Today's Featured Biography
After graduating from high school at West Valley High in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1987, I was accepted into a very nice college in Oregon that wanted far too much money, so I enrolled at the inexpensive and non-competitive University of Alaska Fairbanks instead. The summer following my freshmen year in college, I traveled from Alaska to New York City through a combination of hitch-hiking, busses, and trains of the course of a month. Once there, I stayed with my mother in New York for the remainder of the summer, working as a temp in various office jobs.
There, I met Olympia, a first-generation Greek whose mother lived down the hall in the same apartment building as my mother. We dated all summer, by the end of which I had decided I would move to New York to keep that going. A semester back at UAF to wrap things up there and effect a transfer to Hunter College in Manhattan followed, and then I was living in a basement apartment in Queens, working during the days, and going to school at night.
Olympia and I married the following year at the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox church in Corona, a part of Queens. I bounced around through a few office jobs until I found one that worked well for me at a law firm as a clerk focusing on building an accounting database system to support their relatively unique billing system used with Lloyd’s of London. I also bounced around majors in college until I settled on Computer Science.
The next several years were mostly more of the same, working and going to school at night. A notable exception was the birth of our first daughter, Elizabeth, in March of 1992. So from there, it was working, school, and family, which kept me extremely busy until late 1993, when I finally graduated with a B.A., magna cum laude, in Computer Science from Hunter College.
While my role at the law firm had expanded, they didn’t really have a good fit for a college graduate programmer, so I moved into the kind of consulting where you get a paycheck from a consulting company, but still get paid during your down-time. That was okay, but it really seemed like they were getting the best of the deal. On top of that, Elizabeth was getting close to school age and the Queens public school system didn’t really seem like someplace we wanted her to go if we could help it. Big change was in the air.
In 1994, I started my own consulting company and found my first contract in Greenbelt, Maryland. Practically overnight, when it all came together, I was in Crofton, Maryland in a rented townhouse and working at a software company building a help desk system. A year later, we bought our first house in Rockville, Maryland, which was much more convenient for the consulting jobs I was getting in DC, northwest Virginia, and Maryland, plus was home to the Hellenic American Academy, a private Greek day school that Elizabeth attended for several years. My mother-in-law, a widow with Olympia as her only child, moved in with us in the new house and has been with us ever since. Usually, I grin and bear it, reminding myself that there really was little other choice as her health has degraded over the years and living alone wasn’t really a viable option for her.
My consulting career continued to grow, but I was feeling something missing, probably because I’d become used to doing so much work back in New York that a simple 9-to-5 (as most contract work tended to be) seemed a bit boring. For several years, I worked on a second business manufacturing and publishing miniature war games and accessories. My company put out about 150 different products, including five books and a whole line of licensed figures based on the band GWAR, but I never did manage to turn it into self-sustaining business, and I shut it down after five years and some heavy losses.
In 1998, Olympia and I had a second daughter, Courtney, although at home and with Greek-speaking friends she goes by her Greek name, Katerina, a name I actually like much better. To this day, people mention Courtney to me and are faced with a blank look for a few seconds until I recall who they are talking about.
Two years later, in 2000, Olympia had our third child, a son this time, named Gregory. This really seems like quite enough, so we have “taken steps” to permanently avoid having any more. Three kids is quite a handful, so six years later, I’m still comfortable with that decision, although we have a surprising number of friends who have had five, six, or even more children.
With the games company gone around the time Gregory was born, I spent the next two years from early 2001 to the end of 2002 expanding my consulting company and moving toward a more product based, rather than service based, revenue model. While the company grew to seven people and prospects were looking quite good, the attacks of September 11, 2001 had a significant cooling effect on technology spending in this country, and by late in 2003 I’d had to cut back down to only four people on staff and was facing another year or two of lean times.
Around that time, my brother Adam told me about an opportunity at Microsoft as a community program manager, which means I’d be in charge of getting developers and customers to talk to each other more, ideally leading to better software. Not really figuring I’d get an interview, I went ahead and applied. Not really figuring I’d get the job, I went to the interview. In January of 2003, I started working there, at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.
Closing down my consulting and software business was very difficult for me, as self-employment really suited me well, but the opportunity to work at Microsoft, at least for awhile, was so attractive from both a financial and educational perspective, and the near-term outlook for my business was so lukewarm, that I decided it was the right thing to do. I spent about eighteen months in the community role, then transitioned to a product development position, still as a program manager, where I wrote specifications and acted in a kind of peer-leader role to a team of developers building features for a web property Microsoft uses to manage customer release programs, like beta software.
I was there for three years and could have stayed longer, as I had just been offered a third role as a feature program manager on another highly visible team, but Olympia and the kids had already moved back to Maryland, as it turned out that the Pacific Northwest was not really for them. Personally, I like that area, as I like mountains and hiking, something there is less of on the East Coast, but the family had spoken.
An opportunity presented itself for me to take a role as president of a directory publishing company in Washington, DC. This was a company for whom I’d done consulting work for several years and was looking to shift to online directories over traditional printed books. I took on that role in February of 2006 and moved back to Rockville, Maryland.
Unfortunately, the position with the directory publishers was not as good of a fit as had been hoped. It became clear that the view of the board of directors and my view of what we needed to do and how we would do it were not as compatible as it appeared during the recruitment period. We parted company in October of 2006 and I returned to my self-employment. My consulting and software business that had been shut down was still a viable corporate entity, so I am currently engaged in getting that up and running again. The slump in the technology industry caused by 9/11 has passed, so I already have multiple clients and several promising prospects, as well as two new product offerings in the works.
Olympia and I are currently living in a rented single-family home on a quiet street in Rockville, Maryland, with our three children, Olympia’s mother, and a cat. I work out of my home office or, with laptop and free wireless connection, sometimes out of the local diner. I have pretty nice amount of free time I can spend with Olympia and the kids, and have been fairly active in Gregory’s Cub Scout activities. I wish we had a little more money coming in the door and it would be nice to be owners rather than renters, but overall, things are going well.
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