Transitioning to IT: How "Office Space" Almost Ruined My Life

I went to film school in LA out of high school. After just one year, I transferred to the University of Oklahoma where I completed my Bachelor's in Aviation and earned a commercial pilot's license. Naturally, after graduation I sold ski boats for nine months in Texas before enrolling in graduate school for Computer Science at the University of Chicago.

Despite what it seems, going through three schools and three entirely unrelated fields was not completely sporadic. I loved programming in high school. I took as much as was offered. This was back before the iPhone, and when the world thought Google was just a web search. It was just not obvious to a 16-year-old kid that jobs in computer science were the way of the future. My entire frame of reference for a computer science career was based off Mike Judge's film, “Office Space”. Tiny cubicles, fluorescent lights, short sleeve button-downs, and the world's worst boss was not my idea of a dream job.Office Space

I went to film school with dreams of creating something that made an impact, but I was unaware that the film industry was beginning its decline. Avatar was about to set the world into a 3D visual drug frenzy that was the killing blow to a once artistic and innovative medium.

While at film school, I watched “The Aviator” and got into my head that I was Howard Hughes and needed to fly airplanes. So I went to the University of Oklahoma and majored in Aviation. Flying was incredible. I thought I owned the sky. It turns out I didn't. The regulations and robotic work environment of a professional pilot burned me out before I even became a professional pilot.

Upon graduation, the search for a career path began again. I took a job selling ski boats while I tried to get a hold on what I wanted to do. I found myself continuously regretting not majoring in computer science. Everywhere I looked there was an article about how good it was to be a programmer. Any kind of programmer. This Smart Planet article for instance. Over half of TheLadder's top ten most popular job listings are tech related. The industry is only expected to grow faster as automated systems begin to make human jobs obsolete. I don't want to work a job that a robot can do better than me. I want to work for Google, or some web startup, or help program the robots.

Once I finally realized it wasn’t too late, I started hard research on my options for getting a computer science degree. I explored getting a second Bachelor's, but quickly found that universities prefer undergrad applicants without previous degrees. I then started looking into Master’s programs. Many require a computer science or mathematics undergrad, but not all. I discovered The University of Chicago has a Computer Science Master’s program that offers “immersion classes” designed to make up for lost time in programming and math. Despite U Chicago being a very prestigious school and my undergrad performance being mediocre at best, I was able to get in with a good GRE score and quality recommendation letters.

I’ve been in Chicago for almost three weeks now. I tested out of immersion programming and am currently taking the immersion math class. I’m still on the job hunt, but the outlook is good for finding work in an IT field even while I'm in school. The math class is the hardest class I've ever taken, yet I have never been this excited for school in my life. Though I'm disappointed I didn't get started earlier, the future holds unlimited potential. I will be in school for about a year, or maybe longer if I pick up a full-time job. I will most likely be a software engineer or web developer after graduation.

I clearly have a history of ADD, but I believe it stems from my curious nature. Computer Science is one of the few fields that allows for innovation and exploration on par with Aviation in the 50s and Film in the golden ages of Hollywood. I feel confident that I made a great decision and will hang on to a distrust of Mike Judge for a long time to come.

We’ll be checking in with Connor to see how his transition into IT is going. If you have any questions for him, make sure to leave them in the comments so that he can address them in his next post.

About the Author: 

Connor Egbert is currently getting his Master's Degree in Computer Science at the University of Chicago. He's also looking for part-time work in IT as he goes to school. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Oh, the Humanity: Snowpocalypse 2014

By now I'm sure you've read all about the ice, gridlock and panic that shut down cities in the Deep South on Tuesday. The chaos that followed two inches of snow and ice is Deep South Snowpocalypseunprecedented. Our team in Atlanta and Birmingham had their fair share of troubles trying to get home on Tuesday. Of course, many left at the same time as everyone else in the metropolitan area, and had to make a decision between walking home or sitting in their cars for up to 24 hours to go less than ten miles. That is, if they didn't run out of gas, as many gas stations in the city did before it even got dark. Those that opted to spend the night in our office actually got off easy. 

