How my high school mentor changed my life forever.

When I was in high school, I was involved in a mentoring program with several other students who were also interested in computers and technology. We were each paired up with an employee from Union Pacific Railroads, one of our school’s community partners. My mentor was a guy named Jim, and for the next few years, we met nearly every Saturday for lunch at the Runza down the street from my house.

When I moved to Lincoln for college, we gradually lost contact with each other. The occasional e-mail was exchanged, but it had been at least 4 – 5 years since our last correspondence when a message from Jim appeared in my inbox, asking if we could meet sometime. After shuffling around our schedules, we finally found a date that worked, and so we spent 3 hours this past Saturday catching up on each other’s lives.

As Jim pointed out, most of our mentoring times consisted of lunches at Runza, running around to comic book shops and sci-fi bookstores, etc. Certainly nothing that had anything whatsoever to do with my future career plans. But even so, he gave me a lot of advice on matters both professional and personal. However, if you asked me to recite any specific words of wisdom, I don’t think I could. Jim did it all by example.

One of the most important things Jim did for me was back in 1994, when he told me about a little program called Mosaic and introduced me to the World Wide Web. When I did a summer internship at Union Pacific the following year, he gave me a short HTML tutorial that he’d photocopied from some computer magazine. To put it mildly, those 8 or so pages changed my life forever.

I spent much of my free time that summer mastering <b> and <ul> tags, wrapping my head around the concept of tables, and learning the magic of URLs. If Jim hadn’t taken the time to pull out those pages for me, the past 9 years of my life might’ve been radically different.

I might not have ever gotten into Web design as a hobby, and later, as a career. And there’s a very good chance that Opus would not exist if I hadn’t spent my free time poring over those pages and learning how to fit tags together in Notepad. As I look back, I remember how grand that time was; I truly felt like I was learning something new and exciting, though I had no clue what the simple instructions in that short article would give rise to.

Thanks for everything Jim, and hopefully it won’t be another 5 years until our next get-together. But next time, I’m buying…

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