English: View of the northern side of the rail...

English: View of the northern side of the railroad bridge by Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How did you pick your profession?

Did you ever think about what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Did you know, as my older son did, at the age of 13?

Or, as my younger son did, when you were a Senior in high school?

Did you just happen on to your profession or did you choose it?

Was it a family tradition or new with you?

My mother thought I could be the next Betty Crocker, for Amana, an appliance company near our home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

She encouraged me to be a writer by submitting one of my short stories to several magazines when I was in elementary school.

They were never published, but the fact that she thought they could be made me start thinking of myself as a writer.

My father was an accountant who taught me a few principles, like asking whether an answer you just calculated was reasonable.

He had learned this habit from working with slide rules, where you could easily be off by a multiple of a hundred, if you weren’t paying attention, and each calculation afterwards would compound your error.

I loved foreign languages, taking French in sixth grade, French and Spanish in high school and Chinese in college.

I loved making and breaking codes, delving deep into them with a book I got for Christmas in elementary school.

I loved chemistry, from the perfume-making kit I got in elementary school to the Chemistry teacher in high school who took me seriously when I challenged him over something he was teaching that I had just read had been proven wrong in a Scientific American article I read at home.

I loved math, taking honors courses through high school, thinking I might be a math major in college.

But, the only friend I knew in high school who already knew what she wanted to be was someone who had decided to be an engineer.

Looking back, her father was probably an engineer.

Our town, Richardson, Texas, where we moved just before I started seventh grade, was filled with the engineers who worked for Texas Instruments, Ling-Temco-Vaught and Collins Radio, where my father worked.

In fact, it was why, when the government ordered Collins Radio to open up a second plant outside Cedar Rapids, because they were making a radio critical for the Air Force, they settled on Richardson.

They knew their engineers would be happy in a town with good schools and lots of other engineers.

They moved 100 families, including support professionals, like accountants, lock, stock and barrel to Richardson in 1959.

But, though I always knew I was going to go to college, I didn’t know what I was going to focus on when I got there.

Michigan State University made it easy. You didn’t have to declare a major until the end of your Sophomore year.

Even then, they made it easy.

I was taking courses in three areas, so they let me declare what they called a divisional major, divided between Psychology and Social Studies, with a Minor in Philosophy.

The following year, I changed to Far Eastern Studies and transferred to George Washington University in Washington, DC to follow my boyfriend.

Because he had taken an aptitude test from IBM to see if he could be a programmer – he could and they hired him – I took the programmer’s aptitude test from IBM before I transferred.

So, this was in 1967, with all the social attitudes of the time.

I knew my boyfriend had done really well on his test.

I was really good at test-taking.

I wanted to do well enough to be offered a job, but not better than my boyfriend.

It’s not like I knew what his score was. I just knew it was good.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by showing him up.

IBM said, “Don’t call us.”

By the time I was finishing up my Junior year at George Washington University, it was time to start interviewing with employers.

I signed up to talk to the National Security Agency.

They had an exciting new apprentice program for Chinese translators.

I took their language aptitude test and spotted some of the programmer’s aptitude test questions I’d seen on the IBM test.

When we interviewed, they asked me, “Did you know you could be a programmer?”

“Yes, I know,” I told them.

“I recognized some of your questions, but I don’t want to be a programmer.  I want to be a Chinese translator.”

I didn’t want to do what my boyfriend was doing anymore. I wanted my own profession.

As it happened, by then, my boyfriend had been drafted and we’d gotten married.

I was planning to drop out of school at the end of the semester.

NSA invited me to come back and apply when I returned to the area, three years later.

But, they no longer had the translator program when I came back.

By this time, though, I’d been hearing more about computers from my husband and they sounded like fun, a lot like the code making and breaking games I’d played in elementary school.

When I saw an ad in the newspaper for an entry-level programming position with the Navy, I applied and took their test.

During the interview, I told them, “By way of full disclosure, this is the third time I’ve taken this test.”

“That doesn’t matter,” they told me.

“You can’t memorize the answers. You aced the test and, by mistake, we didn’t even give you enough time. You’re hired.”

I was in the computer field for the next 30 years.

Years later, I told my husband I had hobbled myself during the IBM test.

He pretended to be insulted, fully confident that he would still have beaten me.

How did you pick your profession?

Are your grandchildren interested in what you do?

Did you ever think you would be in a job that didn’t exist when you were in high school?

To you and sharing the joy of work with your grandchildren.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



Enhanced by Zemanta