Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Getting my knowledge on!

When I was younger, I didn't care for learning mundane school subjects. I didn't care for Literature because I hated reading the things my teachers wanted me to read; they always seemed stuffy and non-entertaining. And I didn't even want to consider math. Word problems only gave me headaches. If Bobby had 12 red apples and someone gave him 5 green apples, how many apples would Bobby have? My answer: too many damn apples. Math became nonsensical to me after basic arithmetic. Who's bright idea was it to toss in the alphabet?!

I managed to squeak by Algebra and, surprisingly, did very well in Geometry. I guess, because it was mainly remembering postulates and theorems. I left Geometry with a final grade of 104--sweet! I still needed another math credit to graduate high school, so I ended up taking Business Math, which was essentially learning how to balance a checkbook and other practical shit. Yeah, back then, I thought I was cool.

In retrospect, I realize I was a naive dumbass. It wasn't until I was in the Army that I finally began to understand the value of education. The Army taught me how to teach myself. I was fortunate enough to score well on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), which opened up the spectrum of military jobs I could choose from. I was initially going to become an infantryman, but my dad curtailed that by asking, "What are you going to do when you get out?" and then answering his question with: "There's not a big demand for killing people." So, I chose to repair helicopter engines, although, I had never worked on any kind of engine in my life. With no previous exposure to draw upon, my education for that particular job was a true learning experience.

I managed to graduate engine repair school and worked as a helicopter mechanic during my service. Luckily, every helicopter I worked on flew successfully, which is even more lucky considering I was required to fly with the test pilot after major overhauls. When I was discharged, I floundered in several menial jobs. I really wanted to be a fireman, but didn't know how to go about getting my foot in the door. The best thing I could think to do to minimize my odds was to enroll in technical school to become an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician); another field I knew nothing about.

Unlike my classmates, I paid for the education out of my own pocket. I hadn't occurred to me to apply for any grants and/or scholarships. Since I didn't have much money and paid the tuition out of my own pocket, that was just an added incentive for me to buckle down and do well. My class started with somewhere around 30+ students. Many washed out quickly. I studied harder so as not to piss away my money. Fortunately, I graduated with about 12 others (only about 7 of us went on to become state certified). I eventually got a job with an ambulance service, and not too long after that, I finally became a fireman at a local station.

I had realized a major goal early in my life. Eventually, however, the stress and low pay (can you believe the salary was only $18.6/year?!) took its toll on me. I knew I had to get into another line of work. During a Sunday shift, I sat down in the station's kitchen and looked through the classifieds. I had composed a list of the qualities I wanted in a career; it was numerous. I began going through the job listings, first the As, then the Bs, etc. I compared whatever I knew about each job against my list of criteria. What really caught my attention were the salaries for Programmers. I didn't know shit about computers, not to mention, programming, but those guys were making some serious bank. In contrast to my paltry salary, they were rich! I decided that was what I wanted to do.

Since I didn't know where to begin, I knew I needed to talk to people more knowledgeable in order to find out what I should learn and how to transition into this new field. First, my father-in-law donated his old 286 computer to me. Second, I went to the local bookstore and browsed through the various programming books. I had no idea what made VB different from C or Pascal different from the rest. I remembered that there were a LOT of jobs listings for C programmers and...man, those salaries! I ended up buying a book to learn the C programming language. Later, I learned that I had chosen the more difficult of the languages as my first. However, I persevered and, within a year's time, I was writing small programs. Of course, these were not overly complex, and it took much trial and error, but I managed to learn the fundamentals. It was time to start circulating my resume.

Obviously, I simplified the aforementioned process of my learning to program. I studied for several hours every night when I arrived home from work, and read chapters of my (many) books during my lunch breaks at the jobs I had after leaving the fire department. But, I did manage to bridge the gap and transition into a career programming computers. I won't bore you with those details. Suffice it to say, that I have been doing it since 1995. During that time, I've continued to stay abreast of the latest technology by reading books on those subjects. But, that isn't what prompted me to write this post. Recently, I've become interested in learning things I neglected in my youth.

Since math and I have never gotten along well, (with encouragement from my friend Mark Mans) I decided to try learning advanced math. Just like when I started learning to program computers, I have my sights high: to understanding advanced Calculus. Of course, I'm not delusional. I know that's a huge undertaking and I won't get there in a year's time, and probably not in two years. So, instead, I've gone back to the beginning and started brushing up on arithmetic and pre-Algebra. I plan to become proficient in each discipline until I can progress to the next, and then, the next. I've purchased several math books from Barnes & Noble and am nearly finished with the pre-Algebra book. It's exciting to finally comprehend the things in school that gave me such headaches long ago. Now, we're at the crux of this post.

While I've been good about studying fairly regularly on my own using the books, there was still something lacking. Recently, I discovered the Khan Academy website. There, anyone can create a free online account and learn a wide array of subjects using their instructional videos. Of course, I jumped right into the math disciplines. The videos are beneficial for helping to simplify difficult concepts. If you enjoy receiving rewards to fuel your motivation (as I do), there is an achievements section in your profile to view badges you obtain when you reach certain milestones. In the past three days, since stumbling onto this website, I've spent somewhere between ten and fifteen hours watching videos and practicing lessons. I've discovered the fun in math. Math can be sexy!

I know those last two statements probably sound weird, especially if you don't really care for math. Many people don't like math. I can understand. Heck, I used to be one of those people! Time has changed my opinion, though. I don't intend to change careers by becoming more proficient in math, but I sure don't see how it can hurt to broaden my knowledge. So, if you're interested in learning math (or, science, humanities, etc.), but don't see yourself going back to school, then try it for yourself. After all, it's free, so why not give it a try.

As for my writing, if you came here hoping to learn of my status, then I won't disappoint you. I've recently been busy editing a Southern Gothic novel called Lathem's Lament, which I wrote several years ago and put in a drawer. My wife has been asking me about it, so I decided to take it out and finish it. Currently, it's being read by my beta readers. Stay tuned to learn more about it and when it will be released. And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

No comments:

Post a Comment