Icebreaker Speech

One of the great things about Toastmaster is that it allows you to build a ready-made catalog of speeches for any occasion. This can be especially handy if you have a corporate event and your keynote speaker decides not to show. Keeping one of these babies in your head or even on cue cards or an iphone could make you a hero if you’re ever faced with an empty podium. The first of these that I wrote was the icebreaker. It was very well received when I gave it, and I think I might turn it into my new about page. I had to fill seven minutes, so it’s a bit long. You’ll find it under the “Read More” link. Let me know what you think!

Madam Chairperson, and Fellow Toastmasters. My name is James Strocel. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and an Associate Degree in English Literature from UFV. I also have an advanced diploma in geographic informations systems from BCIT. Last September I started my own company called V2S Web Design. Any Questions? No? All right I’ll start. What am I doing here?

I look back on my career and I just think, what right do I have be running my own company? I’m not the entrepreneurial type! Why can’t I be realistic and get a real job?

I ask myself these questions everyday. And everyday reality answers back. Reality says that I make more money designing websites than I do passing out resumes to companies that never call back. Reality also says that I’m leading a social media workshop next Thursday. It’ll be my first paid speaking engagement. But the question remains, how did I get here?

When I left UFV in 2003, my goal was simple. Get a good, steady job at a good steady company. It sounded easy enough. After all my field was projected to have negative unemployment by the time I graduated!

My first job out of university was as a games tester at electronic arts. Talk about a dream job. Getting payed to play video games? Sign me up! It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. We were payed only $10 an hour, and we were expected to work over 60 hours a week when crunch time hit. It didn’t help matters that the games we were testing were unfinished, and sometimes almost unplayable. We would spend hours trying to figure out new ways to break the game. I spent 4 hours alone circling a single palm tree to get the game to crash.

For me Electronic Arts was a true trial by fire. I had spent so many long hours over a hot xbox away from the outside world and my girlfriend, surely I would be rewarded for my hard work. After all isn’t hard work the key success? Not so. After the Christmas season wore off, they terminated my contract. Business reasons, they said.

I was sitting in a job hunting class listening to “Who moved my cheese” when I got the call for my next job. It was with a tech support firm in North Vancouver. They provided wireless internet for hotels and truck stops all over North America. Truckstops. Think about that. It must have been some creative department of hell that designed those wifi routers for the truckstops. Billy-Joe-Bob trucker does not know how to reset his wireless zero configuration, nor should I have to teach him how. And then there was Hurricane Katrina. “Sir, you can’t get on the internet. The power is out. Cars are floating by your hotel. Goodbye now.”

Again, I was handsomely rewarded by my employers. They laid off the entire office that December and shipped all our jobs off to the Philippines. It was the saddest Christmas party ever.

Luckily, I had another job coming up at eBay. I wasn’t working the phones this time, but I was manning the chat windows for their support section. I was old hat at this customer service thing by now. I was handling quadruple the workload for a normal technician there, and my evaluations were stellar. I even helped someone sell a used breast implant. Life was good. And then they canned me. Again.

It was clear to me that my degree had not made me indispensable. There were thousands of aspirants in the lower mainland with skills and gold-lettered pieces of paper just like mine. I decided that specialization was the key to making my fortune, so I enrolled in the computer mapping program at BCIT. My classes were a breeze thanks to my background in programming. I had an awesome practicum at ECRI canada. I programmed the user interface for a mapping application that tracks serial criminals.

I had a contract with the city of Maple Ridge as soon as graduated. I was able to save up enough money to get married to my wife, Sara. I went on to take on more GIS contracts, and I even went back to BCIT as an assistant instructor. Life was fantastic. Then the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit.

I got my last regular paycheck in March 2009 from the Ministry of Agriculture. I was working on their Okanagan Water Demand project but there was no more funding to keep me on. Job postings used to flood into my mailbox 5 times a week. Now that flood was reduced to a trickle, and I was competing with workers who had twice my experience.

The months wore on. There were a lot of resumes, and a lot of time to think about where I went wrong. How did this happen? Am I incompetent? No, I’ve got reference letters that say otherwise. Am I Lazy? I don’t know, can you get three degrees by being lazy? I wanted to work, but no one would let me! How was I supposed to buy a home? Raise a family?

I decided to take matters into my own hands. My case worker at the employment center put me in touch with seeds BC, a government grant that would allow me to start my own company. I put the resume away. It’s still early, and I only have a few clients, but I’m already making money. I think now, after all these years, I’ve got what I wanted. My wife and I now own a mortgage on a nice apartment in the center of town. And finally, I now have a good, steady job, with a good steady company.