Blog it Forward – Matt Fraser
By now most of you have become familiar with the BIF challenge, as it has truly gone viral and brings us all that much closer to each other, getting to know one another beyond the technical questions and answers we post in the forums. In this respect it has been a fantastic initiative, and I would like to thank Moshe Naveh for bringing us all together as a closer community in this manner. Reading all the wonderful BIF entries of the past several months or so, I have learned much about various cultures and countries, sports and hobbies, and the wide variety of interests and expertise that make the SCN community so rich.
So who BIF’ed me?
I was originally mentioned by Sakthikumar Jayaraman in June, and I determined that I would get busy and do it, but procrastination, and summer, and work, and more procrastination… You get the picture. Then a few days ago Steffi Warnecke upped the ante by adding my name at the end of her own entry, and pressure built from Colleen Hebbert and Susan Keohan, and I knew then that the heat was well and truly on. No longer could I ignore my responsibility. However, we’re still trying to get Steffi on Twitter. 😉
So who am I?
I’m 49 years old and married to a wonderful French woman whom I met on a ski slope fifteen years ago. I think it was the spectacular wipeout I made while trying to impress her with my amazing downhill skills that did it. She was also the first person I’d met, other than through my work, who knew what I was talking about when I said that I worked with SAP. I also have a sixteen-year-old daughter, from a previous relationship, who lives nearby and with whom I have weekly dinner-and-movie dates, and who seems to have inherited a certain geeky love for computers and videogames from her dear old dad.
[My wife and I visiting the south of France, near Carcassonne, in 2005]
I live in Seattle, in Washington State in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, not far from the Canadian border. I’m very much in love with my city, and the surrounding forests, mountains, and waterways, and I’ve lived here for a long time, which makes me practically a native by local standards– but I didn’t always live here.
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and today I remain a dual citizen of both New Zealand and the United States. When I was five years old, however, the company my father worked for transferred him to San Francisco, and that was that. I left behind a huge extended family of grandparents, uncles and aunts, and lots and lots of cousins who all grew up together. With the great distances involved, it was not easy to visit, though we tried. Today, with Facebook, however, it is almost like living nearby, and now I am up-to-date on the latest goings-on of my various nieces and nephews who, of course, probably have only a vague idea of who I am.
We were almost transferred to Guam instead. That would have been different.
A few years later, as so often happens, my parents divorced, and my father was again transferred, this time to Seattle, while my mother remained in the Bay Area, and thus I grew up going back and forth between the two.
As it happens, Seattle is a sister city with Christchurch, New Zealand. I once walked up to the City Hall in Christchurch, and upon learning I was from Seattle the staff there gave me the grand tour, leading me into the council chambers, letting me sit in the mayor’s seat (council was not in session at the time), and introducing me to everybody. Really quite the welcome! This was long before the earthquake.
After high school, I went far away for college, attending Georgia Tech in Atlanta briefly, then taking my first “real” job as a system operator in Tech’s computing center. I continued to move about, doing various jobs (I have variously been a bartender, bouncer, heavyweight cargo handler, process server, executive secretary, and volunteer firefighter, in addition to what comes next), living in Georgia, Texas, Virginia, California (northern and southern), Australia, back to California, then finally came home to Seattle, only to nearly immediately take a job overseas in Antarctica.
It started with an ad in the Help Wanted section of the newspaper. I thought it might be a joke, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to send in a resume and see what happened. A few months later I was called for an interview, then came a round of medical and psychiatric exams, and a lot of dental work, and in October 1991 I was on a plane headed for the deep south. Very deep south. I had signed up to spend a year in McMurdo Station, Antarctica, working for a contractor to the National Science Foundation. I was originally hired as a General Assistant, which is a glorified title for “ditch digger” and all-around gofer, but within a couple months they had figured out I had an electronics background and so I became an Electrician’s Helper (or apprentice). Eventually I would advance to Journeyman Electrician before ending my time on the Ice.