One of our teammates got stranded five miles from her house with only high heels to walk in. She knocked on the closest door she could find and was greeted by a woman happy to give her a pair of walking shoes, socks and water to make her trek home. Another was stuck in her car for ten hours until her son walked all the way to her at 11:30 pm with tennis shoes and gloves and helped her finally get home hours later. And another was forced to spend Tuesday night at a gas station. She finally made it home the following afternoon after accepting a few rides from strangers who dedicated their day to helping people out.

Russ Danford had a 24-hour journey home from work on Tuesday. He witnessed numerous acts of grace, kindness and humanity, including "complete strangers joining forces to push cars up hills and direct traffic, people bringing water and food to stranded motorists, and an amazing couple who gave shelter and food to ten random people who would have otherwise spent the night in their cars in 12-degree temperatures."

These are the stories that matter. It seems that whenever bedlam strikes, there are always people ready to make sacrifices to lend a hand. This situation is the perfect picture of what a community should look like. To the "Good Samaritans" recognized above, your efforts go a long way. And those are just a few examples of the kindness displayed in the South this week.

There's also the Chick-fil-A employees in Birmingham that volunteered to walk up and down Highway 280 handing out free sandwiches until they ran out.

Or the father in Atlanta that walked six miles in the below freezing temperatures just to spend the night with his daughter that was stranded at school with her classmates and teachers. Not to mention all the teachers responsible for comforting these kids that had to be away from their parents all night.

Or the man that walked down Atlanta's Southbound Connector handing our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot drinks to drivers stuck in the gridlock.

Or the person that created this interactive map allowing people to publicly offer shelter.

Deep South Snowpocalypse

Or the woman that created the Facebook group "Snowed Out Atlanta" to connect thousands of people in need with people willing to help.

And the pregnant woman and toddler that got rescued because of said Facebook group.

Let's not forget about all of the businesses that stayed open all night and offered shelter and whatever resources they had in stock to keep people comfortable. In particular: The Home Depot, Hyatt Wyndham Atlanta Galleria, HYATT house Atlanta/Cobb Galleria, Kroger, Holiday Inn Express, CVS, Econo Lodge, Publix and so many more.

The negative attention cast southward this week is by no means unjustified. Poor urban planning, lack of coordination between county governments and a few bad decisions led to a dangerous and largely unnecessary crisis. But to only focus on those facts misses the larger truth - that humanity shines brightest under the harshest conditions. For those still shaking their heads at us...well, bless your hearts.

Share this post and leave your own snowpocalypse stories in the comments.

About the Author: 

Jennifer is the Community Manager for MATRIX. She manages all social media accounts and community partnerships in our different markets while assisting the marketing department. She loves pop culture, Oklahoma football and the great state of Texas. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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What a Year of Blogging Taught Me

As an agile coach with experience in the startup community, there is no greater way to learn than by just doing it. That was the advice Seth Godin gave me last December. The only way people will know you are an expert at something, he said, is if you tell them. It challenged me, because I wondered if I had what it took.Blogging

Mobile technology was not only my work, it fascinated me on a daily basis. It was lean by definition, which melded nicely with me being a scrum coach. I wondered if agile and mobile could be written about in the same space. So, off I went.

Over 200 posts later, both are experiencing growth in the technology industry, so it’s been fun to watch it play out. I am not sure if I am an expert at either subject, but writing for a year, has taught me a ton.

I learned to lead with transparency. How often have you found yourself reading the thoughts of a person you hardly know anything about? Not that you have to personally know me to take my posts seriously, but your voice needs to contain pieces of who you are for your words to resonate with readers. The easiest way is to be transparent.

Granted, leading is the difficult part. When I coach my teams and peers, transparency is one of the most difficult and productive ways to lead. You must, of course, encourage others by first demonstrating it. When business leaders speak of “leading” transparency, they are referring to the fact that all great leaders demonstrate the trait. To do that, you must be the first to initiate transparency. I have found that the more I write with transparency, the more I lead with it.

I learned being an expert means collaborating with others.
There have been many times in my career that I was all alone with my ideas. I was either the only person in my subject area at the time, or in a remote location where I couldn’t easily discuss what was going on. In both situations, it was up to me to reach out to others for validation. When someone wanted to know how I felt about the field of mobile technology or agile development methodology, I simply pointed them to and asked them to let me know what they thought.

