Stephen Silva on Abraham Lincoln and Conquering the World One Day at a Time

Noodle Expert Stephen Silva discusses lessons we can learn from Abraham Lincoln and how you can conquer the world if you just take on a little bit each day.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I would select President Abraham Lincoln, but not for the obvious reasons. He was clearly an example of "never give up." In 1832, he lost his job, but in the same year, he was elected Captain of Illinois Militia in the Black Hawk War. In 1836, he suffered a nervous breakdown but rebounded and received a license to practice law in Illinois state courts. 1849, he was rejected for Land Officer, yet he was admitted to practice law in U.S. Supreme Court. Clearly he had a vision for success and never let others define him.

Also, he never took himself too seriously. When a critic told him he was "two-faced," Abe responded "If I had two faces, you think I would use this one?" I think society would benefit from Abraham Lincoln's experience to turn failure into a success.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Someone once told me to "Think small, You don't need to conquer the world today." At first, this advice seems to counter most "Conquer the World Today" advice one hears from people who have achieved greatness. Trying to do too much daily can create anxiety and maybe even some depression. When I showed an interest in database technology, I wrote down a list of topics I needed to learn on a daily-, weekly-, and monthly-basis. Little by little, I was able to execute complex database queries. I achieved this by focusing on an ultimate goal and taking the necessary "baby steps" to achieve that goal.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

After I graduated from USC, I studied at the Universidad de Salamanca, Spain. I went there without knowing much Spanish outside of hola and adios. When I was in the terminal in Madrid, I tried to ask where the bathroom was but got instructions on how to get a Taxi. Clearly, I had to learn Spanish real fast. My point here is the "sink or swim" theory. Study abroad in a place with a culture and language completely foreign to your own. You'll be surprised how fast you become a part of their culture. Furthermore, hiring managers are impressed with foreign study on your resume, especially to places that require you to learn a new language and culture.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Top of the list would be an algebra class I took in college. Math simply wasn't my thing, much less algebra. When would I ever need the "Degree of a Polynomial" or "Average Rate of Change"? Formulas are a part of our lives. Whether we drive a car and need to calculate a distance or need to work out the volume in a beer container, algebraic formulas are used everyday without you even realizing it. Hey, I can even formulate my win/loss record at the casino. Well, we won't go into that here. Simply put, algebra trains us to think logically or as I like to term it, "a progression of logical thinking."

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

To be honest, when I was in college, I could barely turn on a computer. The technology was very basic compared to today's technology of smartphones, GPS, and a feed of pictures of what your friend had for dinner. Honestly, the amount of people taking pictures of their food amazes me. Anyways, I was working for a company in a client relations role and their software team was understaffed. I needed to generate daily data outputs in my role and the head software engineer showed me how to write a basic SQL script. That was the gateway into a profession as a Data Analyst Engineer. My expectations of the "geek" world was one of mathematical equations and formulas. But today's database technology is fairly English-friendly and straightforward.

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