Blog it Forward – Solomon…Chris Solomon
Death, taxes…and eventually being asked to post your own “Blog it Forward” blog….these are the things you can count on in life if you are an active member of SCN. And so, much like my Logan’s Run “life clock” crystal flashing frantically in the palm of hand (how’s that for an obscure sci-fi movie reference?!?!? haha), it seems my time is up!
A Brief History of Time
(* of Chris Solomon’s life on this planet)
Ok so “brief” may be a stretch as I do like to write and can be “long winded” at times…but here goes nothing. At the time of this writing, I am just turing 44 years young…actually, today is my birthday. Although my entire family is from the South, I was born in a small town outside of Boston. I put little stock into horoscopes, but I was born in June and am pretty clearly a Gemini as I have seen it described (logical and creative sides). My Dad was stationed there during Vietnam, so he and my Mom had moved up. However, my Dad was shipped off to Turkey for the war (communications and keeping tabs on the Russians! haha), and my Mom, being very much a Southern girl who missed her family, decided shortly after I was born to move back “home”. Although my stint in the north was all of about 3 months after I was born there, I am to this very day jokingly referred to as the one “Yankee” in the family. (haha)
My childhood years were much the same as any boy. I loved to run and play outside as much as possible…climbing trees, fighting imaginary dragons, building “forts”, etc.I tried my hand at many sports and activities…jumping from one to another as my interest shifted here and there. I played soccer, basketball, t-ball, etc. early on while settling for football in my junior high and high school years (I eat, slept and breathed football during those years!). During this time period a few very key things that would shape my life happened….(1) I saw the “Willy Wonka” movie (2) I saw “Star Wars” (3) I discovered I could “draw pretty good” (art) and (4) I got into programming. From 1 and 2, I truly believed that anything in this world was possible if only you had the imagination to make it so. Numbers 3 and 4 helped me work on that theory a bit. When I was 10, I was writing programs with a friend on his “TRS 80” (aka “Trash 80”), and my Dad brought home a Texas Instruments “TI-99” for me. If I was not playing outside or doing sports, I was “playing” on the computer. Dad worked for a bank in the operations center. Sometimes he would take me to see the “big computers” there and stacks of punchcards that ran them (yep, THOSE days! haha). At the bank, he also would get deals at times on computers. Around 13, he brought home a Commodore 64 “Educator” for me. That really stepped up my interest in programming! With a neighbor friend who had this miraculous device called a “modem”, we would dial up and get on bulletin boards, hunt for pirated video games, try to hack/crack games ourselves, etc. At home, I was coding in BASIC and LOGO. I even wrote a very basic program that I later came to know as a “database” that was like a directory of all my schoolmates. Yeh, the spark was definitely lit! I was also very much into art at this time and continue on to this day. I think the creativity of art goes well with the structure and logical thinking of programming…there goes that Gemini thing again! (haha)
So skip ahead a bit (I know…”Thank you, Chris! Geeez will this story end!?!?!)….I discovered skateboarding around my sophomore year in high school (15 years old…before I could drive), and it soon replaced my interest in football. For a brief period, I had intentions to go off to the Air Force Academy…I had the grades and even lined up my “official signatures of reference”. However, I had a change of heart when I realized (1) due to a “bad” ear, I would likely not fly “fighter” jets as I wanted to and (2) I saw a short segment on “60 Minutes” or something that showed how cadets were treated by upperclassmen. I really did not like being told to do things I disagreed with and had to just “follow orders” (yeh, I don’t think that works well in the military). So I switched gears a bit. I headed off to college at Auburn University. At the time, I wanted to go into art but as my Dad reminded me he was not going to pay for me to go to school for art because it was something I could do without school. We butted heads over it, but he was very right in hindsight. I decided instead to take my love of programming and computers and do something along those lines. I also loved math and did well all through high school (4th in my class). At the time, Auburn did not have “computer engineering”. It was all part of “electrical engineering” (EE), so I went into EE with a focus on software and hardware design. My father agreed to pay for 4 years but past that was all up to me (as my sister was beginning school then and he was not going to “foot” two bills at once…do not blame him now! haha). I actually took my time a bit (did not want to overload myself with school work and did want to enjoy my college experience), so I finished up in 5 years. The last year I was working at a restaurant right off campus to pay my bills. That was nice too because I could take home food that would otherwise be thrown out each night, so my roommate and I at least ate well (haha). Also, working at one of the most popular restaurants meant I got little “perks” with other friends working at other restaurants, so we would often switch up on meals.Aside from the intense study EE required, working, and having a social life as time allowed, I still continued skateboarding. It was my outlet and stress relief….much like art which I continued as well (just as my Dad had said..without school for it. haha)