I had no idea what to expect. Upon first touching down on the Ice Runway on McMurdo Sound (yes, that’s right, we landed a C-141 Starlifter on frozen ocean), I thought I would be stepping out to a colorless world of endless blizzard and nothing to see but snow and ice and maybe a rock or two here and there. I bundled up into all my extreme-cold-weather gear, hood up, goggles and bearpaw mittens on, and stepped down the ladder dragging three bags of everything I would need for a year. I hadn’t made it past the wingtip before I dropped the bags, stripped off my parka, and opened up to cool down from overheating. That’s when I noticed that the sky was blue, and that we were surrounded by some of the most amazingly beautiful, heavily glaciated mountains I had ever seen. I was stunned at the raw beauty of it all. You see, the planes don’t fly in bad weather, so it is almost always a beautiful day when you first arrive.
It doesn’t stay that way, however.
[McMurdo Station, with Mt Erebus in the distance – apologies about the poorly scanned 35mm print]
I wish I had more photos to share with you, but the vast majority are not yet scanned and exist only in prints and negatives, plus about five hours of raw Hi-8mm video. Perhaps some day, when I stop procrastinating…
After summer, with its 24-hour daylight, came winter. At the end of February the last plane left, and it would be many months before another returned. Soon the sun set for the last time, and for four months we had 24-hour darkness. There would be storms that raged for six days straight, winds that reached 126 mph before the last anemometer in the station blew apart (and they almost certainly got stronger than that afterwards), blizzards and whiteouts that made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you. There would also be scenes to take your breath away, the aurora australis in winter and nacreous clouds in the pre-dawn light of spring, glacier valleys so wide they could only be highways for the gods, and the dazzling expanse of the Ross Ice Shelf stretching for hundreds of miles.
[Volunteering with the McMurdo Fire Department – that’s me on the farthest left, looking extremely young]
At the end of that year, I went on to return for a second winter, an 8-month stint, and then a third, followed by a final summer. In all, I spent two summers and three consecutive winters on the Ice, thirty-two months total, before leaving for the last time in March 1995. I had the rare opportunity to be camp electrician for put-ins and tear-downs at several deep field research camps in the Dry Valleys and high up on the Polar Plateau: the Strand Moraines, New Harbor, Upstream Bravo, Casertz (since renamed to Central West Antarctica). I celebrated the last sunset and midwinter by taking the Polar Plunge — diving into water through a hole cut in the five-foot thick ice, complete immersion required — three times! At Scott Base (New Zealand’s primary station) I joined what I expect may be the most exclusive drinking club in the world, and on that I will say no more.
Back in the USA
Upon my return to civilization, or at least to Seattle, I sought ways to recapture the wild experience I had left behind. I had always been an avid hiker and backpacker, and now I sought to expand upon that by taking up mountain climbing.
[High on the Emmons Glacier on Mt Rainier, 2003]
[On the summit of Mt Adams, 2004 — I’m the one in green]
Nepal and Mt Everest
I also sought more travel opportunities, and in 2008 I took a month-long trip to Nepal to trek the Khumbu Valley to Everest Basecamp. No, I didn’t climb Mt Everest — I’m neither skilled nor rich enough! — but I stood in the shadow of great Sagarmatha and felt the awesome magnificence of the Himalaya all around me. I prayed with the Rinpoche of Tengboche Monastery, and spun the wheels of Khumjung, Namche Bazar, and Pheriche.
[A typical part of the trail between Namche Bazar and Gorak Shep, with the Dudh Kosi river far, far below in the valley]
[Me at the summit of Kala Patthar, a prominent hill near basecamp, elevation ~18,500′. Everest cannot actually be seen from basecamp, but she is quite visible here — the peak on the left, with the infamous South Col being the dip to her right]
My other great passion, since the age of 14, is sailing. Since returning from Antarctica, I have owned a succession of old sailboats, culminating finally in Abeona, a 1982 Cal 39 that I hope some day will take me across the Pacific. For now I’m content to let her take me around Puget Sound.
[Sunset on Puget Sound from the cockpit of Abeona]
[At the helm of my previous boat, Roxy, a 1983 Beneteau First 32, in Desolation Sound (British Columbia, Canada) in 2004]
Sailing in the Pacific Northwest isn’t always a warm endeavor! So, as a taste of what is hopefully to come, on two occasions my wife and I have bareboat chartered sailboats in the tropics, in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in 2004 (to celebrate my 40th birthday), and then in Tahiti in the South Pacific in 2006.
[On approach to Bora Bora and looking for the reef passage to enter the lagoon; that is my wife on the right]
Ok, now on to what you really want to know: how did I get into SAP?
