St. Paul’s Chapel stands in the shadow of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. When the twin towers fell and first responders rushed in to do what they could, the work quickly overwhelmed and exhausted them. St. Paul’s took them in and cared for them.
My younger son, Garrett, started his final semester of college yesterday and is on track to graduate with a Computer Science degree. That means I’ve written the last tuition check for my sons, and an era ends. My older son, Damion, graduated two years ago, is now gainfully employed in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and lives independently. Garrett looks forward to his first post-college job and apartment.
Both of my boys are bright and capable, but not enough to get into elite schools. Even if they had gotten in, their mom and I make too much money for them to get financial aid, but not nearly enough to pay their whole bill ourselves. They would have graduated with crushing debt.
Instead, Damion went to Purdue, which is one of the great bargains in education. They have held costs flat for nine years! They had a program Damion wanted, and through it he got his degree in environmental science. Garrett was afraid giant Purdue would be overwhelming, despite its well-regarded CS program. He believed that he’d navigate a small school successfully, so he found the University of Indianapolis, a private school with a foundling CS program. (He now realizes he could have handled Purdue, and believes his education there would have been more rigorous, but hindsight is always 20/20.) UIndy gave generous scholarships to attract students to the CS program, bringing the cost in line with Purdue. Their mom and I were able to cover our older son’s entire first year but after that we needed both of them to take the federal loan offered each year. We paid the rest.
Garrett will be $20,000 in debt upon graduation, and Damion is paying off $15,000 in debt. Adjusted for inflation, that’s less than the $12,500 I had to pay off after graduating in 1989. I managed that debt just fine, even on my meager starting salary. Damion is managing on his salary, and I expect Garrett to do the same.
I’m pleased that they came out of school with minimal debt. Many of the twentysomethings I work with who went to expensive schools are paying off debt in the six figures. I remember one young man in particular who graduated from my alma mater $200,000 in the hole! He would have liked to work at a startup, but he needed the higher pay of an established company to afford his loan payment. My sons’ manageable debt gives them freedom that my young colleague lacks.
These were prime years for Margaret and I to save for retirement. Unfortunately, that money went to colleges instead, and we need to catch up on retirement. We probably won’t retire as comfortably because we chose to carry so much of our kids’ college costs. I told my sons not to expect there to be any money left when I die — I gave them their inheritance by paying the majority of their educations.
We have one more in college, my wife’s youngest. He’s mighty bright — he graduated high school in three years. But then he realized he had no idea what he wanted to study and took a gap year. We live in a surprisingly wealthy suburb and most of his friends’ parents could afford the elite schools they all went to. We are not surprisingly wealthy and as our son looked at elite schools he was shocked by the debt he would need to incur. He pivoted entirely and enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. This is a joint effort of those two state schools, located Downtown in Indianapolis. It’s a jaw-dropping bargain with tuition at about $5,000 a semester. He saves a ton more money by living with us, rather than on campus. He is studying neuroscience, a course of study that leads to grad school. His research tells him that his undergrad choice matters far less than his postgrad choices. Through his program at IUPUI he will receive his degree from Indiana University. While IU isn’t an elite school, it’s also not a third-tier school or a community college. Degree in hand, he’ll compete for as good a grad school as he can manage.
I applaud all our kids’ choices. They all have or will have educations that set them up for reasonable success. Not elite success, but then, they never had to face the pressure of elite competition. They’ve had balanced lives and I expect that will continue.
If you enjoy my essays and stories… My book, A Place to Start, is available now! A collection of personal essays and stories. Click here for all the places you can get it!
Sometimes when I have film in a camera, I photograph it with my phone. I’m not sure why. But I was happy to see these photos when I reviewed all the images I made with my iPhone 6s to write a forthcoming review.
Three of these photos were taken on my desk at work. Sometimes people notice my old cameras and say something, but mostly they don’t. Every now and again I discover a kindred film spirit this way, and that’s always nice.
I’ve changed jobs a lot in my career: 13 times in almost 32 years — including five times in the last six years. It’s true that the software industry, in which I work, is volatile. Everybody in this industry knows we’ll work for several companies before we retire. But I think my career is a little extreme.
I’ve been laid off a couple times when a company’s fortunes fell. I was also fired twice. The first time I was also un-fired, which is quite a story. The second time was just a couple years ago and was the most painful experience of my career. But most of the time I’ve left of my own volition. A couple times I quit a bad situation and the rest of the times I was recruited away for a better opportunity.
My career has been anything but a straight line. I went to school to be a software engineer, but I graduated during a recession and jobs were scarce. The best job I could land was one writing software user manuals. I liked it a lot and did it for eight years, at which point I saw I’d gone as far as I could go in technical writing. My programming skills had gone stale so I took a job in Quality Assurance as a tester. There I was shortly promoted to manager, and over the next 17 years I built and led testing, test automation, and performance testing teams at various companies.
In 2015 I had been Director of QA at a startup (Company Zero) for 2½ years. After some terrible financial results they laid off a lot of people, including me. I did some consulting that summer before being picked up as Director of QA at another company (Company One). While there, I came to realize I’d gone as far as I could go in QA. I set my sights on moving into Engineering, but didn’t know how to get there. Then the company needed someone to lead its Product Management group, so I took that on too.
