Michael Stein
My Story

I owe my understanding of math to two things; my father and hard work. My father opened the door of understanding mathematics for me at a very early age. In later years hard work and attention to detail crystalized my understanding of mathematics. My father, by the way, does not have a college degree.

When I was in third grade I was having a very difficult time with math. I wasn't able to understand. I didn't like math at all. My dad was trying to help by explaining what numbers were and how they were related to each other. All of a sudden it just clicked. I don't remember what he said, but I do remember the door of understanding opened for me. From that point forward I liked math. I excelled at math. Math quickly became my favorite subject. I was lucky the door of understanding opened at an early age, in the beginnings, when I was first being exposed to mathematics. This allowed me to never fall behind.

But unfortunately for me I wasn't a model student. While I was always in the more advanced math classes, my other grades were disappointing. I was unchallenged in the public school system. As a result I didn't think I needed school. As a child I complained that I had to go to school and I didn't get paid - somehow I saw school as work without pay. I eventually graduated high school with a dismal 1.9 GPA. That's right, I barely squeaked by with less than a C average. And at that point in time I swore up and down that I didn't need college and I wasn't going to college.

After two years working menial jobs such as flipping burgers at Carl's Jr. and being a file clerk at a couple of insurance companies I realized that if I'm going to have a chance to do what I want to do in this life I needed an education. But I had a problem; I bought a new car and I had a car payment - How could I go to school and still make a car payment? Then one evening, in the blink of an eye, that problem was solved; I was on my way home from work on the 5/170 interchange and was rear-ended. My car was a total loss. The driver of the car that hit me and I were not badly hurt. That was a blessing in disguise.

I was 20 years old. I quit my job and applied to Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, CA. I was accepted and registered for classes. I was a new person. I had something to prove to myself and my family. But I still didn't think I needed a degree. My thinking was that I just needed to learn some stuff (get skilled) to get a better job. My pursuit wasn't for a degree. My pursuit was to get educated. I completely immersed myself in my studies. I studied seven days a week my first two years. If I wasn't in class, I was in the library at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) (CSUN was located right between Pierce and where I lived in Granada Hills) CSUN library was my home away from home. I was obsessed and thirsty for knowledge - nothing else mattered to me. My dedication to study was reflected in my grades.

In my second year I took Calculus 1. Calculus was a new challenge. I thought my algebra and trigonometry skills were taken to the limit in pre-calculus. But Calculus was different and difficult. New concepts were being thrown at me. I was having a tough time. On my first test I received a 76% - a poor grade by standards. That grade did not sit well with me. It was mainly due to careless errors. It did not sit well with my perception of myself. That was my cue to take my studies to the next level. I pored over my calculus book reading and pondering the concepts. My next tests and the final were all in the high 90%s.

I inquired with the Math Department at Pierce during that semester about becoming a tutor. I was told they don't usually hire students currently taking calculus 1, but if my professor would vouch for me they could make an exception. The Professor, Mr. Petersen, vouched and I was a math tutor for the first time.

My first experiences as a tutor were very positive. I didn't anticipate how it would feel to see the students smile after they attained understanding. I could see the satisfaction (bordering joy) they were experiencing on their faces. And I knew I was at least partially responsible. It felt great! I quickly developed as a tutor. I found that I possess a natural talent to explain ideas. This was probably my first experience in being truly appreciated by the people I interacted with. I was providing service to them. At the time I didn't realize any of this. I just knew that I enjoyed tutoring - It was fun! Interacting with people in a positive way is rewarding and satisfying. Helping people is quite intoxicating.

Tutoring had another affect on me that I didn't anticipate - it solidified my own understanding of the subject matter. Listening to students questions gave me insight into how they perceived the material. I could see where their understanding was breaking down. Seeing the variety of ways students understand and misunderstand the material helped me to better understand the material myself.

