Podcast Transcript: With A Little Help From My Friends

Chris: Welcome to “Target Your Goals,” a podcast by Penny Forward. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their family, and friends, who share a common interest in financial independence. Join us, via our Facebook group, and we will work together to avoid financial obstacles and target our goals. The purpose of this podcast is to introduce you to people who have set interesting goals, and are succeeding at accomplishing them. Join us, as we meet these people and cheer them on, as they work towards their own success.

Chris: Our guest today is Michael Malver. Michael graduated with a Batchelor of arts degree in music therapy from the University of Minnesota, and went on to receive an associate of applied science degree in computer science from St. Paul college, and a database specialist certificate from Minneapolis Community college. Michael is the sort of guy who logically knows that he has done some things, and other people tell him that he has interesting stories. This interview is a chance to tease out some of those stories, and to talk about some of the changes that have occurred in Michael’s life over the last year, since he found a full time job after many years of part-time and contract work.

Chris: Michael, thanks for being here.

Michael: Thanks for having me.

Chris: In the last year, you happened upon work that was more satisfying to you than work has been in the past. And, it was a little bit by accident, if maybe that’s the right way to put it, so talk about, like, in a minute or less, what life was like leading up to that.
Michael: I wouldn’t say that the job was an accident. More, as to me it felt like serendipity. I have had an interest in computers for a long time, and went so far as to get an associate of applied science from St. Paul college in 2006, and a database certificate in 2016. Computers had been an interest to me, and I had a lot of academic experience, but I had a hard time selling that academic experience into something that companies would want to use. I found work doing some telemarketing and I found work doing some web accessibility stuff, and the telemarketing was fun, just because I got to go out and speak to people at the Capitol and talk about a cause that was important to me, that being getting accessible voting equipment into polling places so people could have an accessible voting experience. And the web accessibility stuff was kind of cool, but limited in the amount of work I had, because again, I was using my computer skills. But I was never able to leverage any of this into a full time position, and that was … That was frustrating. Because although I had had about ten years of time between a job where I had had 40 hours a week of work and the point where I was currently looking for something new. Some of that ten years I had intentionally spent not looking for work, and I was totally fine with that.

Chris: Were you in a period where you were looking for work when your current job happened?

Michael: I was in a period of wishing I had something different to do, but I had received enough rejections in the past, and had little enough confidence in my abilities by that point, that I was feeling rather down trodden, and wasn’t looking for work as actively as I could have been, because it felt kind of hopeless.

Chris: Were you giving up at that point?

Michael: I had kind of given up on looking for work. I guess the answer is that I was willing to work in a couple of positions where I was really pretty dissatisfied, because it was better than nothing, and nothing is what I had before.

Chris: Okay. So talk about how the job came up, how the opportunity came up, and what happened next.

Michael: So this is interesting to me. My very first job that I ever got was doing tech support for a major computer manufacturer. And I got that job because a friend of mine knew that I knew a lot about Dos, which tells you how old the job was, and computers in general, and he thought I would be good at it. So I took the entry level test and I got the job, and I did that until I got let go, and then went on to do other things. The second job that I got, I got because my father ran into the head of Tech Support for Honeywell, and that person suggested I apply, and I applied, and I got that job. I got another job as adjunct faculty at St. Paul college teaching entry level computer programming years later, because the dene of the department felt that I was a good student, that I understood the topic, and that it would be interesting to have a person with a disability as an instructor, to sort of implicitly say that people with minorities can do this stuff. And the most current job that I have, I got because a friend of mine who worked at that job had from the sidelines, so to speak, watched me write computer programs. He had seen some of the code I created. You know, he’d read my Facebook and watched the kinds of things I wrote about, and he felt that I had the ability to do the job. I had taken on some other programming part-time work before that. So, indeed, my skill set had gotten to the point where, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I could do that job. I was feeling pretty discouraged, but that person, who turned out to be you, the interviewer, kind of kicked my tush until I said, “All right, I’ll do the interview.” And I’ve never looked back. I did the interview and I got the job, and here I am. It’s the first time in a long time that I far more often than not wake up in the morning and feel good about what I’m doing. So I think, as trite as it is to say, of the, like, five jobs that I’ve had in my life, only one is a job that I applied for and got, without knowing somebody who pointed me in the direction, or threw a … threw out a helping hand. So, your social network, that is to say, the network of people you know, can definitely help you when you’re looking for work.

