I was born as a normal boy with no super powers, until one night I chased a villain in to a factory and fell in to a vat of chemicals. Oh wait no, that was The Joker. The truth is I was saved from the destruction of my home planet by parents who cared enough to jettison me in to space toward a… no? That’s Superman? Well I guess the truth is not that glamorous but it is very weird so if you care to keep reading I will tell you more.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.
I remember I was 8 years old in 1983 when my older sister, one of the Cool Kids, looked at me and said “You are a nerd huh?”
Yes. A huge nerd. I was proud of it. I had dice and a cruddy old photocopy of my D&D character. I liked comics. Stereotype: me.
I was about 13 when my brother and his friend were using a C64 to dial up to a local service. They were called Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and they were a gateway to a magic world. A system operator (sysop) would curate content for his or her users, things like chat and message boards as well as collections of interesting files on everything from car repair to how nitrogen bonds can be broken. Turns out that just like most keyboard pilots, Nitrogen loves to attach to like minded particles. I was immediately fascinated by what I saw them doing, and decided I wanted to do the same.
I mowed lawns all summer. I sold anything I could get my hands on: vegetables from our garden, eggs from the chickens, even junk food to other kids at school. Turns out that entrepreneurship is all around you if you just look. Then I had enough to buy my own Commodore and a modem. I was online… the phone lines in my house were never the same.
It just got worse from there with continual upgrades, funded by various summer jobs that had nothing at all to do with the fact that I was turning in to a self taught computer scientist. I worked as a janitor at local offices, I worked bagging groceries, I worked slinging raw chicken in to the fryer and donuts at hungry people during a job at the bakery/deli. It was great fun, and always tolerable because it was a means to an end: more computers. Faster computers. More phone lines.
I ran my own service as a SysOp and eventually had an enormous online system which I abandoned when I went to college. College was my entire being except for one thing: They had unix. This was my radioactive spider bite moment. I had used a similar system before called Linux in 1993 and it was amazing, but very very rough around the edges and to be honest it destroyed my computer. That’s what I get for using beta operating systems… but like all love stories, this has a happy ending. I was smitten. When I got to the university and found I could terminal in to their VMS systems I felt at home, instead of lost and scared. My peers came to me for help. I helped them gladly. Working in tech support and lending a hand in building out the campus residential network just followed naturally.
Then I graduated. I went to a startup who hired me by attending my “Free Linux” day outside the local Fry’s and saying to me “You know linux? We need a geek for our startup. Come work for us.”
That was it. I met Brandon Lee about 3 months later as we built Animal Avenue.
So to summarize:
Do what you love to do, and it never feels like work. It is just interesting and fun, and then somebody shows up and pays you enough to keep buying faster computers and modems. Sweet deal. Then one day you realize you have been doing this for 20 years, and your pool of experience is both wide and deep. You have had catastrophic failures, and life altering success, and you keep chasing perfection knowing it isn’t about the attainment, it is about enjoying the chase. You get to apply all that knowledge to build interesting and fun things. In your spare time you buy a mixer and teach yourself to bake.