Spread across the rich, fertile fields of debate about life and this human existence are some undeniable truths. Truths that stand out like the brightest poppies in the field. Truths that have presented themselves and told their story so many times and in so many ways that they are considered to be universal in human experience. One such truth visited me today, whispering "you never tread so lightly on another's life that you don't leave an imprint." It floated in on the breeze of the announcement that an old friend had passed away. Memories flooded my mind as this truth washed over me, filling me with its meaning.
I met Don Schroeder in 1984. I was just weeks away from turning 27, my son's age now. Sitting in Don's office, I faced his large frame from across his desk, light streaming in from the windows behind him. In his mid 40s and well established in his career, he was clearly the guru in this software company. And I soon discovered he was tasked with assessing my coding skills.
Despite his imposing presence and obvious status, Don quickly revealed his true nature. As he probed into my background, we shed the outer layers that guard first encounters, uncovering expanses of common ground. He and his wife lived in Carlisle; so had we. He was a musician; so was I. French horn was his instrument; trumpet, mine. We both had strong opinions about skiing. He loved the slopes; they terrified me.
As our conversation progressed and deepened, it turned to my potential fit in his world. We delved deeper and deeper into the technical and intellectual. Degreed engineers, we fell headlong into nerd land. Passionate and creative, with a talent for developing algorithms expressed in code, we took turns sharing our trials and triumphs. Fluid mechanics and numerical methods mingled with code blocks. Long days and nights wrestling solutions to the ground. Soon, we were no longer separated by age or backgrounds or companies. We were of like mind, living and reliving what makes us tick. What resonates to the core.
And then, right on cue, life's magic potion bottle uncorked. Don asked to see my code samples. Like a soda bottle too long in the hot summer sun, its contents exploded in the room, showering us with "Carl's Life Plan." As he scanned the first sample, his eyes widened. Slowly, he rocked back in his seat and offered me a huge grin. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. I had brought code from a subsystem I designed to allow free format data file input. It read and parsed records with intelligence, allowing the user to input records in a format of their choosing. I organized data into "chapters" with two lead records. The first announced the chapter name. The second described the format of the data to follow. It saved users enormous amounts of time in data preparation and virtually eliminated errors from faulty input thanks to its data type, range and validation checking. Not only was my architecture similar to Don's, including the data chapter concept, my routine names were nearly the same as well. I was face-to-face with the man whose opinion would carry the most weight on my technical fit, and here we were, comparing nearly identical results from our independent creative efforts to solve a significant problem we had both faced.
The effect? I got that job at Stoner Associates, and the next twelve years were some of the most productive, satisfying and fun of my entire working career. It was the epitome of career engagement and life balance. Thirty-two years have passed since that interview, twenty since I called Stoner my work home, and I am still inspired by Don and the amazing work family who surrounded me there. I can still picture Don heading home over lunch to practice his symphony pieces. I can still see him inhale, lean back in his chair, close his eyes, cock his head back and to the left, and tuck his hands in his belt over his belly as he ponders a difficult question. I can still hear the classical music from WITF radio softly pouring out of his office as I pass by and glance in.
Now, so many years later, the after effects linger. Don, you are woven into the tapestry of my life. My selection of code samples on that pivotal day was not a coincidence. That choice altered the trajectory of my life. And our talented team changed how the global utility industry manages its assets. It was my privilege then to share a portion of my life's work with you. It is my privilege now, to bear the imprint of your life on mine.
Decades later, it is difficult to trace the roots of the historical context of this post unless you know where to look. For those who are interested, Stoner Associates is now part of DNV GL, a global player and software solutions provider in the maritime, oil & gas and energy industries. Stoner's product line is now called Synergi, an umbrella offering under the DNV GL brand, and my historical role is well documented in my LinkedIn profile.