Chris: Talk about what it’s been like to go to work full time after doing a whole bunch of part-time and kind of ad hawk stuff, and how that’s changed your life.

Michael: You know, that’s a great question. I mean it felt different in that it took a lot more energy, and I definitely was a lot more tired at the end of the day from working a full day, but it also taxed me mentally, in good ways, to keep me learning, and keep me focused and interested. There was new stuff to learn, and problems to solve, revolving around the kind of work I was doing. Eventually, I got to the point where I could teach others some of the skills I was learning, which allowed me … I like teaching. I don’t … I never wanted to be a formal instructor. I was afraid that if I had a hundred and fifty students, it would become a chore rather than a joy. But when I have a few people that I can impart knowledge to, I’m in a happy place. I like that a lot. It’s … I mean it’s changed my life in that I now make enough money that I’m not thinking about paycheck to paycheck, and which things I have to pay when in order to get everything working out. So I work for a company called Thrivent. And Thrivent is unique in that they are a fraternal order organization. They’re basically an organization that, they sell life insurance policies, and they have financial advisors, and a credit union, but they’re very focused on giving. And, you know, although, when I went to religious school as a kid, we gave physical money, they’d, you know, collect quarters from the kids. The act of giving money to causes I liked is something that I hadn’t done in, I couldn’t tell you the last time I did something like that. I was more than happy to give time. I do a lot with the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota. But the ability to give money, and to feel like it wouldn’t be a burden to give that money, is a really nice feeling that I’ve been able to enjoy as I have worked in a job that allows me to have the ability to do that.

Chris: Over the last year, have you found yourself discouraged at all?

Michael: No. I mean there have been good days and bad days, there have been days where I’ve felt like I haven’t met my potential, or where I’ve maybe not caught on to things I would have liked to have caught on to, but, I mean that’s just part of learning. And, and … I think, so much of, at least for me, feeling encouraged or discouraged really has to do with the environment that I’m in and the support that I get. And right now I’m in a really good place with a lot of good support. And I’ve done things that I can look at and feel good about having done them.

Chris: What were some challenges you had in getting started and getting to this point?

Michael: Honestly, I think the biggest challenge was just allowing myself to accept the fact that the person, well, you, but whatever. The person who … who suggested I go for the job, and had the skills to do that job, was just … letting go of my own doubt enough to just accept that that might be true. And once that happened, everything kind of fell into place. There was kind of a “eureka” moment that I can’t really talk about in a way that would be meaningful. Except to say that, I suddenly realized I had done something in the past that related to the kind of work I was interviewing for, and when that clicked for me, I knew that I could represent myself well. Once I got the job, I think my biggest concern was just going from working an hour a day to working eight hours a day. And would I be able to get up on time, and have the energy to make it through the day, and … I work for a company that uses a tool that has really been quite forward thinking in its accessibility. So most of the day to day stuff I have to do is with pretty accessible tools. And I think that takes a lot of stress off of a person. You know, whereas, if you go into a telemarketing job, or maybe even tech support now. I don’t know if I could do tech support now. Back in the day when I did tech support, somebody called in with a problem and you fixed it, and now you have to log into their computer, and look at it, and I’m not convinced that screen reading technology allows you to interact with the computers of sighted people efficiently to do the kind of support work that I would have done. But because of the tools that are being used in the job that I currently have, that kind of stress didn’t exist. So all I had to deal with, which in its own way was stressful I guess, was worrying less about proving myself and actually just doing the work. I think maybe that was the hardest part of starting. Was just, because I doubted my own ability, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, kind of be like, “Ah, you know, someday they’re gonna wake up and be like, ‘Ah, we shouldn’t have hired him after all.’ And fortunately, that never happened. And eventually, the people I worked with started telling me I was doing good work, and, I mean I shouldn’t say “eventually.” I was getting that kind of feedback pretty early on. But eventually, I had done enough work that they were telling me I had done good work, and I could tell it was good, because it did what it was supposed to. You know, and I still have my days where I, like I said, where I wish I was more productive, or whatnot, but I’ve gotten enough feedback from enough people telling me that they’re happy that I’m part of the team that things are pretty good right now.

