty glamorous.
I already knew from High School, that Biology and the life sciences weren’t for me. Too messy, and seemed (to me at the time) to be too imprecise and lacking a certain obvious logic.
Additionally, I have always been a slow reader and the idea of memorizing large words and extensive definitions made me cringe. Not a skill I would have done well at. For similar reasons I would have probably sucked at Law School as well.
History and the Humanities… Boring. (That’s how I felt then, now I would find them much more interesting).
Math and Physics it was. My father, whose education ended in 8th grade, suggested I become a Mechanical Engineer. He was into drag racing, he built, fixed and drove cars at the local drag strip. He figured a degree in ME would make me valuable at the drag races. It sounded good to me…
I am going to be a Mechanical Engineer!
I eventually got my AA degree (do they even have those any more?) from Harbor College, and ready to move on to a University. I was never a hardcore student, I still worked a lot and surfed almost everyday. Homework would sometimes rank 3 or 4th on my list of priorities. Cramming the night before exams was common, I did have a pretty active social life. But I made it..
I finished Calculus, Physics and most General Ed with a decent GPA, somewhere north of 3.0.
That was good enough to get me into a real university!
CSULB Here I Come!
I was Lucky. California at the time had one of best and cheapest educational systems in the country. While CSULB may not be a world class university, it did have a very respectable engineering program. The best part, at the time it cost less than $1,000/year (not counting books)!
I was accepted into the department of Mechanical Engineering where I began working toward an MSME degree.
In the meantime, computers where happening.
During my time at Harbor College and CSULB a friend of mine, who happened to work in the computer lab had acquired a Commodore 64, later I did as well, we’d spend a significant amount of our free time learning to program in Basic. I eventually bought a C64 as well and killed countless hours writing random things in basic.
During this same period of time a few engineering classes were required to assign programming assignments for homework and class projects (mostly mainframes and fortran).
I really enjoyed those programming projects, pretty good at it, to a point of being a source of help for other students. I was hooked.
Eventually, CSULB built a computer lab of IBM PCs with floppy drives, I bought a copy of Borlands Turbo Pascal 2.0 (which I still have today), I spent countless hours in the PC lab during off hours (weekends and after 10pm at night) when it was easier to get computers.
I was programming for fun, it did not have anything to do with my school work. I was really hooked.
The Magazine Article that Changed my Life
At some point during this time, I was reading one of the popular surf rags, either Surfer or Surfing magazine, I don’t remember which one…
The magazine had an article written by a guy that lived on the beach and wrote computer games for a living. I don’t remember much about the article other than author claiming he would get up and work on his computer games, when the surf looked good, he’d go surfing, then return back to his computer and continue to program.
That was it. A turning point in my life.
That is exactly what I wanted to do. The following day I changed my major.
One minor issue, CSULB did not have a Computer Science department, yet. I instead moved over to electrical engineering with an emphasis in computers (or something similar). It was a couple years later that CSULB had created an official Computer Science department and corresponding degree. When that happened I transferred to the CS department and continued until I finally graduated in December of 1989, 9 short years after I first enrolled in Junior College.
Keep in mind, I worked part time in the earlier years, toward the end I started working full time before finishing my BSCS degree. More on that later …
The Beginning of My Career
This next post I will document my career path. How I got my first real computer job at the CSU Chancellors Office and later a full time job in aerospace, while still a college student.
That job at the CSU was my introduction to the Unix Operating System, C programming and Computer Networking. Those skills would lay the foundation of my career, that I have been able to build on over the next couple decades.
Next: My First Job…