Friday, January 27, 2006

Climbing Mt. Everest in your pajamas

I chose an occupation, that to this day, sometimes intimidates me. I grew up with a Dad who was a do-it-yourself-er for freaking everything. He had enough brains and chutzpah to tackle any project, whether it be completely rebuilding a car engine or building an addition to his house. He grew up in a relatively poor family and just learned his can-do attitude out of necessity. Alot of that attitude rubbed off onto me. I think my career choice had alot to do with the satisfaction of doing something yourself, and making something really useful out of scraps of material and the sweat of your brow. Only I chose the more "intellectual" route and build all my castles in the virtual land of computers. I'm a software engineer.

I now work for a market research company, which is not quite like a marketing company where people are trying to create new ideas to sell stuff. No, it's more like rocket science, except instead of rockets we use statistics to tell our customers what they think they really want in a product or service. The math is enough to make your head swim, and I took enough math in college as a C.S. major such that only math majors had taken more than I did. My last class was in statistics and I remember walking away from the final vowing to forget all I could because I thought "Hey, I'm going to make cool web sites, not study a bunch of boring numbers." Kharma, Fate, or whatever took issue with that statement, because now I do nothing but write statistical analysis software so the marketing analysts don't have to worry about how the math works and they can just push a button.

That was all a setup to how I'm feeling today. I got handed the latest project, and the background info given to me was a stack of technical white papers thick enough to cause someone back trouble from carrying it around. The first of which is titled "Fast Polyhedral Adaptive Conjoint Estimation", and it was written by four PhD's at MIT and UCLA. Oh, and the goal here is to write some software that does all this stuff. Luckily, the hardest part (the math) has already been coded and I just have to figure out an easy way to present this stuff to a marketing analyst so that it's a useful tool. Still, I can't help but feel at times like this that I've just been roused from bed, I'm still in my pajamas, some guy hands me a map and a canteen and tells me to go climb Mt. Everest. Right...

So many of life's problems seem that way to me sometimes. Then I look back at all the personal mountains in my life that I've climbed and it gives me the confidence to start on the next one.

At the very least I have enough reading material to ensure I get to sleep at night for about the next 3 months...

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