After college, I was tossed right into the “real” world. I did not have a job in EE right out of school (I did not want to go work at the power company like most EE’s around here just do as if it is expected). I lived back home with the “rents” (parents) for a bit and worked at pawn shop (friends from high school got me on there) as their “tech equipment expert” (meaning it if was a TV, stereo or computer, I checked it out and priced it haha). Now THAT was an interesting job. I finally landed a job as a programmer for a small company, PaperSoft, that had a niche software product for the paper converting business. It was very much like SAP but specific to that industry. I had great times there. I met my long time friend, Derrick Banks, as well when we both started our first day together (later Derrick went into SAP after I had and all the ways our lives have criss-crossed over the years is another long story in itself! We are brothers from different mothers as the saying goes). A good paying job meant I finally got to move out to my own place! ….which also meant I got to enjoy another aspect of adult life….real bills! (haha) I worked for PaperSoft for a few years and learned quite a lot. I worked on the “inventory control” module, rewrote their “production” module and wrote a new “shipping” module for them among other things (some of that code was still around as of 4-5 years ago!!!!), but I was ready for a change (Derrick had moved on, so that helped plant the idea in me too). Now rewind a bit…right as I graduated college a company (Ameripack) was on campus looking for an EE to learn this stuff called “SAP”. Well, I boned up on “SAP” as much as I could from reading what was available on the internet. I did not get the job though (they picked an EE with some experience). However, at this point while at PaperSoft, I was looking through the classifieds and saw a listing for a local company needing a “Windows developer with SAP experience”. As this was around 1996 or so, there were not a whole lot of SAP people around in the US. I went on the interview…which was me at a table surrounded by 4 people firing questions at me. It was pretty intense. I handled the Windows programming questions and was able to at least sound somewhat informed about SAP, so I got the job. That earlier “brush” with SAP had proven to be one those “moments” in my life that I had no idea would decide my path later in life. It was somewhat bittersweet…I had this new exciting job, but I had to tell the owner of PaperSoft that I was leaving. He had become like a second dad to Derrick and I, so he took it rather hard. In fact, we did not speak for several years after that. Thankfully, we do now and laugh about old times.
End of 1996 or beginning of 1996 was my “start” with this thing called SAP (3.0c) that I had no idea would still be not only with me, but a major part of my life! The company I started with was doing a big implementation. They had a consulting firm in with about 200 consultants billing crazy amounts at the time ($300+/hr). The development group I was a part of in the company was told that we were to do very little with SAP and just learn from the consultants as we let them do the work. However, I worked with some very sharp/smart people. We all picked up on ABAP rather quickly and were doing some pretty amazing things with Windows, Excel and RFCs. We were still told “look but don’t touch” even when we could see bad code coming from the consultants (one had written nested “If Then…Else” chains that went so deep it was mind boggling!) We kept asking to do more and telling them we could do it, but of course met resistance from the consulting company who our own bosses were relying on for advice. We had to finally just show them. The consulting company had written this “vendor account upload and duplicate check” report that was their “golden child”. It took about 14 hours to run on most occasions. Our team rewrote it, had it running from an Excel spreadsheet that would FTP itself to a server and then run RFCs from that server remotely to do the “load and duplicate” check. We ran it for our bosses in front of the consulting project manager, and ours took roughly 20 minutes. Guess who got to take over a lot of the development from then on? (haha)
I stayed with that company and as some people left (SAP was hot remember!), I was promoted to the development manager for SAP. I had a small team of about 6 developers while still coding as well. I would have likely stayed there for much longer time, but during the company’s growth as it was acquiring companies out west, it was caught “cooking the books” (well before the HealthSouth and Enron scandals). The stock dropped like an anchor, and people were leaving the company in droves.
