July 21, 2011 |

Former 'wild child' finds success

Former Haines resident Deltina Hay recently signed a five-book deal with Linden Publishing. Following the success of her first book, "The Social Media Survival Guide," she plans to write a series of "Bootstrapper’s Guides" to social media, the mobile web, cloud computing, and the future of the Internet. The books are aimed at small business owners, students and "people who don’t mind pushing up their sleeves and getting into it."

Reached at her home in Austin, Texas, Hay points to her upbringing in Haines as one source of inspiration for the "Bootstrapper’s Guides."

"This is the Alaskan ethos and part of the pioneering spirit that reflects itself in my writing. My father taught himself how to plumb, how to do electricity. That is the Alaskan spirit; you get it done. If you don’t know how, you teach yourself how."

Self-improvement through ingenuity and applied effort has been a theme in Hay’s life since her early childhood in Haines. Hay moved to Haines from Fairbanks with her parents when she was 8 years old. Her father, who had fished summers in Haines, "followed his entrepreneurial spirit and followed the money" to Haines in 1965 to live and fish full-time.

In Haines, Hay’s family started a restaurant, The Feather and Fin, which expanded and morphed into The Captain’s Choice Motel. (The Hay family sold the business in 1992.) Hay’s father, Dalton Hay, passed away in 2000 and her mother, Gail Hay, still lives in Haines.

Hay has mixed memories of growing up in Haines. Although she loved the natural surroundings, she felt like an outcast and she struggled with small-town culture.

"I was definitely a wild child and wild teenager," she said. "I felt very trapped. At the time I was growing up, it was a stifling place. I thought that I would never get out, that other people would always dictate what I was doing."

At 18, Hay was an unwed single mother who waited tables at the Lighthouse Restaurant to support herself and her son, Christopher. It was there that she found the impetus that she needed to wrench her life onto a different track.

"The waitresses I worked with were encouraging me," she said. "They saw something there that I didn’t necessarily recognize in myself."

And Hay could also see the direction that her own life was headed.

"Some of the waitresses were 50 or 60 and had a number of children with a number of men," she said. "To be at that age and to be waitressing to feed their children...I loved and admired them, but knew that ultimately I didn’t want to be there."

A self-described "lifelong learner," Hay made the decision to leave Haines and to continue her education. At 21 she enrolled in business college in Seattle where she studied accounting.

"I discovered I was smart," Hay recalled, "But it was a tough road. I was poor, and I had to be pretty determined. I usually had to work more than one job. Anything from bookkeeping to waitressing to hostessing and night auditing at hotels."

While in Seattle, she enrolled in a computer programming class.

"It came so naturally that the instructor encouraged me to also enroll in the computer programming program," she said.

It took some time for Hay to gain her father’s support for her continuing education.

"It was my father’s intention that I would go [to school] and come back to run the family business," she said. "But once I got out and got into the city, I realized that there was so much more out there."

Much to her father’s chagrin, after completing the computer programming and accounting programs in Seattle, Hay decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration and computer information systems in Juneau.

"Eventually he came around," she said.

Her performance in the math courses that she took at University of Alaska Southeast was good enough to catch the attention of the head of the math department, who encouraged her to continue her study in mathematics at a graduate level.

"I loved math above anything else I had studied," remembers Hay of her decision to continue her studies in math, despite the fact that "it was not necessarily the practical choice."

In 1995, Hay received her master’s degree in applied mathematics with a minor in computer science and an emphasis on fluid dynamic numerical analysis and non-linear dynamics.

"Essentially, chaos theory," is how she translates this. "Out of 120 students there were five women. I was older than average. It was challenging."

After receiving her master’s, Hay started her own successful business in Corvallis, Oregon, doing computer programming for small companies and focusing on web design at a time when internet usage was becoming increasingly widespread.

However, in 2000, following the death of her father, Hay felt an urge to completely reinvent herself. She left Oregon and moved to Texas in 2002, where she enrolled in a counseling psychology program, began to focus on writing, and founded her own publishing company, Dalton Publishing. Hay says that after years of working in the cerebral world of mathematics and computer programming, she "just wanted to produce something tangible."

But the growth of social media networks in the mid-2000s pulled Hay back into the world of computers and web development. Hay found herself "really excited about what social media meant for the evolution of the Internet."

"I loved the concept of it and the convergence of all these elements," she said. "I began to write more on these topics. [A book] had to be written. It wrote itself."

In 2009, Hay published her first book under her own Dalton Publishing imprint, titled "A Survival Guide to Social Media and Web 2.0 Optimization." The book was a success.

"With my diverse background I was better able to explain the concepts than most," says Hay modestly.

Looking back over her roots in Haines and her diverse successes outside of Haines, Hay felt that she had a message to pass along.

"I think it can be hard for some kids to see beyond what their life might look like tomorrow or next week or a few years from now, especially outsiders or outcasts, which I pretty much always was," she said. "Maybe the biggest message would be to not believe people when they tell you your limitations. Don’t fall into anyone else’s stereotypes or ideas of who they think you are supposed to be. Hang on to your dreams. Even if you don’t know what they are, even if it is just ‘I want something better.’ I want to encourage kids who feel like they are outcasts in a small town and they are not going anywhere. That is not necessarily the case. life is an open book and you can define your own destiny."