30 years ago I showed up at Plattsburgh State to major in Computer Science. I did well in a high school programming course but had no idea if I had the intellectual capacity to write code in college. Short of that, I had no backup plan and the future seemed insecure.
18 years old, with the expectation of at least being able to stand in as an adult, I was scared. Quickly navigating myself beyond the fear of being away from home for the first time, I decided this college thing was pretty good. But that only added more anxiety since the party I found in Plattsburgh was something I wanted to be part of for as long as possible.
I bought my books and started to read up on the basic tenets of Pascal. Attempting to ascertain if this was something I could do, I was just spinning the ball bearings of my anxiety faster.
No matter, I was soon introduced to CSC 223 and Dr. William Teter. Around 30, he was a youthful looking but not to the point where he belonged anywhere near the class roster. His demeanor came off as approachable and also in his first year at Plattsburgh.
In this, the enthusiasm he displayed on the first day came across as a young man about to embark on an adventure. He was obviously taking on the unknown far better than me.
I likely took some comfort in his optimism but not enough to calm the RPM's digging a hole in my existence. The proof would only come when I successfully scrolled the right answers across the face of the Burroughs B-6800 in my first programming assignment.
It turned out I did not give enough weight to my initial inclination. As things moved along, others would also not only misappropriate the importance of this inquisitive exuberance but got bogged down in what would have to be considered a weakness.
For example, Dr. Teter would with a degree of regularity interrupt his delivery, rifle through his notes and leave himself looking like the absent minded professor. Likable enough in poorly thought out comedies but not so much as your first college professor. Of course, he would always gather himself and be back on track before realizing he was probably right the first time.
Luckily, I'm about as organized as a pack of wild dogs without an alpha so his imperfection gave me something I could relate to and easily overlook. The haughty among me probably weren't as fortunate. The same was probably true of all those who would suffer the attrition of entering a field because there was money in it. Either way, what they missed in return was the only thing of relevance left absent.
Dr. Teter's genuine joy in being part of his students growth and understanding translated for me to the most important characteristic a teacher could have. Despite my dire state, there was never an ounce of hesitation to stop his lecture mid sentence to ask a question.
At the same time, met with a moment he so seamlessly welcomed, Dr. Teter was invaluable. Thankfully, grasping those introductory concepts, I was on my way, and if his named appeared with the next semester's requirements, hesitation again did not come into play.
That amounted to five total courses and ended with graphics programming in my senior year. Over that time, he certainly knew my strengths as a programmer and a weakness I never overcame. You put that very same idea in front of me on a test and I came up blank. As a result, my grades were never that good but Dr. Teter knew I could program
That said, it's just suddenly become suspicious to me how my final course unraveled. The programming final group project assigned each student a specific function in the display of a railroad system. The subsequent final exam was then meant to show each student knew the function of all the other parts. This then came down to an hour long oral exam in his office.
A scenario that probably would have killed me. Instead, I simply posed the question, "Do I even need to show up." His response : "Come by, we'll talk."
I wasn't capitulating in light of my test taking ability but because as the student who wrote the code that called all the other programs, it could not have worked unless I thoroughly understood it. This also meant I did the majority of the programming. I had always thought I randomly lucked into this part but if he was playing to my strengths, well played Dr. Teter.
So we smoozed for a few and I told him I had a good time in Plattsburgh but was sad to be leaving. He did not diminish my sentiment or attempt any worldly advice. "I'm glad you've had a good time. That's great."
Simple but it hit the spot. I went on to work a few jobs in my field but always knew Computer Science was over my head. Now I'm a writer, I love doing it and I'm pretty good.
It might seem then all this was of no consequence. I don't look at this way - especially when editors are so impressed with my ability to turn stories around well before anyone is talking about a deadline.
I majored in Computer Science. I've written 2000 line programs. I've cursed out my mangled code, put holes in walls and even punched a CRT screen blank with my fist. But nothing was ever going to stop me from getting the answer.
You develop that kind of persistence and everything after is easy. On the other hand, had I not had Dr. Teter welcoming my confusion, maybe I'm just another writer slogging through my prose and giving his editor fits as the presses need to role.
Thanks, Dr. Teter
#PlattsburghState Computer Science Professor Daniel Stearns http://expertscolumn.com/content/properly-inspired-plattsburgh-professor...