Not only did it lead to a wealth of information in the form of conversations, but others got to know me in a unique way. My current boss at Bottle Rocket, who I met through LinkedIn, had access to all the information he needed on Chris Murman. When a spot opened up on his team, the relationship we had formed made his call simple. This post by Ryan Hoover emphasizes this point by stating a blog is the new resume.

I also learned my writing improves my work.
There have been days where my wife wasn’t happy about my blogging. Pesky things like “family time” and “connecting” were getting put aside because I needed to crank out one more post. Eventually, though, she learned that sacrifices just needed to be made. Hashtag sarcasm.

In all seriousness, it’s hard to commit to writing every week. When I first started, I wanted to post every day. With this being my 213th post, I did not succeed, but what I established is a habit. There are some habits that are necessary, such as brushing your teeth. Others, like writing your thoughts on a regular basis, helps you to think. That translates to better thoughts on what I want to accomplish during work hours, and my conversations are structured well.

If I am willing to post the thought online, you can bet I have thought it out to the best of my ability. When the same subject comes up at work, I can easily articulate my point and seem more authoritative. Doing that about one subject per week is 52 well-established thoughts that can improve your work. Imagine if you did two or three a week!

Take the same challenge I took a year ago. It can improve your thought process personally and professionally. It’s an effort well worth the sacrifice. What would you like a year of writing to teach you?

About the Author: 

Chris Murman is an Agile Coach for Bottle Rocket – a multiple Apple Hall of Fame award winner and #61 on the Forbes America’s Most Promising Companies List. With over five years of combined experience in the mobile and agile technology worlds, Chris marries both worlds in his blog located at In February, along with co-author Matthew David, Chris has the upcoming release Designing Apps for Success from Focal Press. He can be reached at or @chrismurman on Twitter.

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The MATRIX Community: A Look Back and A Look Ahead

As we enter the new year, I thought it would be a fitting time to look back on what MATRIX has done in the community this year and give a peek at what we have in store for 2014.

Exciting Partnerships
We are taking on a more national role in the HTML5 community. We will continue to host the HTML5 user group in Dallas, and we are excited to announce that we will be partnering with Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago HTML5 in 2014.

We also started hosting DFW Mobile .NET and the Agile Community of Practice in our Dallas office, so stay tuned for their meetings this year!

In Atlanta, we will continue to partner with IIBA, Drupal, BDPA, AQAA and PMI Atlanta Agile Interest Group.

Our Research Triangle Park office hosted TISQA, IIBA and NCPMI in 2013, and will continue to be a prime sponsor in the new year.

Check out our events calendar for more details on the groups we host.

MATRIX Service Projects
In 2013, our offices in RTP and Charlotte volunteered at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, as well as the Hospitality House.

Our Dallas office participated in Race for the Cure, SPCAA drives and adopt-a-kid at Christmas. They also began a strong partnership with Grace Bridge Food Bank, which will continue into 2014.

Atlanta partnered with The Salvation Army, HouseProud, and Partnership Against Domestic Violence in 2013.

MATRIX Service Projects

Consultant and Client Events
The MATRIX Seminar Series had another outstanding year providing free educational and informative classes for our clients. In total, over 580 clients attended 20+ sessions at our offices nationwide on topics ranging from professional development and management to Agile and Kanban. We are gearing up for 2014 and hope you will join us once more!

Atlanta hosted their second annual Consultant BBQ this summer and got to spend the day getting to know each other's families. Complete with bounce houses, face painting, balloon animals, and of course, good food, it was once again a huge success.

Houston and Dallas both invited all of their current consultants to their holiday parties this year. Dallas especially enjoyed getting in the photo booth with all the different props, as you can see from the album here.

MATRIX Consultant Events

Office Fun
As I elaborated in my culture post, MATRIX is a pretty fantastic place to work. We stayed busy this year with costume contests, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carvings, potlucks, chili cook-offs, kickball games, bingo tournaments, March Madness parties, baseball games, cookouts, photo booths, bounce houses, bowling competitions, fantasy football leagues, Bring Your Kids to Work Day, washers tournaments and many birthday celebrations.

We’ve built an amazing culture that we feel very blessed to have, and the members that we added to our team in 2013 have brought even more energy to our team. We look forward to bringing more people onboard in 2014 and growing our MATRIX family.

MATRIX Office Fun

Do you have suggestions of what you would like to see from us in 2014? Leave your response in the comments. Happy New Year!

