I joined my company‘s Toastmasters club about eight months ago. I attended the meetings as often as I could, participating in the table topics and listening to the prepared speeches. I kept meaning to deliver a speech myself. The first one in the program is the icebreaker, which is meant to introduce the speaker to her or his peers in the club. But after hearing some of the incredibly moving and well-delivered personal stories that some of my colleagues presented, I felt unable to follow them. I often wished I could skip the icebreaker altogether and instead prepare one of the other speeches that focused instead on themes like organisation or topic research. However, after months of stalling, I finally agreed to give my first speech.
Hi, my name is Carlos. I am a software engineer here at Edmunds. I work on the shared tools and services challenge team, which means I write software that is used by other developers and operations staff within the company. But, I was not always a programmer.
Let’s start from the beginning. My parents shared two passions in life – martial arts and firearms. I remember the furniture in our living room was always pushed to the sides so my parents could practice contrived hand-to-hand combat scenarios when they had time off from work. Even before I attended grade school, my parents had already started teaching me various moves and practice drills. When I started first grade, they formally enrolled me in a Korean martial art. And when I began second grade, they started taking me to the shooting range with them.
Later, when I was in middle school, I really got into samurai movies. I started reading all about the samurai and I started to wish my parents had enrolled me in Japanese swordsmanship classes, instead. My fascination with the sword did not actually last long, but after reading about the ideals of the samurai, I realized what I wanted to do with my life.
You might laugh, but I really wanted to be a professional bodyguard. I thought it was a cool and honorable profession that required you to be very observant, analytical, and discreet. I also realized that I already knew a lot about modern personal security. My parents worked in a field that required them to be good at quickly assessing the vulnerabilities of any security team. One time, at the dinner table, my mom mentioned how amateur someone’s protection was. Not only was it completely obvious that they were bodyguards, but they were so oblivious that they didn’t even notice her.
It was not until high school that I started programming for the first time. Because I had chosen to study History of the Cold War instead of the standard freshmen history course, the only choices I had for electives my first semester were Introduction to Computer Science, Wood Carving, and Drama. I took Computer Science and after that, I ended up taking two more programming classes – exhausting my school’s computer science curriculum by the time I finished my sophomore year.
When I went to college, I declared Computer Science as my major, not because I was passionate about it, but rather because I felt it was all I really knew how to do. Besides, there was no major for personal security. My plan was to get my degree then maybe apply to the Secret Service or the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The summer before my senior year, I participated in a practical shooting competition. These competitions involve a lot of running around and shooting at awkwardly placed targets. After the competition, a man came up to me and told me he was impressed with my performance. I asked him what he thought was so impressive since I did not rank very highly, nor was I the prodigy that some of other the competitors were. He told me he was impressed that I shot the whole competition left-handed even though I had signed the liability release form with my right hand.
He asked me if I was interested in a contracting position, gathering overseas information for a government agency. I was intrigued, so during my senior year of college, I completed the extensive screening process and when I graduated, I had a job.
Now, it’s kind of silly, but the blanket non-disclosure agreement I had to sign prevents me from mentioning the government agency for which I worked or details about the work I did. It’s ridiculous, because all of my “assignments” were considered training or career development. Nevertheless, for the five years I worked there, I had a blast. I got to travel to foreign countries, learn about different cultures, and meet all kinds of interesting people.
However, out of all my experiences contracting for the government, by far, the most memorable one for me was a training assignment in Barcelona. I had to travel all around town observing certain persons of interest. I really never knew where I would be going next. I had trained myself to be highly aware of everything around me. And one thing I noticed was that everywhere I went, I saw the same attractive young lady. One time she was a tourist at a museum, one time she was customer waiting in line at a bank, and one time she was a student on Spring Break. But one time, she was just a girl, sitting at a café, watching the bustle of people walk down the boulevard. This is when I asked her if I might join her for some coffee. She told me her name was Estella and that she worked for an architectural firm. I lied about my job too.
Estella and I dated for three years. We both had pretty busy schedules but whenever we could, we planned our time off together. But after three years, the work and lifestyle associated with it had taken its toll on us. We enjoyed traveling, but not the unexpected assignments and often long hours. So we both decided to leave our jobs. We got married and settled down in Los Angeles. I took advantage of my Computer Science degree and that’s how I became a programmer here at Edmunds.
I’ve worked here for a little over a year now and I must say it is a truly rewarding experience. I feel fortunate to be part of the Toastmasters community and I have found many of the speeches, in particular icebreakers, to be inspirational. In all honesty, I felt intimidated, because my mine would not compare to the others I have heard… that is, unless I made it all up.