I don’t know if I’m much of a storyteller. I do like to write. I don’t mind speaking in public, and it would probably be a little worrisome if I were a teacher that felt uncomfortable in front of a crowd.
But there is one story. The story. The story that – to this point – has strongly defined my life. It’s the story behind the 2-sentence answer to the question I always wish I had time to truly explain. I’ve told the story before. I’ve been told that the story is a little inspiring, though I think I could just be self-inflating my ego a bit. But I do love the story. I do tell it to my students once a year. And I feel that here, on this blog, I should tell it. It’s the story behind a simple question, a life decision and ultimately why this blog exists.
I’m a naive, uninspired, directionless college senior. And life is good. I’m living with my best friends, doing well in school, enjoying my part-time job, active in clubs, etc. I’m majoring in computer science and I am beginning to realize that graduation is just a few months away. Reluctantly, I begin the job search; the practice that would theoretically lead me to the life of a financially stable cube dwelling drone.
At the time, my school had a website that cataloged when recruiters were coming to campus and allowed you to easily sign up for interviews. With little thought, I signed up for an interview with Deutsche Bank for a software development internship program. The interview morning came and I almost decided to blow it off. I wasn’t excited about it that much, but really I was just nervous. Nervous about the interview, but more nervous about the idea of becoming a real person. In one of the weirdest twists of fate in my life, I decide to go because that website said that any failure to make an interview/appointment can result in a suspension of my access. That was enough to scare me out of bed, though not enough to even put on a tie.
I did do my homework though. I researched the position and Deutsche Bank. I went into the interview with a strange sense of calm, perhaps coming from the fact that I didn’t really want to be there and, as a result, didn’t care what the interviewers thought of me. It would turn out that it was a very initial interview to see what I was like as a person, a leader, etc. I was not asked any technical computer questions and it really became a conversation. I was able to answer exactly how many people their company employed (lesson learned: always do your research). Long story short: I made the second round of interview. In New York City. On Wall St.
I was a first generation college student. First in my family to go to a four-year school, let alone a premier institution. I had really traveled nowhere, outside a weekend trip to Chicago as a young kid. The idea of being flown out to New York City, put up in the Hilton (overlooking the site of the former World Trade Center) and schmoozing with HR reps at a Manhattan banquet hall was surreal, to say the least.
The interview process, looking back on it, was short. We were welcomed by some HR dude that explained the program. He gave us a tour of the Wall St. building that Duetsche Bank occupies – I was just in awe of the special elevators that climbed dozens of stories in just a few seconds. Our interviews were on the 33rd floor of a building that overlooked downtown Manhattan. To this day, I’ll remember sitting in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows, being asked some questions about who-knows-what all while thinking “that’s a helicopter that is flying by at my eye level” as I looked mostly past the people who were judging whether or not I was Duetsche Bank material.
I remember nothing from the second interview, however the third interview is what changed my life. At the end, I asked the interviewer “What is the focus of your department?” His response was exactly what I needed to hear in so many ways. “We develop and optimize algorithms,” he said, “so that we can get to the market faster and increase the profits for the company.”
And that’s what my life on Wall St. would be. Obsessing over lines and lines of code, in my cube, so that Duetsche Bank (in the midst of a financial meltdown, mind you) could bring home a couple more dollars.
Suffice to say, I was not heartbroken that I wasn’t offered a position. I enjoyed my trip to New York, failed and then succeeded at figuring out the subway to see Times Square for all of five minutes before catching my cab back to the airport and back to Michigan.
And though I did go on some more interviews, that day forever stuck with me. A few months later, when it should have been time for graduation, I decided to stick it out one more year, upon the advice of several counselors. I took a few more math classes (and a few more film classes for fun) that I needed to apply to the graduate program that would eventually lead me to my true passion. Working with high school kids, teaching a subject I enjoy, coaching sports I love, and making an impact far greater than earning a bank a few extra dollars.
I am not sure exactly how much this late change in my education cost me financially. I could figure it out down to the penny if I wanted. That extra year of undergrad, itself, probably added $15k to my student loan total and grad school basically doubled it. Had I stuck with those interviews and found my cube job and cranked out code for some company, I probably would be debt free right now. I’d certainly be making more money than I currently am. However, I have no doubts that I made the right choice. This debt will be paid off eventually and the lessons learned while accomplishing that goal will be many.
So… why did I become a teacher? To have fun. To help teenagers. To make a difference beyond dollars and cents.