After some time tutoring for Pierce College one of my tutoring friends and I decided to make fliers for private tutoring and put them up at Pierce. This was around 1987-1988. We charged $15/hour. On the evening I arrived home on the first day we advertised with fliers, much to my surprise, I had messages waiting for me on my answering machine. I scheduled those appointments and, without exception, the students wanted to schedule another appointment. I was flabbergasted and enthused! In 1987 $15/hr was a lot of money and it was a much higher pay rate than what I made at any of the previous jobs. Over the next couple of years I continued tutoring both privately and for Pierce College. I also started tutoring in more subjects (Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science).

In 1989 two things happened; I transferred to California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and I got involved in a new hobby - Foosball (table soccer). At CSUN I started tutoring for the Math Department in the Math Lab. At CSUN, the game room had a couple of foosball tables. I played there daily on study breaks. Before I knew it, I was playing foosball with all my free time. I met a lot of great people playing foosball - both at CSUN and away from CSUN. Eventually I heard about foosball tournaments and I was intrigued. I started playing foosball in tournaments all around LA and Orange County. I even traveled as far as San Diego and Las Vegas to play in foosball tournaments. It was great fun.

After being in the foosball circuit for a while, one of the other players and I decided to buy a bunch of foosball tables and place them in bars throughout the LA area and run our own foosball tournaments. At this time I was still of mind that I didn't need a college degree - I immersed myself in this new endeavor, foosball. But I also told myself that I would take at least take one class each semester. I also kept up with my tutoring during this time.

Then in 1991 I was on vacation in Las Vegas with my father and sister. My sister talked to me and insisted I should focus on getting my degree. I decided she was right. I sold my share of the foosball business to my partner and again focused on my studies. I really didn't like the bar room atmosphere anyways, it wasn't really appealing to me.

In 1993, I graduated with a B.S. in Mathematical Statistics. I started a Math/Science tutoring service with another tutor/friend that I met at CSUN in the Math Lab. Our company name was Logical Choice Tutoring Service. At Logical Choice we hired tutors and also did the tutoring ourselves. We found the tutoring services industry to be highly competitive and hard to keep good tutors. Good tutors were apt to do their own advertising and "cut out the middle man" so to speak. Tutors that were less than par would tarnish our name and reputation. After 2 years of cultivating Logical Choice we decided to dissolve the company.

It was 1995 and I was 29 years old. I thought to myself and believed I needed to get some professional experience under my belt or I may get too old without professional experience to be attractive to the professional business world. So I sought a job as an Actuary. This area of work was in-line with education and training. I landed a job on my first attempt.

I started work at Health Net as an Actuary in 1995. It was my first professional job. I worked at Health Net for a little over a year before I sought employment elsewhere. I interviewed for another health insurance actuarial position at PacifiCare. I started at PacifiCare in 1997. This was the job that brought me down to Orange County from the San Fernando Valley. At PacifiCare I found the same frustrations that I had at Health Net. I found the Actuarial field to be a good'ol boy network. What was actually happening is I was being introduced to corporate politics (YUCK!).

In 1998, I decided I needed a change. I decided to seek a job in a different industry altogether. I wanted to be a software developer. So I took a Visual Basic class at Orange Coast College. I excelled in that class. The professor was Gary Denham. One day before class I walked up to Gary to ask him a question and I overheard another student (Dave Williams) talking to Gary about offering him a job at his company, Australia New Zealand Direct Line (ANZDL). At the conclusion of that class I approached Dave and inquired about any job opportunities. Dave didn't seem interested.

Eventually I was hired at ANZDL, as a software engineer. Dave later told me the tipping point where he decided to offer me an interview for a job was after our first test when I finished the test in about ten minutes and the rest of the class took the entire hour. Gary, the instructor, would announce the perfect scores when he handed the tests back. I received a perfect score. Apparently, this caused Dave to seriously consider me for a position at ANZDL.

