Archive for the ‘How I Started Teaching OR How to Get Ahead in Life’ Category

How I Started Teaching OR How to Get Ahead in Life

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

As I write this I am preparing for my second semester as a Professor at the University of Nevada-Reno.  It never occurred to me to pursue a career in teaching and I certainly never expected that I would be teaching at a university.  In retrospect I have to admit that all the makings are present for me to be a teacher.  I don’t have an irrational fear of public speaking, I enjoy being the center of attention, the perceived power feeds my id and I do get a great deal of satisfaction seeing people develop knowledge or skills as a result of my efforts.  I cannot say how long I will want to teach or even how long the university will want me around but I will always enjoy the time I have spent teaching and respect the opportunity that was afforded me to do this.

In 1997 I began building and working on computers for friends and relatives.  Later that year I began to make a little side money doing it (I hope the IRS isn’t reading this).  By 1998 I was acquiring parts from a local start-up company named Endeavor.  I developed a relationship with the owners and their head sales person and to this day I consider Brett (co-owner) and Mark (sales) to be a couple of my best friends.  On several occasions I was solicited by another owner of Endeavor to come work for them and eventually I took them up on their offer.  The pay sucked and the work environment was less than optimal but the people were great and I enjoyed what I was doing.  Sometime later I was asked to take on a UNR student for an internship in the production of computers.  His name was Jamie and he was a Computer Science major.  He came in for about three days and was never heard from again.  I assumed I had scared him off.

Flash forward to the year 2000 and Endeavor no longer exists.  Everything looked good for the company until the owners made a bad business decision named Tom.  I will give you more about Tom at another time.  I am unemployed at this point and applying for a position with another start-up company in Reno.  I am granted in interview with the Owner of the company and I felt that everything went pretty well but I have had that feeling before.  After I left, Jim, the owner with whom I had just interviewed, approached one of his employees to discuss the interview he had just had with me.  This employee was Jamie; the same Jamie whom I had worked with for all of three days over a year prior.  Jamie expressed a very positive view of my skills and based on his approval I was hired to work at ECI.  I spent the next several months teaching Jamie everything I knew about computer design, assembly and troubleshooting.

Jamie was now finishing up his last semester as a student at UNR and was having difficulties with one of his classes.  You can imagine how personally I was affected to know that this problem class was PC Troubleshooting and Repair.  I knew him to have strong technical abilities and couldn’t imagine this class to be remotely challenging for him.  Jamie showed me his most recent test results and I immediately agreed with several of his assertions that had been discounted by the professor.  Jamie did a bit of research on the matter and validated our views from numerous technical journals.  At my prodding he approached his professor and even though he was armed with facts he was denied any satisfaction.  Now I am taking this personally.

I made arrangements for Jamie and I to discuss the matter with Fritz, the department head at the university; basically we went to the teacher’s boss.  We plead our case eventually had our assertions validated.  You can imagine my surprise when, a week later, I get a call from the department head asking for my resume.  I submitted the requested resume and felt that same kind of nervous excitement one gets before a job interview as I awaited word from UNR.  A few days later I receive another call with disappointing news; they had decided to “promote from within” and that I would not be needed for the teaching position.  You can’t argue with that.

Backing up a bit I need you to remember that over a year prior I had worked for Endeavor.  One of the founders (Brett) had been working for another failed dot.com start-up called Data Engines.  Brett suggested that our company could use the talents of a man named Troy with whom Brett had worked at Data Engines for some time.  On his recommendation I arranged for an interview and ultimately he was hired on at ECI.  As fate would have it, Troy had been intimately involved in the authoring and editing of a book for none other than Fritz, the UNR department head to whom I sent my resume and with whom Jamie and I had spoken.  I decided to try a different approach to this job application process.  I wrote a letter or recommendation from the perspective of Troy reflecting my vast knowledge and abilities and suggesting that I would be a perfect candidate for the position of UNR professor.  Troy signed it and I mailed it off to Fritz.  A couple of days later I am again called by Fritz and this time I am offered the position I had been denied a week prior.  No other communications had been sought and no mention has ever been made by either party of the letter I wrote.  And here I am, a UNR professor.

The point of particular interest with this story is that I acquired my job with Endeavor on my own merit.  My job with ECI was on the word of Jamie – who, by the way, was hired on as a result of the suggestion of his fiancé who was hired at ECI as the receptionist months prior.  Troy’s job with ECI was on my word and ultimately my position at UNR is a result of an unspoken tit-for-tat between Troy and Fritz.  Although I have been qualified for every job mentioned I haven’t been hired on merit alone since Endeavor.  At the time of this writing is has been four years since I began at Endeavor and I find myself wondering if  my degree or expertise will ever play as significant of a role as the partnerships I have solidified.