I had considered going to a consulting company, but after a bad interview experience with a Big 5 company at the time..they said “we want you…but we will only pay you this ($15k less than I was making) but you will get our name on your resume”….I was pretty turned off to the idea. However, one of the guys that had reported to me had interviewed with this “little” mid-market consulting company and taken a job with them. There were looking for more people and my friend said “Chris, I know you hate consulting companies but these folks are different…you will love it here!”…and he was right. I took the trip to Denver and interviewed with Whittman-Hart (that is another funny story I will save…maybe over drinks at TechEd you can ask me about it). I took the job with them and am so very thankful I did (again, one of those deciding moments in my life). I can say without a doubt that I worked with some of the smartest, most talented, inspiring people during my time there (Matt Fraser, Chris Buffum, Leif Nilsson, John Poreda, Richard Westran, Bryson Gamble, and more and more). I learned so much! Of course, it was not all “roses” all the time, and I did see the darker side of some people and consulting (oh lord, the politics at times! haha). But it all was part of the learning process. Whittman-Hart soon merged with a “frontend” consulting company called USWeb/CKS and changed the named to marchFirst (yes, that “m” is lowercase as per some branding managers wild idea of “cool” for the time). marchFirst became one of the biggest victims in the “dot com” crash. I say “victim” but it was their own doing. They bought into the hype and allowed their many start-up “dot com” customers extend their payments based off “what they will be one day”. When those companies went belly up, guess who was left holding all the very large bills? Yep…marchFirst. Sooooo….the company sold of parts and pieces. That was around 2001. A company called Divine acquired the SAP practice of which I was a part. I clearly remember a conference call with our CEO in which he stated that he would one day “crush SAP”. Now being in the SAP practice, this did not sound like it boded well for me (or my many friends).
I left Divine around 2002 and decided to branch out on my own finally. For a while, I had found that many clients were not coming to me and saying “hey Chris, is your company Whittman-Hart available for this project?”. They were saying “Hey Chris, are you available for this project? We want you.”. So the idea to start my own “consulting company” had started about the time marchFirst was imploding. The Divine acquisition only solidified my decision (again…just things happening that put my on my current path). I had been apprehensive about starting a company. It seemed so scary…so much to do…so much paperwork…what about insurance?…how will I pay myself?…what about billing? …what about contracts?…..but it all turned out to be sooooo ridiculously simple and easy. As they say, the first step was the hardest of all. It also helped that at the same time, I started another company…a side project of mine that was born out of learning web development….a web site, ArtofSkateboarding.com, aimed at skateboard collectors (think “baseball cards” but skateboards instead….or in many cases as “art” since many of today’s top artist started as skateboard graphic artist…there’s my “art”-side back again eh? haha). I figured if I was going to start one off, it was as good a time as any to start the other too! Like I said, that was around the end of 2001/start of 2002 and aside from a short stint (2004) with another consulting company again (I was brought into a strictly functional HCM firm to grow their technical practice, but they shifted direction and never really put their focus into it), I have been on my own ever since. Thankfully, I have had many great clients that have come back several times as well as a great network of friends and other consultants who have put me onto new clients (and me for them as well). I am not a “sales guy”, so this has worked well for me up till now. Changes in technologyas well as client expectations have also made it much easier. For the past many years, my projects have been almost 100% remote. Which brings me to the most recent big change in my life.
