Alumni Spotlight: David Homiak '75

Strong Foundation Supports Varied Career

Like many hopeful students accepted at Webb, I came with dreams of designing racing sailboats and cruising yachts. Racing a Flying Dutchman, sailing a Pacific Catamaran, and working as a harbor rat in Chicago during high school had made me eager to learn about naval architecture; I’d read books about it and even poured molten lead to make batten weights with my like-minded cousin (Steve Shepstone, ’77).

Having discovered Webb, I was introduced to the unique culture of the Institute during my interview visit by students hanging out the windows of Stevenson Taylor Hall yelling, “Escape while you still can!”

Four years later, graduation was almost anticlimactic after the amazing journey shared with my classmates that had tested the limits of our endurance and sanity.

I regret that Prof. Ridgely-Nevitt was disappointed my thesis was done on a computer instead of in a towing tank, but it foreshadowed my future career. Resigned to designing commercial ships instead of yachts, I failed in my quest to find a job in San Francisco despite two winter work terms there, but was salvaged by the now defunct Sun Shipbuilding in PA. I loved working with the many Webb graduates there, but the shipyard was failing, so I eventually returned to Chicago with Amoco.

Once again, I met some outstanding Webbies, and enjoyed many ship inspections and sea trials on tugboats to VLCCs, from Boston to Japan. Unfortunately, Amoco dismissed all its naval architects after the Amoco Cadiz lawsuit with France was settled; but I had hedged by starting a MS degree in computer science, based on my engineering programming.

It was difficult leaving shipbuilding for software development. My Webb education had prepared me with skills that transferred well, so I found work as a scientific programmer at an automotive research center. After three years, a hostile takeover forced another personal knockdown as research was cut. Despite knowing nothing about finance, I took an interview at a derivatives firm, and was seduced by the challenge of building real-time, distributed systems driven by complex quantitative algorithms. I don’t doubt that having Webb on my resume helped me stand out for the job. Since then, I have held various IT positions at investment banks and trading firms, managing to survive despite the turmoil in that sector.

If there is a moral to my career path, it is that nothing is permanent. A strong foundation is necessary for one to adapt to whatever situation presents itself, and Webb provided the education and life experience necessary to navigate the unexpected rogue waves of modern careers, even far apart from NA/ME. Webb is not for everyone, but, then, neither is an ordinary university education.