May 11, 2020

My weirdly sentimental reaction to my college writing nice things about me

“I think I want to go to Georgia Tech” I told my dad when I was a senior in HS.

“Isn’t Tech a….good school?” He responded.

“Yeah, pretty good I guess?”

“And…you... you want to go there?”

“I want to be a civil engineer” I really had no idea why I wanted to be a CE but it seemed cool at the time

“But….your grades aren’t awesome” (I had a 3.0 thank you very much)

“Well, we’ll see how it goes!”

It’s funny that this is the conversation that sticks in my head. My parents split up when I was 8 and my dad had very limited financial responsibility over my siblings and me. My mom was (and always has been) my anchor. But it was this convo with my dad that I used it as motivation to excel…to do better than he thought I could….to be the best!

Less than a year after that conversation, I was entering my 3rd quarter at Tech with a 1.7 GPA and on the verge of flunking out. I needed to buckle down and get my shit together. To prove my dad wrong!

That quarter I got a .8 GPA. POINT EIGHT. I was now a member of the infamous square root club (a euphemism that means your GPA is so abysmally low that if you took the square root of it the result is bigger than the original number. Look it up). I was “academically dismissed” as they pleasantly called it. I moved back home with my mom and step dad and got a job waiting tables at a terrible country themed steak house. Peanut shells on the floor. Kenny Chesney on the loudspeakers. I called my dad to tell him I was booted. He was sweet about it. And then pointed out it was time to get a job.

I mired in my misery for a few weeks, enrolled at the local community college, and tried to figure out my next move. I quickly decided to attend UGA - most of my friends were there, it looked like a helluva good time, and I could major in anything I wanted. I made arrangements with a good buddy of mine to room up with him and was ready to apply when I went back down to Tech to visit my best pal (and still my best pal — and fantasy football arch enemy). Walking around campus gave me this weird feeling — a feeling that I let the place beat me. That I was throwing in the towel to go to some other, much (MUCH) easier school (sorry UGA pals I gotta needle y’all when I can). It was in that visit back to Tech that I decided to apply for re-admission. To give it another shot. To not let it beat me.

Much to my surprise, Tech let me back in. The next 3 years were a struggle. I was more or less on my own financially — still bartending 30 hours a week and attending one of the most notoriously difficult colleges in the country. I would graduate in December 2000 with a degree in Management — and a GPA of 2.2. The bare minimum to get out (we Tech grads don’t graduate — we “get out”).

I write all of this almost 20 years after I “got out” because today the alumni association magazine did a profile on me for some of the work my team and I are doing on COVID through The COVID Mapping Project. When you work in the startup world, lots of people from lots of magazines (big and small) like to write about you. It always feels pretty cool, but not much more than that. Something to send your mom.

But for me, the former flunk out and graduate with a 2.2 GPA, getting a write up from the alumni association magazine is a form of validation that I’ve been working towards for 20 years.

Read the article here.

I'll leave you with favorite bit from the article. It captures how I see what we do with data at Standard Co:

“I’m not a policy maker, but I’m a data person,” he says. “I think when you couple data with policy, you can exact good public health outcomes. If you just focus on policy, if you just say, ‘Stay at home,’ and people don’t know why, they’re not going to listen. But when you put data in front of them in a consumable way, they realize why they need to stay home. This thing is serious, and data can help tell that story.”