Chris: How has life changed outside of work?

Michael: I think the biggest change kind of goes back to what I was talking about earlier. I’m making enough money now that I can have disposable income. I can buy something just ’cause I think it would be fun to buy. Or maybe go out to dinner just ’cause I don’t feel like cooking and I know I’ve got the money to do it. Which isn’t to say that I am not very mindful of the fact that I should also be saving money. It’s just to say that it’s nice to have a little bit to play with, so I can … You know. I used to not buy music. I would listen to the radio, and be like, “Well, when it gets gone, it’s gone.” Now, I’ll go and, if I hear a song, I’ll go and buy it and think, “Well, you know, it was a dollar twenty-nine, and that’s not a big deal at this point.” Whereas, in the past, I … I don’t know, I’m giving the wrong impression. ‘Cause it’s not like a dollar was that valuable to me, but overall, the thought of, “I’m gonna go and, you know, buy a 15-dollar album.” wasn’t something that I had. So, yeah. It’s been nice that way. It’s nice to be able to give. It’s been nice to be able to go out and buy just fun stuff, or to think that I could go on a trip if I want to once Covid is over. You know, it’s been nice to be able to save. I’ve been able to save. I’ve been able to take nice chunks from each paycheck and put them away with the thought that some day I’m going to retire, and I will have resources available to me. On the other hand, it’s also made me a little more jealous of my time. Because I am working eight hours a day. I value my relaxation time a lot more, and I’m a lot, I would say, less likely to volunteer to do things on the weekend. (Chuckle.)

Chris: We’ll hear the conclusion of this interview in a moment, but first, a brief word from our sponsor.

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Chris: So before you were working full time, you were getting some income from part-time work, but you were also getting income from social security. Correct?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: Yeah.

Michael: That’s correct.

Chris: And, what was it like to make that transition from collecting social security to going to a … Collecting a paycheck from an employer?

Michael: You know, I got really, really lucky as far as I’m concerned. Because I was making enough from my employer that there was no doubt that I was going to lose social security. Like there was none of the cliff issue where I was gonna have some dollars taken away, and there would be a weird calculation. So I wrote … I called social security and told them I was employed, and they immediately stopped sending payments. And in theory, the first month, I … because of what I made, I could have argued with them, and said, “You know what, you still owe me one more payment,” but I just didn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy. So I let it go. The beauty of getting off of social security, though, is that you can still purchase Medicare. You have to pay for the Part B, which is like your insurance, if you go to the doctor’s, or you need drugs covered. You need to pay for that yourself, whereas when you’re on social security, they automatically take it out of your check. But when I first started working, I was with a contractor, and that contractor didn’t have particularly good insurance. So I was able to leverage Medicare to my benefit. In retrospect, maybe I should have just gone with their crappy insurance ’cause I didn’t go to the doctor that much that year, but, you know, it’s a gamble. But it felt good. Just knowing that for the first time, I was making my own money. And I am thankful that social security exists, because for ten years, I wouldn’t have been able to survive without it, but it also feels really good to be able to be on my own two feet.

Chris: Do you have any advice for people now that you’ve, you’ve gone through this, that are looking for work, or may be looking for work, that you think might help them out to have a … maybe a better experience than you had?

