Todd Hlavacek, Software Engineer
I’m a software engineer. I knew back when I was a gangly teenager sitting in front of my Apple IIgs writing BASIC that I wanted to be in the computer field writing code. Ever since that epiphany, I worked my butt off to get in the field.
What is the best part of what you do?
Solving the world’s problems. Seriously, an analogy comes to mind here. Think of Michelangelo working on the Statue of David. He had a vision of what he wanted the statue to become. The result of his hard labor was a beautiful statue. It’s the same way I feel with my work. The best part of what I do is I get something in the form of written requirements for a “problem,” and I work using some or all of the skills I have to get to the end result — a beautiful statue written in software code.
What are some of the challenges?
Admittedly, in a field like this, my deafness would be more of a hindrance, but fortunately, technology has progressed to the point where there are engineers, hearing, deaf and even blind, who do work remotely. In order for them to do their jobs effectively as remote engineers, tools have to be utilized over the internet that I as a deaf engineer have benefited from greatly –
1. Instant Messaging
2. Go-To Meeting (similar to Microsoft’s old NetMeeting)
3. Video Conferencing where other call in, and I can call in using Video Relay from home
4. Smartphones — believe it or not — because now with the capability to text, IM and all on a smartphone, deaf engineers now can be a part of the “on-call” rotation with other hearing colleagues.
One challenge still remains — face to face brainstorming and design meetings where my presence is needed. I use sign language interpreting services for that.
As I tell people when they encounter a deaf engineer — “Being Deaf only means that we use a different language than English to communicate orally and verbally, it does not of and by itself mean that we can’t do the job that any able-bodied engineer speaking a different language than English can do.”
What was it like growing up/becoming Deaf/deaf/hard of hearing?
Gosh, this is both an easy and difficult question to answer. You see, I grew up with a deaf brother in a hearing family using Total Communication. My mom never subscribed to the “oral only” or “Sign language only” methodologies. She wanted to give my brother and I all tools from which we could utilize to be successful later in life. Little did we both know growing up that we both would later use speech and sign language at one time or another throughout our lives wherever applicable — at home or at work. I fought against one methodology and embraced the other.
So, while growing up deaf was hard, I was fortunate in that I had a mother who fought for me. I had access to other deaf/hard of hearing friends along with a good education. So growing up was good, but not easy. Today’s deaf/hard of hearing children have it far much easier, I’d think, with a wide range of activities, organizations, and the like out there.
What advice would you give a D/deaf/HH person who is looking for a job, career or calling like yours?
I would say this:
Number one, play around with the activities that will lead to your calling NOW instead of waiting until college. Don’t just say, “I want to work with aeronautics” and sit and play games on your X360. Find out all about aeronautics, do activities, etc.
For example, I played with BASIC programming, along with other computer related stuff, back when I was a teenager — way before high school and through high school. I knew right then it was for me. I never changed majors in college. The first major I went into was the one I graduated with.
So, having stated that, if you are not sure but want to wait, don’t. Find ways to do these activities, whether it be volunteering for a not for profit organization, or doing self-paced study online (there are plenty of them online these days), or taking community college classes.
Number two, remember the saying: “All work makes Jack/Jill a dull person” and conversely, “All play makes Jack/JIll an unhappy person.” Find a balance in life between your pursuit of the calling and some play time. Don’t sacrifice your social aspect in your relentless pursuit of your calling. Don’t sacrifice your hard work by doing too much play time. You’ll live for 80+ years, so be mindful of that. You’ll find that your social life does in fact help you with your professional life, and vice versa.
Number three, enjoy life. Enjoy doing the work you want to do. The day you stop enjoying it is the day you need to take a second look at whether the calling is for you or not. I’ve been in this field for over 15 years now and I still feel the same excitement that I did the first day on the job. I love what I do.