10 years.

I'm coming up on my 10th high school reunion. I doubt the school will do anything official -- there were 5 graduates in my class, we could have our reunion in a booth at Denny's.

All the same, it's got me thinking. Listening to old music. Charting out my progress. So, it's time for one of those navel-gazing blog posts.

Here's where I've been the past ten Februaries.

1998 - finishing high school. All my first choice colleges had already turned me down, and I was enrolled and ready to start at Arizona State's University Honors College. Studying Physics nights at community college, thanks in part to my shiny new driver's license and 1977 cop Nova. Still doing piecemeal work on Windows software for Network Safety and learning cryptography, but this year my social life began to dominate -- in clubs and councils and one of the few students that had been enrolled since my school's founding, I had a lot going on.

1999 - living in McClintock hall at ASU, which was still the Honors dorm at the time. Still making solid 4.0s, which wouldn't keep up for long. Music I'd written and recorded (techno, unfortunately) was just beginning to chart on the brand-new MP3.com, resulting in my first recording contract offer -- which I declined, but still keep in a file cabinet. I'd developed a reputation in the dorm for hanging out with all the women, which had some friends thinking I was gay, despite having just finished a semi-public breakup with my first girlfriend. At this point I was just starting to get involved with the Political Education Coalition, as a very unusual libertarian-conservative voice among greens and reds -- though we all got along fine. Got into a few clashes with campus security, who were a little power-happy and didn't appreciate having the state statutes explained by a kid like me.

2000 - living in Irish Hall, which was a wonderfully close-knit group of people while I was there. I was just beginning the only CS course I've ever taken (digital design). Jeannette and I were friends with occasional thoughts of dating. Doing piecemeal contract work with Cobalt Creative, where I'd worked over the summer (over my mom's objections that I should apply for a retail job), and starting to get deeper into Java in my spare time. I had started my first pro-student rights group, the Student Advocacy Initiative, and was spending a lot of time meeting with the Residence Hall authorities and campus groups to argue my case. I made the campus paper a lot this year, but not just for my work: I had stopped cutting my hair, which quickly became a 'fro, and (along with my size) made me very visible in photographs. Spent a lot of time at Jitters and Gold Bar for my caffeine.

2001 - still in Irish Hall with most of the same people. I DJ'd a rave or two in the dorm courtyard. My hair was just long enough to pull back at this point, which was good, since I was working in foodservice. My parents had just had some unexpected expenses come up, and I needed to get a job to help with tuition and expenses. I'd made friends with Charlie, the owner of some Tempe-area coffee shops, and was soon pulling shots and making sandwiches at his stores. Jeannette and I were dating at this point. School kept me busy, between two TA jobs and part-time work as a research assistant, and while I'd let SAI fall to the wayside I was serving on Honors College Council.

2002 - having effectively dropped out of college, I was in my last few months at AZSites, a little web sweatshop in Tempe. I had applied there in August after people convinced me I was wasting my talents making coffee; they'd said they wanted PHP and MySQL, I'd said I knew it, and then spent a week at libraries learning them and hit the ground running. Jeannette and I were living in apartments near school, and dating, though things were strained -- while AZSites was bringing in money, they weren't paying us, and I was living off savings, not having seen a paycheck in four months. Having finished my business and accounting classes the year before, I knew enough to forecast my cash flow, and I could see the day looming when my savings would expire. I had already begun planning my escape.

2003 - Extrasensory Applications, the company I founded after poaching most of AZSites's talent, was waffling between promise and disaster. My savings were gone, and I was borrowing money from people for gas and sleeping on couches, too proud to completely fall back on my parents (yet -- I wound up doing so). At one point I was literally living off quarters I had found in a couch; I got very good at optimizing fast food value menus. At the same time, we were developing what we thought would be a home run: a system to compete with Ticketmaster. I dug up my old distributed systems knowledge, learned Postgres, Ruby, C++, Servlets, EJB, and anything else that seemed useful. In February it wasn't yet clear that it wouldn't work out like we'd planned. Jeannette and I had parted ways several months earlier, which also hadn't worked out like we'd planned.

