Life Since High School Part 2 of 4 – The First Job Era
My father, whom most people from Coronado in my class would remember as Mr. Sweat, the Media Specialist on the library staff, also sold grade book software for the computer. He took a support call from a teacher in Bluegrass Iowa, but it was actually that teacher future son-in-law, who was local computer technical support for her and in conversing with my dad, mention he was doing research on Artificial Neural Networks. My dad said “Hey, that is what my son is researching too” and on the winter break of my senior year, I arrange some time to visit their main research project at North Star Steel in Wilton Iowa, which was 30 miles down the road from my grandparent’s house in Silvis, Illinois. I found it fascinating, but at that time was intending to continue going to graduate school.
Mulling things over, I decided that perhaps it would be good to earn a bit of money for a year or two, pay off some student loans, and then go back to school after that (16 years later…never happened). During spring break I went back and did a second interview, and two days before graduation I received and acceptance letter from Milltech – HOH, a tiny engineering firm in Iowa of which I was the 12th employee. I moved back to Davenport Iowa, got an apartment, and we worked in a little office on top of a Chinese restaurant in Walnut Center. We were building process control systems for mini-mill in the steel industry.
The following year, the company changed its name to Neural Applications Corporation, and moved the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Research Campus, a business incubator for the university in Coralville Iowa. We spent a year or so in the basement of one of the campus buildings, and then eventually built our own building and moved into it.
I had purchased a condo in Iowa City, and lived next door to Laura Suppel, whose family ran La Casa, a Mexican restaurant in Iowa City. Her best friend was Vicki Casey, whom I met at a few parties at her house. We eventually began dating, and later sold both of our houses and moved in together into a split level house from the 70’s on the east side of Iowa City. He father passed away, and we had our daughter Madeline Moira Sweat, who was born on February 1st, 1997.
Vicki is a twin, her brother Brad is a school teacher, and a basketball coach and referee in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There is a younger set of twin brothers, Bret who lives in Ohio, and Bart who lives in Iowa City. Their youngest of 3 kids was Abe, born on March 1st, 1997 exactly one month after Madeline.
The work I performed was always in the steel industry. I changed from installing and configuring the control systems, to managing the research and development projects for new control systems on different pieces of equipment. There were several years where I was on the road 3-4 weeks a month, and it was actually quite amazing that I was able to meet my wife at all .
We were looking for additional ways to apply the technologies we were using. On aspect of them was they could learn to recognize patterns in large amounts of data. We were therefore looking for problems where there was lots of data and a poorly understood underlying process. The answer to this search was the stock market, and we began to use neural networks to assess performance of stocks. This lead the company to purchase a stock market oriented portal called stockpoint.com, which was later acquired through a series of transactions and is now CBS Marketwatch. By the time I left, I was the 6th most tenured employee at a firm of 100 people.
Towards the end of my work at Neural, I was designing ASP pages which looked at data collected from PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) and stored in a SQL Server database. I really enjoyed this web work and it certainly has continued to play a role in my life.
Six weeks before I left, the metals portion of the company was acquired by a company called Systems Alternative, Inc. and the rest of Neural continued on in its financial sector focus. I heard the Neural acquired portion of the business was shut down one year later, so my decision to leave was on good footing for many reasons.