In July of 2013, I finally got married. I say “finally” only to mean that my search had ended, and I found the exact right person in this world for me. With all my previous traveling and work life, it had been difficult, but as they say, it happens when it is suppose to happen. I was not traveling as much and met this most amazing and beautiful woman…and she liked me! (haha) We dated/courted (in the South, that is “proper” as my Mom would say) for almost 3 years before I “popped the question” and thankfully she said yes. I have 3 wonderful step-kids (twin 17 year old girls and an 11 year old boy…my little buddy!), so not only did I get a wife but an entire family all in one swoop! (haha)
My country is the United States, but being in the US, I know it’s even more important to note the region you are from…or as they say around my part “Where ya from, boy?” I live in Alabama…better known as the South (yes, we capitalize it!) Why Alabama? Well, to be honest, it is because all the incorrect beliefs, misinformation and stereotypes about Alabama! People flock to cities nearby like Atlanta (to the point that it is hard to find someone from Atlanta in Atlanta!), but due to our state’s “image” (yes, we do have a dark past but have moved well past that), it has kept our state quite the hidden gem/secret. Good people, great food and easy living! What more can one want? Oh….and I also live in Birmingham which is about the most convenient location in the state not to mention the largest city. It is one of those “not too large but not too small” kind of towns. With my “job”, I could live anywhere as long as an airport is nearby. However, Birmingham is just very VERY convenient (road trips!!!!) And when I do travel, I can come back home knowing that I still know my way around and not a lot has likely changed since I was gone. (haha) If I were ever to move, I think my next spot would be near the beach (good surf and a good skatepark close at hand! *see “fun” below)
Birmingham as a city was long known as the “Magic City” or “Pittsburgh of the South” due to heavy steel industry influence and production. In fact, there is a statue (designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904) of the Roman god Vulcan that overlooks our city. The running joke is that Vulcan’s bare backside “moons” folks on the other side of the mountain. Birmingham still has ties to the steel industry, however my city is better known for medical technology and achievements (from UAB University which spreads across much of downtown Birmingham).
On a final note, a very serious warning if you do visit Alabama. This is a football state. More specifically, a college football state. Upon coming here, you will most certainly be asked “Who do you pull for?”. There are only TWO possible answers, and you will be forced to pick one…Auburn or Alabama. There are no other options unless you want to confuse the person asking you. It is just the way things are here. It is like ordering “tea” with your meal here and knowing that it will be “sweet tea” and not that regular, weird, gross tasting “unsweet” old dishwater that some people elsewhere drink (or so we are told). It is just a given. 😛
Oh yeh…and did I mention our delicious Southern food? 😛
“I do nothing professionally; I only do things for FUN!”
This has been my long standing motto in life and has served to guide me well. So what are these “things” I do for fun? I will not go into great detail (You’re saved!), but simply list a few that come to mind:
- Skateboarding (yep, still at it since I was 15…travel a lot for it and sometimes still compete)
- Snowboarding (when I can but it has been far too long since my last trip)
- Surfing (picked this up about 4 years ago and love it! I do a trip around September to Costa Rica every year to surf now)
- Running (I prefer trail running over road running as it is easier on my ankles/knees/back. I try to get in about 20 miles a week which works out to several 3-4 miles runs which are not hard on your body as long runs. I will occasionally put in a 6-12 mile run. I have not yet run any races because as competitive as I am, I know that it would consume me, and I would be “training” all the time for runs…which would take the “fun” out of it for me. I do have friends that run lots of marathons…even some that are Ultra runners…and they keep telling me they will get me one day. haha)
- Working out (helps to keep me healthy for all things above! haha)
- Fishing (fresh or salt water…very relaxing..as they say “fishing isn’t all about catching fish” haha
- Video Games (I can not sit in front of a computer all day and not “play” too! I love MMOs mostly…on the Camelot Unchained test group now)
- Art (still at it….enjoy acrylic painting, doodling, pen and ink at times and photography)
- “Farming” (haha….I have a nice veggie garden I am quite proud of….fresh veggies are the best!)
- Reading (when I can fit in “leisure” reading and not just pouring through some tech documents)
- Spending time with my family and friends (who doesn’t enjoy this?!?!)
- Writing long technical specifications (ok not really but seeing if you are still paying attention by this point)
How did I get here?!?!?!