Michael: Only what I said earlier I think. Just be aware of the people you know. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re looking for work, and ask if they know of opportunities. When people tell you you have a skill, take that seriously. You know, maybe when somebody just cheerfully says, “Oh, all you have to do is create a project,” confront them with it, and say, “You know what? I … I don’t feel creative in that way. What are a couple of ideas, like what would you create if you were going to do that?” And maybe that would give you the idea to start building a portfolio. cause that’s something I didn’t have, and if I did, maybe my life would have been different. If you have a skill, and you can demonstrate it by building a thing, you know, whether that’s a writing sample, or a computer program, or a … whatever it is, take the time to build that. Print your resume. I cannot tell you how many times I went to job interviews, and printed my resume and had somebody say, “You know, we rarely have people hand us stuff on paper anymore, but we really appreciate it.” Don’t be afraid to write to the people who interview you, if you don’t get a job, and say, “Hey. Is there anything I could have done to make this a better experience or to improve? Could I have presented myself differently or better?” cause you may not get a response, but you never know. Maybe you will. Those are my answers, for whatever they’re worth, but I think the … I think the biggest thing, in my experience, was just having friends who happened to realize, it’s not like I went to my dad and said “I’m looking for a job, can you get me into Honeywell?” All of those people reached out to me, and said “I think there are opportunities.” And be aware of those. And be willing someday to reach out to somebody else and help them find that opportunity once you’re in a good place.

Chris: What do you see yourself doing, going forward? Say in the next five years?

Michael: You know, I really haven’t made that … I should make that process, but I really haven’t. And it’s sad, ’cause I have the feeling, like, I keep feeling like, “Wow, there’s so much to learn.” But I have the feeling twenty years from now, I’ll still be thinking, “Wow, there’s so much to learn.” Just because technology constantly changes. I don’t really know where I see myself. I … I love what I’m doing. I don’t really want to manage people. management just isn’t something that … that I dream of. I wouldn’t mind being an expert in something and teaching or explain to people how things work, and in some way, being respected for my knowledge, and for what I can produce, but I don’t need to be a leader. And it’s funny because I feel like we have a culture that is so focused on leadership. “What do you need to do to manage? What do you need …” And I’m just … I’m happy to pull the strings in the background. A lot of the time. As long as once in a while, somebody tells me that they like the work I’m doing with the Marionettes.

Chris: And, now that your income has increased so much, do you have any dreams or goals outside of work that you’re looking forward to?

Michael: Um, … Ah,, you know, I toy with the idea of moving somewhere else, because I live with somebody, and we live in an apartment that’s big for one, and maybe not quite big enough for two. (Chuckle.) I love living downtown, and as good as my income is, I don’t think I could afford to buy another place downtown, given how the property values are going up. But I think about that, I think about going on a cruise, or just getting away, and, you know, going on a trip somewhere, but it’s a vague somewhere. It’s not like, “Gosh, someday I hope to go to bla.” Although I’d like to go to France at some point. I studied French in high school, and even though I’ve forgotten most of it, I still think it would be cool to go there. I occasionally think about putting together an internet radio station. Last summer, I started broadcasting, very occasionally, on an internet station called “Radio Onion Ring,” and I enjoyed doing that, and I’ve had this idea for years, that I wanted to own, like, all of the popular songs from the time I was born, and just keep going until whenever I die, and, obviously the library would end, unless I could find a psychic and tell him to buy the music and add it to the collection. But I’ve never actually done it. But the idea still appeals to me of just making a radio station that would play popular music from the beginning of recorded history to now. And it would just be the most big, amazing playlist ever. Whether I’ll do that or not I don’t know, but those are things I think about.

Chris: How do you feel about the way things are now? Are you proud of yourself?