After I’d been there about 18 months, a startup founder with whom I was acquainted asked if I’d join his company as Director of Engineering. That was a huge stroke of luck! So I joined his company (Company Two). After about nine months that founder was forced out in a management shakeup. The the person who replaced him ran off or forced out the entire management team she inherited. She finally fired me late in 2018.
The best job I could get before money ran out was a step back, as Engineering Manager at a large, established company (Company Three). It was an okay place to work, but I had concerns about the company’s future. I’d been there only a few months when another large, established company (Company Four) recruited me to be a Senior Engineering Manager, leading four teams and their managers. It was easy to say yes. That company had a wonderful culture, an excellent software delivery process, and an outstanding product architecture. It was a genuine pleasure to work there. I felt like I’d hit the workplace jackpot, and decided to settle in for a long stay. I still wanted to be Director of Engineering again, but this company was such a good fit for me that I decided to enjoy the ride. But then last autumn the company made some changes that affected me and my teams in some ways I didn’t enjoy. A couple key reasons I had been happy evaporated, and I couldn’t see my own future there anymore. I was underutilized and bored. I remain shocked by how quickly things changed for me.
Today I start as Director of Engineering at a young company (Company Five) that I would say is coming out of its startup stage. Going on two years ago a colleague introduced me to their Chief Technology Officer and their (now previous) Director of Engineering. They were looking for some perspective on building out their testing team. I was happy to share my experience with them, and they were able to adapt it well to their situation. When their Director of Engineering decided to start his own venture late last year, they called me about taking on the role. This company makes a useful product, has solid financials and a great growth strategy, and has a reputation as being a wonderful place to work. It was easy to say yes.
And so today I begin. Again. I’m eager to stop this merry-go-round of job changes and do good work here for a long time. Everything I’ve been able to learn and discern about this company gives me great hope that I can.
Because I’ve changed jobs so often, I’ve learned how to recognize when it’s time to go. I wrote a couple posts about it on my software blog: here and here.
💻 Do you think the (insert one: liberals/conservatives) are idiots, out of touch with reality, wanting to destroy our nation? Then you’ve othered them, painted them black, I’m sad to say. N. S. Palmer warns us all against othering groups of people — it erodes the fabric of society. ReadDon’t “Other” Other People
💻 You probably know that Twitter banned Donald Trump recently. I was in favor of it. I rather thought they should have done it long ago. Fred Wilson sort of agrees. But he points out that platforms like Twitter have ended up having an enormous amount of power just through who they do and don’t let on. It would be better, he think, if services like Twitter were instead protocols to which many apps can connect. Fred explains better than I can from here. Interesting take. ReadTwitter and Trump
💻 I’m still figuring out my place in the church as a Christian. There are all kinds of churches with all kinds of approaches. I haven’t felt like any of them have been quite right. David Schell writes about his experience with evangelicalism, and how it wasn’t quite right either. Leaving evangelicalism left him wandering in the wilderness — and thinking maybe that this is where God wants him. Maybe it’s where God wants us all, because he can truly meet us there. ReadThe Cucumbers, the Melons, and the Leeks
📷 Dan Cuny shows us the Petal camera — it’s thin and round, and only 1.25 inches wide! It’s also more sophisticated than you might guess at first glance. ReadPetal Camera
📷 I’ve always wanted an Agfa Optima 1035 Sensor, and now that Connor Brustofski has reviewed his — I want one all the more. ReadAgfa Optima 1035 Sensor Review
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Let’s return now to my 2007 trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.
Some time ago I entered Rockville’s square from the road to Bridgeton and drove around the square twice looking for US 36 so I could head back to Indianapolis. I was surprised to find no US 36 shields anywhere. I saw a gas station west of the square on Ohio Street, so I drove that way after a soda and maybe directions. As I drew closer to the gas station, I began to make out a US 36 sign in the distance. I got the soda, turned around, and followed Ohio Street east towards home.
This time I knew my way around a little better, and besides, I entered Rockville from the east on US 36 so there was no chance I would not be able to find it in town. Like so many Midwestern small towns, Rockville has a courthouse square. This is the square from the northeast, at Ohio and Jefferson Streets. If you look close you can almost make out that Jefferson Street is paved in brick. So are the other two streets on the square.
Rockville appears to be making quite an effort to keep its square bright and tidy. I understand that this square is the center of the annual Covered Bridge Festival, a major tourist attraction here, so there’s ample reason for the town to invest here. I took the photo below from the southeast corner of Ohio and Market Streets, a block west of the previous photo.
Presumably, this is where the old Rockville State Road ended. It was one of Indiana’s early state roads from the 1830s, part of a network linking important towns. Both the Pikes Peak road and US 36 were laid out onto it from Indianapolis to Rockville.
Past the square, past some tidy older homes, US 41 quickly comes to signal the end of Rockville. This photo shows US 36 as it heads west into Rockville, taken from the southeast corner of US 36 and US 41.
And this photo is of the US 36/US 41 intersection northbound and westbound.
My camera’s battery died about here, so I had to turn around for home. I came back a couple months later to finish this trip. Next: another gravel alignment of the road.