About the Author: 

Jennifer is the Community Manager for MATRIX. She manages the corporate social media accounts and community partnerships in our different markets while assisting the marketing department. She loves pop culture, Oklahoma football and the great state of Texas. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Life of a Consultant: Renovations by Randy

“You’re talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind!” - Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Young FrankensteinLife of a Consultant

I always had a dream of being a writer. I latched onto that dream after my other dreams died horribly: actor, director, producer, singer, and king of the world. Then one day, I was asked to write a blog. As one might expect, I was mortified into inaction. Am I ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille? Do I really want to do this? Be careful what you wish for, indeed.

Alas, here I am, offering advice to new contractors, young and young-at-heart alike.

“I see people going to college for 14 years, studying to be doctors and lawyers. And I see people getting up at 7:30 every morning, going to work at the drug store to sell Flair pens. But the most amazing thing to me, is I get paid for doing this.” - Steve Martin, “Let’s Get Small”

You may be wondering: who is this guy? Then again, you may not. Well, for starters, I am a recovering engineer who has spent a bit too much time with the great thinkers of my generation. You know, guys like Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Gallagher, and Sam Kinison. I spent the early part of my professional life as a consultant in the environmental engineering field after spending what seemed like 14 years in various engineering schools. But I never worked in drug store or sold Flair pens.

“What would the world look like if we all became what we wanted to be when we were children? Imagine a world full of cowboys, firemen, nurses, and ballerinas.” - Lily Tomlin, Saturday Night Live

I was the engineer who was always tasked to tackle the information technology needs of a project. For me, that was always the fun part of being an engineer: working on the non-engineering IT issues of the problem at hand. It was fun for me, so much fun that I never thought of it as a career path. I was bent on becoming a Professional Engineer, not on enjoying my life’s work. Eventually, the engineering market I was in crashed, and I reached a crossroads in my life. Of course, I saw that crossroads approaching faster than a tractor-trailer in the oncoming lane. That was when I came over to the dark side of IT. I realized that fun is an integral part of building success in one’s chosen field. I needed to enjoy what I was doing.

Welcome to MATRIX, young Jedi.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” - King Solomon, The Book of Ecclesiastes

If I had a notch in my belt for every engagement I have had with MATRIX…well, I would not have a belt. That sucker would be shredded. But what have I learned through the years? Hmmm, good question.

In the world of IT, everyone pursues a better mousetrap, but a good hunter has timeless skills. If I spent every waking moment learning every new framework, platform, and methodology that crawled out from under some rock, I would lose my mind, my health, my house, 3 cars, and 4 cats. I have found that while new technologies can lead to a cool, slick solution, they really do not solve a problem. They are just the means to an end, not the end unto itself. Staying current in emerging technologies is generally prudent to keep one’s skills sharp, but no one can know everything about everything. I do not know everything, but I know people who do. Google and are my friends.

“For you, it will do anything you tell me to tell it to do for you.” - Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), Superman III

The most valuable, enduring skill I think a developer can have is the ability to help a client articulate their problem. The best developers I know are equal parts technologist and therapist. One would be amazed at how many clients either do not completely know what they want or need, or worse, cannot articulate what they know they need. I am not saying that clients are stupid. They are not. They have money. Focus on the logical definition, and the technology will unfold in due course. One cannot automate what one cannot articulate, regardless of the technology of choice.

One thing that I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout both my engineering and IT careers has been the opportunity to learn about many different industries and business sectors, ranging from refining and manufacturing, to insurance, finance and investment banking, to e-commerce, and automated traffic enforcement. Learning about the nature of your clients’ businesses builds empathy for the problems they face. While the semantics of those various industries vary widely, they have and continue to share common problems with respect to their information technology needs. Identifying those repeating patterns has been invaluable to me. After all, variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes.

Now, go forth, be fruitful, and multiply contracts! Your AE is watching…

About the Author: 

Randy Reno is a .NET Architect for MATRIX Professional Services. Since 1997, Randy has provided IT development and architecture services to a wide variety of clients in the Atlanta area. He specializes in business process engineering, systems integration, analysis and design of information solutions, as well as delivery of same. He enjoys mentoring to and learning from peers of all levels. Randy holds degrees in Computer Science from Kennesaw State University and in Chemical Engineering from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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