I studied Electrical Engineering with a focus in Computer Engineering in university, but dropped out before completing my degree (yes, I’m a college dropout; don’t follow my example, boys and girls). I then started working for the university I had dropped out from as a system operator in the machine room, running the Control Data Cyber 170 mainframe that pretty much ran most of the university’s business and classes. Like many a twenty-something, I managed to screw up most of the opportunities that came my way, until I undertook a life-changing bicycle ride for five weeks and fifteen-hundred miles down the Pacific Coast, Canada to Mexico. The job in Antarctica soon followed on the heels of that ride, and I grew up in a hurry there. Upon returning, I used savings from that experience to put myself through Novell’s NetWare Engineering certification track, gaining my CNE and landing a job as the Network Administrator for a mid-sized manufacturing and engineering services company. While I was there, we decided to implement SAP R/3 (3.1h) on Windows (NT 4.0) and SQL Server (6.5), which ended up indirectly driving a decision to convert our network environment from NetWare to Windows. That was pretty much me, on my own, managing that effort. My MCSE certification came about as a result of that, plus I went to a few SAP Basis classes (I was supposed to handle it all, the network, the desktops, and SAP), and we had a successful GoLive. Not long after, I did what many people with a single successful implementation under their belt did, and left to chase the money, becoming an SAP Basis consultant for a boutique consulting firm out of Chicago (I think I pretty much was their Seattle office, but my projects were all in California, Utah, Georgia, and Illinois — never Washington). I did this for a couple years, meeting some amazingly talented people along the way who can be found out there on SCN now, until my soon-to-be wife (from the pictures) convinced me I should settle down and find a job closer to home, closer to her. That was a good move, as it turned out, on multiple fronts, as not long after the consulting company I had been working for imploded in the Dot-Bomb bust, and also we got married. 🙂 I ended up working for a mid-sized public sector organization when it decided to join the modern world and migrate its financial affairs from a VAX to SAP, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sakthikumar didn’t actually ask any questions, but Steffi did, so here goes:
- Name the person who affected you most in your career / way of thinking and why?
- I don’t think I can name just one, or even just a few. I have had many mentors over the years, some knowingly, and some blissfully unaware of the impact they had. Some of them were bosses or workmates, some were teachers, some were friends, and some were long-dead writers of books that left deep impressions upon me. Some are active today on SCN. I believe I have something to learn from nearly everyone I come into contact with, whether younger or older, wiser or… not so wise.
- If you could be a superhero (or are in your spare time), who would you be?
- I could tell you, but then you would have to be inducted into the Superhero Union and sworn to lifelong secrecy.
- Which five things do you absolutely want to achieve in life?
- Publish at least one novel (working on second draft of one now)
- Sail across the Pacific Ocean, and perhaps farther
- Finish visiting all the continents (Africa and South America remain)
- Hike the Pacific Crest Trail (and a few other long ones like it)
- See my daughter grow into a happy and successful young woman (by whatever definition of success fits for her)
- What is the movie or TV series that describes your life so far the best?
On to the next victims suckers winners in the BIF challenge:
- Christopher Solomon
- Chris and I worked together on a few projects back in my consulting days, and today he is likely one of the foremost experts on HCM Processes and Forms. He also has deep experience with ESS/MSS/Portal development, ABAP development, and many other SAP technical and development arenas. He’s one of those guys who loves to dig deep and figure out what makes things tick, and he’s definitely one of those mentors from the questions above (he’s also an official SCN Mentor). He’s been on SCN seemingly forever, yet shockingly I couldn’t find any BIF for him!
- Reagan Benjamin
- While I have never met Reagan directly, we seem to cross paths frequently in the Basis forums on SCN. When I see a question that looks like something I could maybe answer, almost invariably Reagan has already done so (his timezone might help with that), and what’s more, his answers are excellent. He really knows his stuff. He once briefly had a status update of “I’m here to help,” then, for some reason, took it down almost right away (he probably doesn’t realize anyone noticed it). I don’t know why, because if there is anyone who is really here to help, it’s Reagan. He’s a question-answering machine! Again, shockingly, I couldn’t find a BIF for him.
The questions I have for both of you are:
- How do you find time in your day for your many contributions to SCN?
- If you hadn’t made a career with SAP, or perhaps in IT at all, what would you be doing with your life?
- What are your biggest outstanding life goals that you have not yet achieved?