As a side note, this is when my current Starbucks order (venti iced coffee, no sweetener, no room) solidified. I ran the numbers and determined that it was the optimal caffeine-per-dollar choice; I would keep them in the fridge at the office, dilute them, and ration them over the course of a day or two. Eventually I realized that buying beans was even cheaper. When I couldn't afford them, I'd eat them at the supermarket. Not kidding.

2004 - I had been effectively unemployed for two years, but now it was official. After an eight-month stint at a web sweatshop making $400/week, the incredibly frugal tendencies I'd learned during the bust allowed me to save several thousand dollars. I got a nice (government) apartment with some coworkers, kept my car alive by scavenging parts, and decided to break out on my own with my newly minted college degree (I had just finished out the ASU program with cheaper community college credits). I had big plans, and some neat tech: this was when I first wrote Cesta, my Mac-native network analyzer, and I planned to turn it into my job. I was dating, well respected in my social circles...and running out of money without a shipping product.

About this time, my dad randomly encountered an old boss at a gas station, and mentioned that I was looking for work. I desperately wanted to avoid working for anyone else, after two sweatshops and a failed startup, but Cesta wasn't ready...so I drew up a resume and submitted it to Choice Hotels.

2005 - out of government housing and back in Tempe. My first major project with Choice, the support backend for the Choice Privileges VISA, had launched, as had the big CIS intranet system I worked on. I had finally ditched the frankenstein Taurus I'd been fixing for six years, bought a bunch of business casual clothes, and started re-learning to cook. As in, not ramen. I was beginning to transition into a bigger role at Choice, talking to other groups about encryption and security (this was about the time of SOx, now called SarbOx). I was also spending more time learning the craft of programming, having recently become able to afford the GoF and Refactoring books; this was about the time I became a noisy proponent of technology like EasyMock and Hibernate. Becky and I had been dating for several months at this point.

2006 - a month into my employment at Google, having left my friends, family, and hometown for the "frozen north" (which turned out not to be all that frozen). I was beginning to react rather badly to the code I was dropped into, which had some qualities I'm allergic to, but while I was already loud-mouthed and picky I wasn't yet bitter and resigned. (That came a few months later.) Google had substantially lowballed me in my initial offer -- I suspect because of my non-CS background -- and at this point hadn't yet corrected it, which didn't help. I was enjoying my new job but seriously considering another. On a positive note, Jeannette and I had been dating again for about a month, which (like the Google job) was totally unexpected.

2007 - A little over a month into my first big solo project at Google. Some organizational changes and firm words from my manager had dragged me out of my cynical funk, and I was mentoring (officially and unofficially) two new employees. My team was starting to make real progress, and I was starting to see a much brighter future. Jeannette and I were living in a little townhouse near Google; her belly dance classes were in full swing, while I was reverse-engineering the Propeller microprocessor and learning to fly RC aircraft.

2008 - so here I am, working at one of the world's top software engineering firms and Fortune Magazine's #1 best employer, co-leading a group within my larger team, living in a much nicer apartment in Sunnyvale. I'm not sure if 1998 me would expect this or not -- I was very optimistic, but I'd just been turned down for college and thought I was doomed to spend my life in Phoenix. (High school brains are very dramatic like that.)

I've come a long way from a tiny high school in a small town -- a town that still had hitching posts outside the school when I was growing up, and which still doesn't have a Starbucks. I'm curious where the other four members of my graduating class have ended up, but I doubt there'll be an official reunion for me to find out.

I'll close with a particularly relevant quote from my old LiveJournal, four years ago today. During one of those insipid LJ quiz memes, I was asked the following:

Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I'll describe where I hope to be, which may differ from where I'll actually be due to personal weakness.

I hope to be in a steady, well-paying job that I enjoy (which means probably either writing or programming something interesting). Ideally, I'll be attached to a like-minded SO who shares some of my interests (which is terribly unusual, but I can hope). If I'm still in AZ, I hope to be in Tempe -- I've been many places in Arizona, but I like Tempe a lot. If I'm not in AZ, somewhere with trees would be nice, as long as it's not too cold.

Oh, and with any luck, I'll be out of grad school. :-)