Technology at its best

There are two types of computer specialists. There are those who have a lifelong love of the logic and mathematics of their digital workhorses, and then there are the pragmatic professionals – the ones who figured out early on that the future will be written and recorded with the personal computer.

David Schamus is of that second school of thought.

Schamus has been at Pierce College for eight years, where he is an associate professor and the chair of the Computer Science and Information Technology Department. Before he began at Pierce, he worked in both government facilities and the private sector, in addition to running his own business.

In 1987, he used his already extensive experience to make his first foray into a lifelong teaching career.

“In the early – and mid – ‘80s, I was teaching people how to run power plants for the Department of Water and Power, and prior to that I was a power plant operator. And what I found out is I love teaching,” Schamus said. “But my boss got promoted, and our new boss I’m convinced might have been the direct descendant of either Attila the Hun or Adolf Hitler.”

When conflicts with his new boss led his colleagues to transfer en masse, Schamus took stock of his experience and decided to follow suit.

“While I was at that facility, I’d learned how to use computers, and I saw the market as being in its infancy and starting to come up fast,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, I know computers, I know how to teach. I’m going to quit my day job and go do that.’”

After leaving the DWP, Schamus began a lucrative career in the private sector, training corporate employees in networking and information technology.

“I kept doing that, and it got to the point where I was teaching in corporate environments where I was travelling a lot,” Schamus said. “So I found myself in interesting places like northeast Poland in December, Ottawa, Canada in January, Panama in the rainy season. And I was making good money. I didn’t have a college degree.”

In the early 1980s, Schamus was a journalism major at Los Angeles Valley College where he served on the editorial board of the Valley Star, first as news editor, then editor-in-chief. But despite having attended college for years and completing more than 40 units, Schamus did not get his bachelor’s degree until 2004, before he began teaching college courses.

“My wife and I talked about it, and I realized that if I wanted to have a stable lifestyle where I saw my wife more often than I saw the clerk at my hotel, that I needed to go back and go for a bachelor’s and a master’s and look for opportunities in the community college,” Schamus said. “I realized I was going to have to go back and take a cut in pay to have a good lifestyle.”

So Schamus stepped away from the jetsetting life and began working on his Bachelor of Business, which he attained through online classes with the University of Phoenix. It’s no surprise that an IT professional and networking expert who’d spent years working in the field would choose online courses. In fact, Schamus completed two of his classes during the week he spent teaching the corporate training course in Poland.

After he received his bachelor’s degree, he went on to earn his master’s degree in educational technology from Pepperdine University, which he also did primarily through online courses.

With a lifetime spent studying, applying and teaching IT skills, it would be easy to assume Schamus considers computer science his passion. In truth, he is just a man with a strong understanding of a field that he knew early on would prove valuable.

“My love is the people, the students. Working with people,” Schamus said. “I got into computers purely by accident, and they were the necessary evil by which I could make money teaching without a degree. So I have sort of a love-hate relationship with computers, but I love helping people learn them.”

As if his experience as IT professional, power plant operator, international networking trainer, former student journalist and community college professor were not an eclectic enough combination, Schamus is also an accomplished musician. In addition to guitar and bass, he also plays an experimental instrument known as a “canjo.”

“I’ve got a couple Gibsons, a couple Fenders, my bass is a Warwick, and I have something called a canjo,” Schamus said. “A canjo is a thing a buddy of mine actually built. It’s a stick with a tin can and a string and a pickup. And you use it for playing like a slide guitar.”

Schamus has dedicated one room in his house entirely to music, and plays with friends whenever he can. He has played guitar at a number of shows at local venues. One of his Pierce colleagues, music instructor Wayne Perkins, occasionally plays bass in the group.

“We played down at the mall right here, at Rock n’ Roll Pizza,” Perkins said. “And we played at a place in Topanga called Froggy’s.”

Perkins described the group as a “blues type of band,” and said they play “old school” rock and roll.

According to Perkins, the band mostly plays covers of the Rolling Stones, such as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Brown Sugar.” He said Schamus is a good bandmate.

“[He’s] very congenial, very nice, and a very good player,” Perkins said.

As the chair of the computer science and information technology department, Schamus is a voting member of the Academic Senate. Current Academic Senate President Kathy Oborn has known Schamus since he began working at Pierce, and spoke highly of him as both a senator and instructor.

“He’s a really, really nice guy,” Oborn said. “He loves teaching and he loves his students.”

When a new faculty member begins work at Pierce, they receive guidance from a faculty mentor. In Schamus’ case, that mentor was Oborn.

“I was his faculty mentor,” she said. “But he didn’t need much mentoring.”

Oborn said that as a colleague on the Academic Senate, he may not always agree with her, but he always has good reasons for his voting decisions and is friendly and professional.

“I always learn something from him,” she said.