ANZDL was the best company I had ever worked for or could ever hope to work for. ANZDL was a containerized shipping company specializing in freight moving to and from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papeete, and the US. ANZDL was a medium sized company - there were about 300 employees at the headquarters located in Costa Mesa and another 150 employees located throughout the world where ANZDL did business. ANZDL took an active role in its employees personal and professional development. ANZDL fostered a cooperative culture and rewarded its employees for a job well done. ANZDL was a leader in Information Technology with regard to freight shipping. ANZDL created the first "Bill of Lading" that was deliverable via email. Before then recipients of freight deliveries would wait for their bill of lading to be delivered in the mail - sometimes waiting for the bill of lading while their freight was waiting for them at the destination ship yard. The minimum bonus at ANZDL was $10,000 and it didn't matter what your position was - from receptionist to VP. Imagine being a receptionist making around $20,000/yr and getting a $10,000 bonus on years when the company showed a profit! ANZDL also had bi-annual company outings. On the outing I was part of ANZDL took the entire company (flying employees in from around the world) to San Diego. We all stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado. We had many activities, some mandatory and others optional from a list. We all went sailing at Mission bay on Saturday. Saturday night we had a vegas themed formal dinner. We all got a certain amount of chips to play at vegas style gaming tables and the person with the most chips at the end of the evening would win a prize. The optional activity I chose for Sunday was skydiving. All expenses for the entire trip were paid by ANZDL! This was for over 400 people - the cost was well over a million dollars! ANZDL really cared about its employees and demonstrated that with its actions, not with empty promises. What a company - what a family! ANZDLions still get together today.

Unfortunately, in 2000 ANZDL was sold to CP Ships. The culture Michael Beard, the founder and CEO of ANZDL, had fostered quickly deteriorated. CP Ships proved to have the same corporate politics that both Health Net and PacifiCare had. CP Ships attempted developing Information Technologies to revolutionize the shipping industry. They relocated people from all over the world to the ANZDL headquarters. They spent tens of millions of dollars. But in the end, the people they sent over to manage these new projects didn't know or understand why ANZDL was bought or how to leverage ANZDL and its culture. Many decisions were made that were not supported by the people doing the work. It was destined to fail, but CP had deep pockets - that's what seems happens with companies that have deep pockets and are enamored with politics. Those companies have management that plays favorites and the moral suffers. But there's so much FAT in the industry that the company survives. That's really sad. In the end CP dismantled the ANZDL headquarters and moved it to Florida. Most of the ANZDLions stayed in Southern California - myself included. I was at ANZDL for a little over 3 years.

It was 2001 and I found myself looking for job. I decided I wanted get into Java Development (Java is a development language that is Object Oriented and J2EE is Java for the Web - I won't go into detail about Java). I decided to take some Java courses at community colleges. I took Java I and II at Saddleback college and I took a Java Server Pages (JSP) class at Orange Coast College. Then I sought a job.

I found employment at Yamaha Motor Corporation in Cypress, CA. I was a contract developer and worked as part of a team developing Enterprise Supply Chain Management software. This job was fast moving and very challenging. The project we worked on was highly successful and was eventually not only deployed in North America, but also sold to Yamaha Canada and deployed there. The whole project team was highly skilled and effective - but our success was really attributable to the project lead, Ryan Peterson. I worked at Yamaha for about two years before the project lead and I decided to go out on our own and develop new software to leverage an emerging technology, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Our company name is Creek Systems.

After working with Ryan for about two years on our own projects and doing contract work for various companies to earn enough to live on, I was diagnosed with a heart condition, Atrial Fibrillation (a fluttering of the upper chambers in the heart) and Atrial Septal Defect (a hole in the heart) - these are congenital and not contagious. The doctors and nurses I am seeing all say I am too young to have such a condition and they all say it must be due to stress. So, as a result I decided to stop working - my thinking is that if my time in this life may be cut short, I don't want to spend it slaving over my work. I'd rather spend it doing something I truly enjoy. That's why I've started tutoring again. Tutoring allows me to see in concrete terms the fruits of my labor - I'm helping people. I interact with a variety of people - this is much more interesting than sitting at a computer terminal all day everyday. Since my diagnoses I've had an Ablation procedure which I'm happy to announce was successful. My episodes of a-fib are now near non-existent. I still have another procedure to fix my ASD. I am working with the doctors now to make sure I am ready to have this procedure and to schedule it.
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