A Funny Thing Happened to Me on My Way to Retirement…

I entered this OSU’s eCampus Computer Science post-bac in the Winter of 2017, with the intention of retiring from my current job about the same time I graduate from the program and then getting a local IT job. (I took one class per term and took summer terms off — in case you are doing the math.) 2021 was the first year that I was eligible to retire under the early retirement rules, but the deadline for applying for retirement – September 30 – has come and gone. What happened?

COVID-19 — that’s what happened. Working from home was limited to one day every two weeks before COVID-19. We got a new head of our agency in 2018. About one or two months before COVID hit, he cancelled work from home entirely, but in March of 2019 the agency sent everybody to work from home (they just called it a different name than work from home which is still technically cancelled). Yet here I am still working form home. So how did this change my retirement outlook?

For starters, I began to like my work more since I no longer have to deal with the management. I actually like my work; it’s the management that is hard to tolerate. I really like not going in to the office except I do miss the cookies and doughnuts. I no longer have to pretend that I am not bored out of my mind during staff meetings — now I just leave my camera off and continue to do my work while the management drones on and on about how much they love us, other important agency happenings, blah, blah, blah.

However, the most important reason for not retiring is that what was impossible in the agency before COVID has become possible. That new possibility is the Information Technology Specialist positions can be out stationed. That means that an IT Specialist can work in their local office instead of moving to Seattle or Baltimore (have you ever been to Baltimore? – yuck). Moving was not an option for me.

So I have decided not to retire and to try to get an IT position within my agency. Actually, there is a lot I could contribute since I have real, in depth knowledge of the business processes. If it does not workout, I can always retire in 2022 or 2023. It’s nice to have choices.

Drinking From a Firehose

A lot of my classes have have begun with the feeling that I am drinking from a firehose. The classes covered many topics and languages that were completely unfamiliar to me, and the content was rapidly spewed forth with assignments due in short time frames. I have to admit that it took a lot of adaptation to learn how to drink from the firehose without injury. I also have to admit that I did not enjoy learning to do this and would have much preferred some other way. In fact, there were times when I was not sure I was up to the task, but somehow I have always managed to make it through.

I think the ability to drink from a firehose is the most important thing that I have learned in my course of study at OSU. To me, drinking from a firehose is the ability to learn completely new things in a short time. It also means not trying to master a particular language or skill set, because those things are constantly changing. Drinking from a firehose means learning new languages and skills in short order and doing it on my own. This course has given me the confidence to know that I can pickup whatever new language, framework, model, etc. that is required.

As I begin the Capstone project, I can tell that I will need to do a lot of research and learn new skills, but this does not intimidate me. I know how to drink from a firehose.

How It Began

Welcome to the beginning of the end of my course of study at OSU. This seems an appropriate time to reflect on how it began.

My interest in programming began through my work at a large federal agency. Among many other things, the work included processing claims that were filed on the Internet for retirement, disability, and health benefits. Processing claims involved gathering, entering, and propagating lots of data from various sources into the claims processing software. This was a high volume, repetitive, and somewhat brain-numbing task. I thought, “Why can’t this be automated? The machine can do this faster and more accurately than a person.” Of course, it could be automated. All that was needed was someone to write a program to do it.

At the time, no one with authority in the agency thought this was important enough to order one or two of the several thousands of programmers in the agency to write such a program. I decided to try to do it myself. I had no prior programming experience. The agency had software for processing appeals with similar functionality to what I wanted. I emailed the programmer who created and maintained the appeals program, hoping to interest him in my project. He responded by sending me the hundreds of pages of code for the entire appeals program and wished me good luck.   

Over the course of many, many months, mainly through trial and error and using the appeals code as a guide, I was able to automate this brain-numbing task that thousands of people in my agency did everyday. My program greatly improved my work life. I continued to add functionality. Overtime, I shared my program with others who shared it with others, and it was eventually used throughout the country. 

At this point, higher-ups in the agency took notice. The agency had finally developed software, written by real agency programmers, designed to address the same workload as my program. However, employees were using my “unauthorized” software instead of the agency’s authorized software, because my program had a lot more functionality. I had never thought about authorization. I was just trying to make my work easier. In the end my program was banned and its functionality was incorporated into the agency approved software. I was made aware that in my agency worker bees work, and programmers program. Cross pollination is frowned upon. 

Despite the unhappy ending, I learned a lot from this experience. I found that I was interested in programming and enjoyed it. Sometime later, I enrolled in OSU.