Five Influencers

Five Influencers

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No... I'm not talking about the most influential folks in the Microsoft developer community.  (Although, I consider myself fortunate to work with many of them.)  I'm not talking about the experts or anything like that.  I'm just picking up on the blog meme of naming five people who have influenced my career from Andy and Dani.  Like a chain letter, how could I resist?

I really had to stop and think about it long and hard.  As I scrolled back through the virtual rolodex in my head, I flipped through many names.  There must have been hundreds in there.  Who really influenced me along the way in life to get me to the position where I am today?   Considering all those names wasn't an easy process.  Lots of hard work and debate went into the list. 

At times, I wondered out loud, "Gee, this list is so long...  so many influencers.  What does that mean?!  Am I a weak-kneed-willy-eyed loser taking career advice from anyone I meet on the street? How else could it be possible that so many people have influenced me in my short time on this third rock from the sun?"  Don't I know how to stand up for myself and make my own decisions?!

But then I thought about it some more.  And some more.  And some more.  Nah, I couldn't have possibly been influenced by all those people?!  It might be curved, but I DO have a spine!  I don't listen to everything everyone tells me.  I had to go back through the long list of names and start trimming it down.  

And so the process began, like a never-ending rerun of American Idol in my head as I tried to whittle the list down.  Just like the show, it started off with all the whackos I've come across...  I did tell the guy on the subway who tried selling me a bridge in Brooklyn to take a hike.  So, I know I wasn't influenced by him!  That means I do have some direction in life on my own.  I pulled his card out of the virtual rolodex.

But what about the fortune teller I saw on the boardwalk in the summer of '96 who told me I'd be working with computers some day?  I AM working with computers today, aren't I?  That's it!  She's through to Hollywood!  Wait a sec...  everyone works with computers today.  She couldn't have possibly influenced that.  Sorry dawg, she's out of the rolodex too!

And speaking of chain letters, I came close, but after much debate, I decided not to send $2000 dollars to the Nigerian prince to free his dad and cover the money transfer free so he could stash his millions with me in return for a few hundred thousand in my pocket.  That DID sound a bit too good to be true.

After all of the homeless people on the street, fortune tellers, and Nigerian princes were crossed off, I managed to whittle it down to a shorter list of five people who have influenced my career.   America voted, and here are your top--  uh... I mean, I voted, and here are 5 folks who have influenced my career (in no particular order):

My Parents

This one seems obvious, and probably should be on everyone's list.  Way too many points to list, but two specific things that stand out in retrospect: 

First, for pushing me into the higher math track in 7th grade.  I didn't know this at the time, but the way my school system was rigged, if you didn't make a jump to advanced math in 7th grade, you'd be behind with virtually no opportunities to move up into the advanced math track (needed to get in to most good colleges) right through high school graduation. 

Second, for pushing me to return to VT to complete my ComSci degree.  After two years in the EE program at VT, I was burnt out.  I came back to Jersey, got a place down the shore with some good friends, and partied hardy on the beach for a year.  I still might have pursued a ComSci degree via the community college route if I stayed here.  But my odds at success would have been much lower in the "fun" environment I was living in.

Susan Magod - High School Journalism Teacher

Helped cement the love for all things media and journalism that I have.  I HS, I wanted to be a radio DJ.  I thought my future was going to be the next Scott Shannon (my idol at the time).  But via Ms. Magod's journalism class, I quickly realized that radio is show-business.  Unless you're the next Howard Stern, there is no money to be made in radio. I don't recall the exact words, but somewhere along the line, there was a conversation where she said, "But hey...  you're great in math & science...  that engineering thing you're considering for college is a sure bet!"   I still love radio today, but I'm really glad that I am where I am...  especially now that radio DJs are becoming virtually extinct by stations that are run by a computer!

Friend's brother-in-law - Rutgers U. Computer Science Alumni

This is an odd choice for the list, as I only met the person one time.  I don't even remember his name.  While partying at the Jersey Shore after said burn out from first two years of college, I was debating what to do with my life.  Yes... being the Jimmy Buffet of Point Pleasant Beach crossed my mind.  But being "that old guy" who's always there at the shore bars drinkin' booze and wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt wasn't going to cut it.

Computer Science was one of the options I was considering, but I knew little about it.  What type of professions did ComSci majors go into?  Was it a real career path?  Would I like it?   My friend set me up to talk with her brother in law who was a ComSci alumni from Rutgers U.  He explained what he did in school and for a job and it sounded like a lot of fun.  He also made what sounded like a lot of $$ to me.  (Well, ANY thing over minimum wage back then sounded good to me!)  I never saw the guy again.  But I signed up for a Pascal class at Brookdale Community College the next week and the rest is history!

John Kozell - Principal Consultant - Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) 

As a consultant, you often work as the lone ranger at a customer site, disconnected on a daily basis from your colleagues. So it can be challenging to get a good understanding of how the business really works.  I was lucky enough to be paired with John on a long term project when I was just a noobie consultant with MCS.  John was a laid back type of guy.  While spending many hours together dissecting the torture that was Outlook 98 & MAPI programming, John showed me how things worked at MS behind the scenes...  from the politics of things, to the way to just get the job done.  He also has a wickedly funny sense of humor if you get to know him well.

William Zentmayer - Evangelism Manager - Microsoft 

Bill was assigned to me as my mentor when I first joined MCS.  After a short initial project I worked on with him, our paths didn't cross often.  It's just the way things work in MCS.  You never know who you'll be working with.   A couple of years later, Bill was coming off a gig with the Patterns & Practices team at Microsoft.  He recommended that I work on a project with them too.  That lead me to a gig writing a book on Java/.NET interop.  The work I did with the P&P team was fun, personally rewarding, and really helped build out my knowledge of back-end enterprise architecture.

Our paths didn't cross for some time after that.  But then once again, Bill came along tempting me to switch from consulting to evangelism.  He told me all about the role and I thought, "that sounds like a lot of fun."  Here I am as an evangelist, and I haven't looked back. 

Less than a year later, after going through about 7 managers in my career at Microsoft, Bill got promoted to the job as my team's manager.  After crossing-paths at chance moments that helped influence my career, I now get to work with him on a day to day basis.  What an honor!  The man is fantastic.  He manages our team like a well oiled machine.  He rescues cats from trees.  He turns stone into gold.  He-- okay okay...  I should probably stop brown nosing now. 

And there you have it... 5 people who have influenced me in my career.  I'm sure there are gaping omissions to this list.  If I left anyone off, they can always come back on next year's Idol!  To those on the list, I say "thanks".  Hopefully, I get the chance to pay it forward with others too.