me and my (paternal) grandmother

A not-so-short autobiographical sketch
(and some melodramatic musings on life)

I was born on March 10th, 1973, in Warszawa (Warsaw), Poland's capital. Shortly thereafter my family moved to Gdansk, a city on the Baltic sea, where my father worked at Polskie Linie Oceaniczne ("Polish Ocean Lines"; abbrev.: P.L.O.), a shipping company operating out of the shipyards there. My mother worked as a medical doctor. Most of my early childhood was spent in Gdansk.

In 1979, prior to commencing elementary school, my parents took me along on one of their ship excursions. My father was an engineer on the ship while my mother was the ship's medic. As this was a cargo ship, tasked to pick up and deliver cargo throughout the world, we got to visit a number of interesting places. The ones that stick out in my mind the most are New Zealand, the Panama Canal, Tahiti, Samoa, and Peru. Looking back now I see this to be one of the most influential events in my life. It gave me a glimpse of the many different ways that human life can be.

When I was about 8 years old, Poland was placed under martial law by the then ruling Communist Party. Tanks rolled onto the streets of Gdansk, a show of force and an intimidation tactic. At the same time my father was sent on business to Cadiz, a port town in south of Spain, where a number of ships were being constructed for P.L.O. After completing grade 2, my mother and I went down to visit him over the vacation break. We never came back. While in Cadiz, my parents decided to defect, and so one evening they packed our bags and disappeared into the night. We took an overnight train to Madrid, the capital where the Canadian embassy was located. Despite dismal chances, after about 8 to 10 months, we were finally granted a Canadian visa. During that time, to make ends meet, my father worked as a secretary for the priest than ran the Polish parish there, while my mother cooked for a group of Spanish priests. I finished grade 4 in a local Spanish school run by catholic nuns, and if I recall correctly, was fairly fluent in Spanish by the end..

Upon our arrival to Canada in 1983 we lived in Etobicoke, with my uncle Karol who has arrived here a number of years earlier. By December that year my father got a job with a Calgary-based company that designed and modified ships. My mother and I followed him there shortly, although this was short-lived as a year later or so the company decided to relocate to Ottawa. Once more we picked up all our stuff and moved. There I attended grade 6 in St. Rita school, grade 7 and 8 in St. Raymond High School, and grades 9 and 10 in Lisgar Collegiate.

By the time I was in grade 10, the company where my father worked was experiencing hard times, so rather than wait to be laid off my dad decided to look for better opportunities elsewhere. He soon got a job with Ontario Hydro, at the Pickering Nuclear Power Generation Station. At about the same time my mom finished all her required additional medical (re-)training to become a general practitioner in Canada, and Toronto was as good a place to start a medical practice as any other. Once again my father went first and we followed suit soon afterwards. We moved to Scarborogh, the eastern part of Toronto, which was picked due to a strategic placement between Pickering and the heart of Toronto, as well as the fact that there was a decent high school nearby, R.H.King Academy, where I finished my high school education (and met my future wife, Caterina).

In 1992, I entered the Electrical Engineering program at University of Waterloo. My original choice was Computer Engineering, but somehow even with a >96% average I was unable to get into that program, so I decided to make the best of it by accepting my alternate choice. As I look back I am glad things turned out the way they did; I feel that having done my Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering, my Master's in Computer Engineering, and my Ph.D. in Computer Science, I am getting the best breadth one could get in my field. After 5 years of goofing off, a couple of close calls, and finally after some decent hard work and studying, I emerged as a Bachelor of Applied Science in April 1997. My career here included co-op work terms with IBM, Bank of Montreal, Department of National Defense, and Alias|Wavefront, whose influence can be clearly seen in my choice of subsequent research area.

In 1997, after getting married to my lovely wife Caterina, I pursued a Master's degree at the University of Toronto. I enrolled with the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Computer Group in particular, and finished by 1999. This degree was rather uneventful, and whizzed by before I noticed.

In September 1999 I embarked on my PhD degree. It's been a long journey. Things got off to a slow start as I tied up loose ends related to my Master's, including presenting previous research at a conference in Switzerland. Things got more difficult once my thesis supervisor came back from a sabbatical and explained that he was moving to University of British Columbia. But things really hit rock bottom once we found out that, three years into my PhD, other research groups have pursued similar ideas to those I've been researching, that they were light years ahead, and that they just published. The insignificant amount of progress I've made on the topic has just depreciated into nothingness. It was a crushing defeat, and many dark days followed. This too was one of those events in one's life that defines a person.

"The diamond cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials." -- Confucius.

In my case, looking back at it now, I think it changed me in many ways: having crawled out of that abyss, I think I emerged a more confident person, far more extroverted, far better equipped for such large independent projects, and perhaps most importantly, I have discovered the power of will, drive, and persistence. Will can move mountains. It's one thing to bandy about the old platitude "Where there is a will, there is a way", but it's quite another to truly believe it, to see it demonstrated first-hand in one's own life.

It took a lot effort to pick oneself up form this catastrophe, but after a trip to Vancouver, my supervisor and I decided on a new research tack, and things have been progressing at a nearly exponential rate since then (if publication frequency is anything to go by). In fact, I should be finished the degree by December 2007. Where to from there? Into industry, but I am not sure into which sector, as my interests are diverse. Only time will tell...