Unfortunately, I tend to suffer from two somewhat contradictory writing problems. Sometimes it is difficult for me to start writing. Then, I also tend to be quite lengthy in my delivery when I am writing. The reason I even bring this up is because I had an extremely easy segue from the end of my first post to the start of my second post. Now with my third post, I find that I am suffering from the former issue where it is difficult to begin writing. Although, I guess this has served as an anecdotal introduction to who I am.
In preparation for introducing myself, I identified three experiences I feel best describe who I am, while highlighting my background and letting you know where I come from. The first is my experience with the sport of wrestling.
As kids, my brother started wrestling before I did. You can imagine how that went for two athletic and competitive brothers. My younger brother quickly built a knowledge base in a sport that enabled him to gain an upper hand in our rough housing/shenanigans around the house. As the older brother, losing to your younger brother was unacceptable. And after playing basketball for a season while my brother wrestled, I joined the wrestling team the following year. I was in third grade when I joined the local recreational team. In retrospect, I would say I am a little surprised when at about nine-years-old I was able to assess, “I need to practice wrestling so I can beat my brother.” Maybe I got good guidance from my parents. Or the conclusion is just more logical than I am giving it credit for.
Regardless, wrestling and I had a bit of a love/hate relationship for some time. I took to wrestling relatively naturally. I remember in my first tournament I took third place. And I used to really enjoy wrestling live at practice as well as the matches and tournaments. For a young athlete, this is all that is required for the love portion of the relationship to take seed. The hate portion of the relationship was ultimately immature of me, but it serves to display why I now feel that wrestling is one of three experiences I believe identify me and explain who I am.
Wrestling is not as popular as other sports, and I remained a relatively self-conscious kid. It was never easy to talk about how you enjoyed the sport of wrestling and endure the onslaught of jokes from other kids: wearing leotards, questioning your heterosexuality, etc. (With regards to my self-consciousness, I sometimes wonder how shy I might have been without some of the athletic prowess I was able to attain, but that’s beside the point.) And then, wrestling practices were always tough. Drilling moves is repetitive work that is both lackluster and hard. So hopefully it is starting to make sense how the hate portion of a love/hate relationship with wrestling can exist.
Unsurprisingly, wrestling is also a deeply personal sport. When you are on the mat, mistakes are yours to own and yours alone. I did not so much mind this aspect during matches and tournaments. However, I would honestly have immense anxiety about practice when I was younger. Specifically, the first practices each year. The first practices were always a big unknown. Who would be your practice partner? Would your practice partner from last year be there? If they were not there the first day, would they be there the next day? Or would your practice partner from the first day be there the next day even? And this is all on top of the coaches, the actual moves and drilling, and the deeply personal interpretations of your technique you would receive from your coaches.
Finally, and this perhaps would go without mentioning to anyone who knows a wrestler, but the discipline made the sport easy to dislike. Drilling is probably the earliest introduction of discipline into the sport. But obviously, the dietary discipline associated with maintaining your weight is the single largest obligation. When you are younger (grade school) there is no emphasis on making weight. However, upon entering high school (where some competitors are 18 years old and very serious), missing your weight quickly becomes unacceptable. And this deep discipline, along with all the other obstacles I was forced to overcome in pursuit of my passion for wrestling, is exactly why I value wrestling so much today. Without wrestling in my past, I am a fraction of the person I am with a fraction of the resolve I have.
United States Coast Guard Academy
Another important experience that makes up a significant part of my identity is my undergraduate experience at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (CGA). First and foremost, I successfully graduated and received a commission as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. And I continue to work for the Coast Guard to this day. So clearly, this is where I am spending a large amount of my life, and it makes up a large part of my identity.
The four years I spent at the CGA will always stick with me in a very special way. Similar to discipline in wrestling, the CGA required extensive discipline. Between a rigorous course load, military lifestyle, training obligations, and then my continued athletic endeavors, it constantly felt like there was not enough time in the day. This innate discipline requirement began to reinforce the person wrestling was shaping me to be.
Additionally, and very importantly, I was introduced to the field of Operations Research at the CGA, and I consider being an analyst central to my identity. I remember thinking I wanted to be an engineer as I reported to the CGA. I started in the Electrical Engineering (EE) major, mostly because I found myself drawn towards computer programming. Ironically, as I started feeling the pull toward the Operations Research and Computer Analysis major, I resisted. Somehow, I was convinced by feeling a pull towards Operations Research I was attempting to avoid the more difficult path of obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in EE.