So how did I get nailed with the BIFfle bat (or tapped with BIF wand if you prefer a less painful sounding means of induction) ? Well, my good OLD friend, Matt Fraser, took it upon himself to call me out in his own blog (Blog it Forward – Matt Fraser ). Matt is a true “wizard behind the curtains”…one of the best BASIS people I have ever met/known. But to me, he is much more…a good friend. Matt is one of those that although we might not be in direct contact for years, when we do see each other again, we pick right up like not a day has passed. Of course, social media has made it much easier for us to get tabs on each other’s goings-on. But if I ever get lax and think I know all there is to know about Matt, he is certain to surprise and entertain me with another story of his life. The guy has lived an amazing life…and still filling chapter after chapter! …and that’s just Matt…his wife is great too, and I think they make a perfect pair. (Ok Matt, does this get me a free dinner next time we come out to visit you and your wife? haha)
Matt Fraser’s Three Questions of Illumination
- How do you find time in your day for your many contributions to SCN?
First off, my “contributions” might seem a lot but keep in mind that I have been on here since day ONE of the old SDN (R.I.P.)…..that’s back when “Coffee Corner” was quite the place to be! (haha) But now…where does the time come from? That’s a tough one. In true consultant speak…”it depends.”. If I am working from home, it is a bit easier. I can make it part of my “morning routine” with coffee as I get the ol’ motor going (note: I am not a morning person!) If I am “on the road”, I might just check in back at the hotel before bed or something. Generally, for forum posts/replies/attempted-answers, I will just check my “activity” and see if anything jumps out at me. For blogs and such, I tend to get “drafts” started when an idea strikes me and just jot down an outline for it. I got back and finish it out as time allows. I always do my blogs as Word docs first (having being hit too many times with doing my blogs directly on SCN that “crashed” or “timed out” or whatever and lost all my work) and then “port” them over.
- If you hadn’t made a career with SAP, or perhaps in IT at all, what would you be doing with your life?
Well, that implies that you think my career is with SAP. Actually, my primary career that I am still working towards in earnest is to be a “Instant Winner of a record breaking lottery grand prize”. It has taken a while longer than expected, so my “fallback” has always been this nagging SAP thing that I can never seem to escape (I would quote the Eagle’s “Hotel California” lyric but I absolutely loathe the Eagles…only strengthened by the fact that met Don Henley at my local gym once and he was a complete tool…but that’s another story haha). Seriously though….I think I would always being something around technology (for many reasons noted above)….maybe more into the “art” side of it. Who knows. I sometimes laugh at the paths, “lucky breaks”, “right place at the right time”, etc that even got me here.
- What are your biggest outstanding life goals that you have not yet achieved?
To die at a very old age, surrounded by my friends and family having watched them all succeed, help others, grow and go on to build strong, loving families of their own. I still have (hopefully) plenty of time to work on that one! Hmmm …but past that “biggy”…let’s see…..professionally? Grow a company such that I can employ others and help them succeed while of course making plenty of money for none of us to ever “want” for much. Personally? Too many to name…from things as a step-dad (just married coming up on 2 years now) that I need to work on (my wife would likely call me a “work in progress” haha)…..to little things like getting to surf more. I guess overall my one goal is remaining happy (in where I am, who I am, what I do, how I treat others, who I surround myself with, etc), so really I just have a lot of little goals that all go towards that greater aim in life. Much easier to manage that way! haha
Chris’ Voight-Kampff Test Questions
My 3 questions for my victims…er uh….nominees…are as follows:
1. You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and see a small Larry Ellison. You reach down and flip Larry Ellison over on his back. Larry Ellison lays on his back, his belly baking in the hot sun, beating his tiny legs trying to turn himself over. But he can’t. Not with out your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?
2. What has been your proudest moment thus far in your life and what was your proudest before that one?
3. Was there ever a moment in your life where you were absolutely stricken with fear when faced with something you had to do or try for the first time, and yet you pushed through the fear, did it and found out more about yourself and your limits in doing so? If so, please describe.
….and the Nominees are?
My nominees for BIF are in no particular order, preference or favoritism:
Martin Gillet (how does he not have one?!?!!?)
And with that my dear friends, my BIF is now done Done and DONE! I hope you enjoyed it, and I am honored to now be an official part of all that shared before me.