Not exactly a career

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/10/13 13:01 -04:00, original URI:

Regular reader Jan Kučera asked in the Suggestion Box:

Did you ever got an non-technical post suggestion?

Well I have one. :-)

The more I read through your posts the more I like the work you do, the knowledge you have and I find this internationalization and linguistic stuff so interesting, that I'm telling myself, this work I would enjoy. I'm thinking to adjust my university studies this way.

Now the questions. Did you always wanted to do the work you are doing? If not, how it came to you? How did you decided, what have you studied or how were the first jobs? That's sort of questions of the story that I'd be interested in, if you don't mind sharing it with us.


It's funny, usually the non-technical suggestions tend to come through the Contact link, but this works too. :-)

Though I admit that I probably don't have a good answer to the question, at least not one that can really be useful.

But I will blather on for a while and see if anything useful comes out of it....

I remember the first thing about language that fascinated me. It was when I learned about reflexive verbs.

Not when I was taught about them. That was in English years before, and although I got an "A" on the test I never felt like I really understood what they were. Mainly because there no explicit morphological changes that happen to verbs in English to make them reflexive.

And then when I was learning Hebrew and they did take on a different form, it suddenly clicked. And then bells were ringing, as in Hebrew it turns out one of the common verbs for having sex is in fact a reflexive verb. Initially confused, the teacher blushed a bit and pointed out that the way many people do it, they may s well be doing it with themselves, perhaps it reflects a rather frank honestly of the language.

I was blown away by the idea of ideas and thoughts shaping language, and the subtle effects on grammar. Like the way Hebrew used the plural form for those big uncountable things like sky or water or life. Or etymology and how words that were in a modern sense really unrelated would share roots because at some deeper level there was a certain commonality like מזון vs. זנה or less obnoxious examples. I became fascinated in aspects of language I had taken for granted in my own language that were interesting even there once I knew about them.

I never did see this as a career though - it was just some interesting thing I could learn about on the side.

And then there were computers.

I never minded computers, they just weren't something to take classes about. Instead they were best to just jump in and learn, whether on the Osborne 1 we had, or the TRS-80s the school bought for $1000 each. And even though I didn't take much in the of classes about them, I ended up tutoring people.

Once again, not a career. But an interesting way to spend time.

And then there was meeting Ori Soltes and asking him lots of questions (as I pointed out here). He knew like seven language fluently and can read in dozens more -- I was blown away by even the idea of that this would be possible. I thought back to the lessons I learn by being able to contrast two languages and wondered how much one could learn if they could do the same thing with even more....

I was collecting more and more things that I found interesting but still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, at all.

Well, I had lost of the love of my life (as I thought of her at the time) and then later been divorced. And no, it was not the same two people.

I was searching -- being a nanny, managing a Mobil Mart, teaching at the after-school program at the Renbook School, working in various neurologists' and neurosurgeons' offices doing transcription and neurodiagnostic tests. I was really good doing the tests like EEGs for kids, and I did at least feel like maybe I was pulling some of the things together that I was interested in.

In retrospect, I think I was still pretty lost. And not doing anything with computers or language other than being the guy who helped fix the computers in the office. And learning not to curse (when you're around kids, that lesson comes quickly!).

I had it in my mind that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but a more human one than some of them ended up being -- a bit like some of the ones I had been doing work for. I had a great example in this and she convinced me that I needed to get off the bench, as it were. And do something. It really didn't matter what it was. Well, it mattered -- but what matter most was to do something.

And so I did. I started taking some of the side jobs for other doctors who needs help with the computer side of the studies they were working on and sometimes just the systems that ran their businesses. It became a wider consulting business, specializing in database applications and then statistics and then replication, with a bit of a focus on internationalization from to time because it kept jumping out at me as I mentioned here. Contacting for different groups in Microsoft for over half a decade (after moving out to Redmond for one short-term contract that I never got to do), slowly circling the group I finally joined full-time.

I guess I laid this out here in a bit more detail here how I moved between certain projects.

See what I mean? Not really a roadmap for a career, now is it? :-)

(And of course I did not really overlay for M.S. fit into all that, or most of the later personal life stuff.)

Though I guess the final lesson in it all is to pay attention to the things that interest you; they are the things you are most likely to be good at since you end up finding yourself doing them the most.

And probably take a few of the intro courses in linguistics if you find the kind of things I like interesting -- if I ever went back to school it's what I'd be most likely to be wanting to learn more about.

Or make sure you take classes that you find interesting, too --- no matter what your major is and whether they are related. The more you learn the (well, you know what I mean!).


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Jan Kučera on 17 Oct 2007 9:46 AM:


 thank you for your fascinating story! Yeah, I also have few areas which interest me a lot, do not relate each to other and I have no idea which one would I choose over the others.

 Interesting post, indeed, and I wish you a lot of success and enjoyment of your work to the future.


 PS. Fortunately, we add a word more to turn a verb into reflexive form in our langauge. ;-)

batyoktm on 15 Nov 2007 5:37 AM:

I have always problem with computer language.

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