Unfortunately, I cannot say I am very proud of my academic performance while I was at the CGA. Essentially, I had very high academic standards for myself in high school. Thus, I was admitted to a school like the CGA. However, when I arrived at the CGA, I was immature. And the CGA was HARD. I think I let myself fall into a trap of letting my identity be too informed by my status and success as a wrestler. Academically, I began to accept… just good enough. Which ultimately resulted in me being forced out of the EE major, when I received a “C-“ in Electrical Engineering I, when I needed at least a “C”.
So I was pretty much forced into pursuing my interest in the Operations Research and Computer Analysis major. And I am happy for it. Because I now consider myself an analyst.
I wish I could say after my major pivot into the Operations Research and Computer Analysis degree I excelled. It would fit the classic story where I was not happy where I was and then performed to my level of intelligence and potential after finding where I belong. Howbeit, I remained a fairly average student.
Admittedly, I kind of leveraged my intelligence and mathematical talents to more “get through” my classes while putting immense amounts of energy into wrestling. And perhaps highlighting how immature I really was, I definitely bought into many of the social aspects of the undergraduate experience; always looking forward to having fun with my friends.
But even as I was half way in and half way out with regards to committing to becoming an analyst. The underlying interest I originally fought was taking root. The original seed had begun to grow. And I began to recognize and love the applicability of what I was learning. I was not mature enough yet to devote time to truly grasping the underlying mathematics at an “A” level. But I loved getting into higher-level conversations about problems brought to analysts and how the math I was learning would solve them.
This passion continued to grow. And following my graduation from the CGA, suddenly the mentality that had me so lazy academically changed. What used to be a jammed packed day from approximately 0600 to 2300 (on repeat) while I was at the CGA… became a regular workday. And then my time outside of the workday became exactly that; my time. I spent my entire first tour as an officer adding more and more time to the workday to establish myself professionally as an officer. And then the Coast Guard moved me to a new position. In my new position, I was spending approximately 200+ nights a year in hotels on travel orders for the Coast Guard. And this is where my pursuit of being an analyst really began.
Unfortunately, opportunities as an analyst in the Coast Guard are few and far between. Particularly for newly commissioned ensigns in the service. However, I knew there was a Post Graduate Advanced Education opportunity for Operations Research, where the Coast Guard fully funds a Master’s of Science. Except because of my lackluster undergraduate performance, I needed to establish that I could perform at a graduate level to compete against other officers for the program. So I began using my nights in hotels. I signed up for an online MS in Data Analysis. And by the time I was selected for the Post Graduate Advanced Education Program, I was approaching only six credits left from graduating with a MS. Of course I finished the MS in Data Analysis. And the following Fall semester, I began a MS in Operations Research as a full-time student at George Mason University, sponsored and funded by the Coast Guard.
My Blog – joebreaker
I think these three experiences really help provide a window into how I think. From my experiences with wrestling and how they instilled discipline, drive and perseverance into me. To the Coast Guard Academy and my time spent there earning a commission as a Coast Guard officer. And finally to my path and development as an analyst.
Following my graduation with a MS in Operations Research from George Mason University, I reported to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Requirements and Analysis (CG-771). This is where I would begin a limited amount of time in the Coast Guard where I was guaranteed work as an analyst. But the Coast Guard certainly had its fair share of data modernization shortcomings. I began to grow frustrated, not only because of a lack of reliable data, but because I would often encounter customers who were told they could not be helped by an analyst. (Mostly because of any combination of data problems.) People were seeking analysis for answers to their questions. And analysts were telling them, “We cannot help you.” In my heart, I knew we needed to work harder. And this is when the solicitation for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Data Readiness Task Force (DRTF) went out.
I responded, was selected, and the DRTF is where I find myself now. We are approximately one-year into our efforts after the ball really got rolling. And I would really enjoy for this blog to act as a journal of my thoughts and any lessons I learn along the way in this data journey. I am hoping topics for posts will come to me relatively logically (as I am just writing about my work), and I would like to post just about once a week.
These views are mine and should not be construed as the views of the U.S. Coast Guard.