Nick De Palma is a class act

Tonight was the final home game for the Acadia Axewomen and Axemen. These student athletes are such great role models. They have come to help run practices, run camps, and really help foster his love for basketball.

Tonight was a bit of a sad night as this was the last home game that Noah’s favourite player Nick De Palma would be in. This is his fifth year so he’ll be moving on, we will miss him, but wish him the best of luck. His kindness and willingness to help Noah and other kids is really impressive.

When helping out at camps he would stay late and play with Noah. He’d indulge him in shooting threes and even half court shots. I was never a student athlete but I remember how I was at that age and I wasn’t thinking much about other people especially other peoples kids. When I went to Acadia myself, I wasn’t a student athlete I was a mature student. Being a student itself is busy and hard, add in the responsibilities and work of being playing University sport and it is all the more impressive the time he dedicated to spreading the game of basketball.

The game tonight went into overtime, it was getting late and way past Noah’s bedtime but it was an exciting game and hopefully he’ll sleep in tomorrow. At the end of the game the Axemen came away with the win and while cheering Nick came over and asked us not to leave for a minute. He ran out back and brought out a signed jersey for Noah. He was about as proud as I’ve ever seen him. The whole way home grin ear to ear. He told me he wants to hang it on his door so when ever anyone comes they see it right away. This is after I got it off of him to get him into bed. For now we have it hanging from the TV where he can see it from bed and will be about the first thing he sees in the morning.

I’m certain this is something he’ll never forget, thank you Nick.

Looking back for an alternate path

You can’t change the past and I don’t believe it does any good to dwell on what ifs, or wishing you could go back and do things differently. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally thinking about where my life might be if I had made different choices at certain points in time, and then throwing these rambling thoughts down in a blog post.

In all honesty there is not much I would change if I had the chance. I’m very happy with where my life is right now. One thing I’ve been considering though is that, with the benefit of hindsight, I could have ended up at this same place except sooner.

There all kinds of mistakes and things I did when I was younger that put bumps in my road, or caused me to take wrong turns. The one that picks at me the most is the decision to go back to school to take Computer Science.

It’s not because I don’t see the value in the program or that I didn’t learn anything. In fact I really enjoyed my time at Acadia, the people I met, and I learned so much. The reason I regret it mainly is because where I ended up, and for how much of my degree I actually use, I didn’t need to go deep into debt in student loans to learn the skills and knowledge I now use in my career.

My time and money would have been much better spent buying and reading books specifically about web development. That is what I was really interested in and where I wanted to spend my career. Instead of writing command line Java programs I could have been building and experimenting with side projects or client work on my own.

At the time though all the local jobs with employers I thought would be good to work for wanted someone with a degree. Truly I didn’t even think about the possibility of working remotely at the time. Even though I was already doing it to an extent making websites for people I never met in person. It also didn’t occur that I would find a company where I really could make a career providing customer support. With those assumptions and narrow focus the logical route seemed to be to spend four years going to University.

After graduating I was able to sustain life being self employed doing web development for people. However I didn’t make it to a point where I was earning enough to repay my loans. For a number of years I deferred payments. This means there are still a lot of years I’ll be paying them back. Getting close to 40 years old and seeing the final date to having them paid so far away is a bit deflating.

This isn’t a complaint against student loans, I’m fully aware how fortunate I am that I was able to get loans, go to school, and then defer their payments afterwards. I’m just day dreaming about how I could have done it differently now that I have the benefit of looking back.

Even before I went back to school I was already on a path which could have led me to Automattic. My passion was in the web, I loved building things to help people, and helping people get a presence online. The whole while I was teaching myself how to do these things in my spare time. While building websites I came to a point where static html files weren’t the best way to do things and started looking at content management systems. Playing with things like WordPress and Joomla or Mambo at the time. In 2009 I signed up for a WordPress.com account, though I didn’t end up doing much with it for some time.

Later in 2010 I ended up hearing a Big Web Show podcast on 5by5 where Matt Mullenweg was interviewed. In it he talked about Automattic and in particular Happiness Engineers is what caught my attention. That was my first time starting to think that it could be a cool job, but put it out of my mind before looking into it because I was making money on my own. In that interview Matt also talked about a theory that the time was right for a product like WordPress to evolve and that if it wasn’t WordPress something else would have come along which met the needs of the web. My thought is that my career at Automattic is sort of like. A career like this, with a company like this, was needed in my life and we ended up connecting together.

If I hadn’t gone to University I could have learned a lot by myself in that same time frame and maybe when I heard that podcast I would have been more open to looking into working at Automattic. Then I could have been four years ahead in my career and without all the student loan debt.

Despite the regret I’m still just so thankful for having the life I do. With my family and career I really have nothing to complain about. Just in case my path wouldn’t have led me here without my going through University, than I’m even more grateful for my experiences I gained there and will try my best not to be so down on paying back the loans.

WordPress.com 101

The last time I spent a whole university class up in front was in 2008 when I was a student in a C++ programming class. The assignment was to first learn then  teach the rest of my classmates about linked lists. This time instead of software engineering I was trying to engineer happiness by giving a presentation along with a question and answer session for a third year business class on using WordPress.com.

This started about a month ago at the last Refresh Annapolis Valley meetup when I met the Professor and she told me about the assignment she was giving her class. She was having them all make their own website using WordPress. She asked me then if I would come in and talk to the class, I almost said no, but glad I didn’t.

Acadia isn’t a big school and is known for it’s small intimate class sizes with lots of attention from the Instructors. My estimate for this class was about 15-20 people. I showed up a bit early and was waiting outside the class room and it just seemed like more and more people were showing up and going into the class room. It felt like hundreds were going in and I was getting more and more nervous. As it turns out when I went in and counted there were only 35 students, still more than I figured though.

The instructor, Cindy Trudel, was great though. I had let her know I’m not a fan of being up in front of people so she helped a lot introducing and leading the Q&A session. They all had their account created and site setup so I started in walking through setting up Pages & Posts and setting a static Front Page and Posts page and covered some other starting WordPress tasks. From there we went into answering specific questions they had. Most were general enough that I could answer in general for everyone, but there were a few that were more individual so I went directly to them to help.

As I started going I felt more and more comfortable and in the end I feel it went really well. It was actually really cool helping a group of people in real life instead of one at a time through my computer. Although I’m much more at easy that way, this was a valuable experience. There were certainly things I learned and will be better prepared for in the future. One small thing will be that, for something similar, I’ll start with a blank test site and a set of images all set ready to go to choose from.

If felt like to me that everyone received something out of the class today and we left it open for the possibility for me to come back in the future either with this class or a future one. Getting to be the one to introduce a group of people to something I believe in and something that they will end up being a great skill for some of them to have is a little humbling. With the web being so prevalent in almost everything in these days, having familiarity with the software that powers 24.6% of it can only be a good thing.