I started programming as a hobby around 2006 when my dad gave me the chance to learn C++99 from a college textbook of his. From then, I kept learning from manuals, random hackings and the opportunities provided to me in recent days. Over time, I left teams in high school like track and the step team to spend more time on line in chat rooms dedicated to coding and technology alike. I slowly yet harshly severed what it meant to be a “typical” teenager living in New York and instead traded my Friday nights partying or even studying for class for 80-char tmux windows on an old Dell laptop I snagged from school.
Over time, I got older. I messed up with high school academically and wasn’t able to graduate on time. My guidance counselor was so angry with me, she knew I wasn’t unintelligent, I just chose not to go to class or not to show up to school. She asked me what I was doing because my mother told her that I spent my time at home in my room. I told her I was on the computer. “Doing what? Playing games? That won’t get you a future,” I remember. That stuck. Around this time, I was beginning my work on the Wintermute project of mine and I thought I was close to finishing (ha!) it.
It was October and I wasn’t doing too well in the romance department either. I didn’t tell people my standings with school but it wasn’t that easy to hide, either. If you don’t show up, how do you expect to pass anything? It wasn’t like I was out of the loop though. I aced Spanish exams but never turned in homework. I passed tests but refused to bring in homework. I had this thing, don’t bring anything if you don’t feel confident about it, my dad mentioned it. I didn’t think I’d get good marks with homework and it fucked me up, but it didn’t matter since I was as present to class as a fly to a frog’s carnival.
I didn’t tell my friends, even my closest ones, because I didn’t want them to judge me. It doesn’t matter who you are, by implicit behavior of a human being, you will be judged. That much I knew, so I didn’t mention a thing. Eleven days into October and I was off rosters and attendance calls. I hung by the school after hours (what else what I to do with my time?) and stayed in a nearby coffee house on my laptop for hours on end.
Being socially isolated did have a bit of benefits. I was able to spend way more moderately and travel to places that might have been a pain to do with people. Coming from a financially challenged home as well, I did my best not to strain whatever what was available just for splurging. I read a lot of articles, blog posts and PDFs on software concepts whenever I could and learned a good chunk of what I know today. Then a friend who was in the tech scene but also a friend from high school mentioned I should be paid for what I do. I didn’t think much of it, money didn’t mean much and I try not to want too much (once you start, you can’t stop!) but my mom was on my neck about getting a job if I wasn’t going to apply for college. So I caved in.
My first semi legit job was working at a seemingly established startup. So much information wasn’t mentioned up front but it didn’t matter to me. My main concern at the time was just learning how people code in real life environments. I never worked on something of the scale outside of the (few) contributions I made in Ubuntu and other hunks of open source software so it was new.
I should mention that most of the software that I wrote at this time was written in either C++, Python or PHP. Mostly desktop applications and experimenting and grappling with PHP. Note the lack of knowledge of Ruby.
I came in having to help port a web software stack from Zend 2’s application framework to the infamous Ruby on Rails stack. It was easier than I anticipated; with Ruby’s syntax being similar to that of Python (sans the indenting habits, I did like it). I didn’t have a laptop at the time so I worked off a laptop hanging around in the office. It was easier for me to work in my own environment since I felt that I knew it well enough for it not to distract me. At the same time, I mentioned slightly what I was doing with my life with the time (seemingly) lost. People who I thought forgot I existed came out of the woodwork and reached out to me. But it wasn’t to grab a sandwich; it was mostly, “Can you build this for me?” “How do I fix this on my iPhone?” “Why can’t I do X on my iPad?” Not much had changed.
Being the oldest, I’ve been expected (and still am) to do what hasn’t been done yet; finish college and be “successful”. It’s probably the typical immigrant stigma but success is so relative to people, I could see it as insulting to say that someone isn’t successful because you don’t think that they are. While working at the illustrious startup, I got the chance to fly to California, the first time for anyone in the household. I remember passing by places that made no sense but took it anyhow. I couldn’t fully grasp how people could live so far from places to eat or hang out, that’s the Brooklyn in me.
I attended a education related conference with the biggest names in education technology there. People like Geoffry Canada and the like were there. Getting to speak to them and have lunch was something that didn’t register right to me. To top it off, I was meeting people that other people were getting degrees in hopes of meeting. Definitely worth (internally) exclaiming about.
After that, I got to spend about two weeks in Hawaii to attend Aloha Ruby, a Ruby conference in paradise. It was for me, at least. I didn’t pack much since I planned to be on my toes. When I landed though, I was lost and without a place to stay. Being my first time, I didn’t fully plan how I was going to do this.
I traded my chances of going to an ivy league school and being nose deep in books at the time to shuffling between coffee houses and scratching around for a job. I like this risk mainly because I can only do it now. I can do whatever I want and literally create things from thin air. That’s like magic. Who wouldn’t want to do that?