Michael: That’s … You know, pride is something that I don’t often feel. And I don’t know how much of that is a counter to the sort of, “Oh, look! It’s a blind guy who knows how to tie his shoes! Let’s write a news article about it.” You know, how much of it is family upbringing, I was a pretty average student. So I didn’t come home with report cards with A’s on them all the time. And although I was never … How can I say this so it makes sense? Like it just happened. Nobody was ever like, “Oh, you did a horrible job.” But neither was anybody like, “Oh, gosh! You should be proud of this.” Like school was just something I did. Or I would be in a music contest as a kid and I would win the contest, and then you’d get to play in a concert, and you played in the concert, and it’s like, “Wow. Okay.” I won and I played in the concert, but it was just something that happened year after year, and because of the number of kids in the concert, I was somewhat skeptical as to whether everybody won or not. (Chuckle.) Like, I … I don’t know. Pride came later. There are things I have done that I am proud of. Yeah, in the work that I’ve done now, there are things that I am definitely proud of. I worked for 4 or 5 months on an application last year and when that was done, having written about 90 percent of the code, I was pretty proud of that. Yeah, maybe I’ll just end that answer there. Pride doesn’t come easily for me.

Chris: Well, the purpose of this podcast is to highlight past accomplishments, and I think you should be proud, and I think that the internet should be cheering you on for the things that you’ve done. So thank you for being here. I appreciate your story.

Michael: Sure. And I think … I think the things that I’ve done that I’ve been proud of, interestingly, haven’t really revolved around the work that I do necessarily. Or they do, but tangentially. When the American Council of the Blind was advocating for accessible currency, actively, they’re still advocating for it now, but it’s in the courts. So they’re in a different place. When they were trying to initially get accessible currency to happen, I created an internet petition, and got something like seven thousand signatures on it. That was something I was proud of. When I was at St. Paul college, I took a course in java, and the instructor said he would give anyone an A who passed the national certification for, like introductory Java knowledge, and I passed that. And I was really proud of it. In 2007, I brought a resolution to the American Council of the Blind asking Apple to put a screen reader in their iPhone. And I got a little push back from members afterward because I said that they should also put low vision stuff in there too, and they already had. But nobody could tell me if it was good enough for low vision people, so I included it in there. But I was still really proud of that. I’m trying to think, what have I done? Oh, just recently, I received my VOIP from a company called Vonage, that creates an iPhone app from which you can answer your VOIP line. And there were some serious accessibility issues with that app, and I knew, from work I had done with the American Council of the Blind, that there was a piece of legislation passed in 2010 called the Communications Video and Accessibility Act. And that under that act, people who use the internet to send communications across had to have accessible applications. So the FCC had a form that you could fill out if you had accessibility issues with companies, and that form started a mediation process wherein the FCC would sort of be the go-between between you and the company, and you would try to work out a solution. With the understanding that you could probably file a lawsuit if you couldn’t come up with a solution. But the end result of that was that Vonage pushed a couple of fixes to their app, and now, anyone in the United States who uses it can answer their phone and make calls, and do the kinds of things you would expect to be able to do. That happened in the past couple of years, and I’m proud of that too.

Chris: Well that’s great. Again, I want to thank you for being here, and, just again say that you’ve accomplished a great deal, and you’re very understated about it, but out here in Internet Land, we’re all cheering you on.

Michael: Thanks for having me.

Chris: I hope you have enjoyed this week’s interview, and will join us again next week. But before we go, did you know that the two most important pieces of your credit score are making on time payments, and how much credit you use? It’s true. By sipping, not drinking, from the credit fire hose, and by making all of your payments on time, you can make sure to maintain a healthy credit score. That can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your financial lifetime, as you apply for credit cards, and larger loans, such as car loans and home loans. Use just enough credit to get by, and make sure that you can pay it off as quickly as you can, whenever you use it. By doing this, you will have a healthy credit score.

Chris: We hope you have enjoyed this week’s episode of “Target Your Goals,” a podcast by Penny Forward. For more information about Penny Forward, like us on Facebook, join our Facebook group, or visit
Until next week, I’m Chris Peterson, thanks for listening.

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