"I'm a very curious person. I love to unravel the why behind the data," said Melissa Taney, a business intelligence manager on Amazon's Customer Service Delivery Experience team. "I decided to use that same curiosity to learn how to restore my dad's old car."
At any other time in Taney's life, her total lack of experience fixing up cars would have stopped her from becoming the caretaker of her father's beloved, broken-down convertible. But there's a confidence she's gained by succeeding at a job where she puzzles her way through problems nobody has ever solved before. She figured a 1971 MGB with brake problems, starter problems, and who-knows-what-other problems would offer the same kind of good challenge she gets from her typical day at the office.
She was right. "The first time I was able to start it in my garage I was filled with pride, knowing that I did it myself and knowing how proud my dad would be if he were here."
The first time I was able to start it in my garage I was filled with pride, knowing that I did it myself and knowing how proud my dad would be if he were here.
Growing up in the small college town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Taney's blue-collar family didn't have many extravagant things. Her dad's classic car was his one passion project. He owned it for years before finally restoring it himself and indulging in a candy apple red paint job. "When I was in middle school, and he wanted to be the 'cool dad,' he would pick me up from the movies in the MGB," she said. "It worked. I felt like the coolest person in the world."
When Taney was old enough to get her license, her dad taught her how to drive a stick. "He eventually let me drive the MGB," she said. "Driving with him on the winding country roads around our home on sunny summer days is one of my favorite memories together."
Just a few years later, her dad died, fatally injured in an accident on the job. He was only 55.
Years passed as the family grieved. The MGB sat. Taney left Pennsylvania, moving to Texas and then to Seattle for her career in marketing and analytics.
In the spring of 2015, her mom decided to sell the old MGB, unless Taney or her brother or sister wanted it. Taney said yes – not for the car so much as for the challenge, and the memories.
"This car was my dad's one big project," she said, welling up. "Somebody in the family needed to continue that. I want the car to run, I want it to be in good condition, I want to take care of it – like it's a pet almost," she said with a big laugh that was also a little ragged with emotion.
Her effort matters to her. So does the improbability of her success.
In this, there's an echo of how she feels about where she came from and who raised her and the path she's traveled – after-school jobs, student debt, not going to graduate school. "Why don't I have an MBA?" she asked in a post she wrote on Medium. "At first, I just couldn't afford one. Now, I just don't need one…. I've found a home in the tech industry where individual contributions are more valued than degrees. I don't know how different my career would be today if I was able to go to business school but I do know that my past is a large part of my success and that taking the long road has been an amazing, invaluable journey."