I live in New York city now and was walking to work yesterday when I passed a homeless person reading a book. It’s hard not to pass homeless people in New York and this morning was no different. For some reason, this one brought back memories. Maybe it was the book. And the struggle to learn something.
You see, I was homeless once. Not sitting on a street corner or anything like that. But homeless all the same. And I have a family. A wife and five kids. This wasn’t very long ago. About 8 years ago in 2010. We had family to help us which is why we didn’t end up on the street. It also helped that I know how to program computers and had many years experience even then at companies such as Microsoft.
I had skills to rely on and was able to eventually climb back to where I am today. With a good job, a place to stay, two kids already grown and living on their own, and everybody doing well. If you have skills that are in demand and valuable, you can recover from any disasters and likely avoid them in the first place. This is a big reason why I’m trying to help you to learn how to program.
Let’s go back to 2010 and I’ll explain what happened.
I had recently left Microsoft after working there for eight years to start my own company. I decided to teach electrical engineering. It went well at first and I had enough savings for me and my family to live for about a year without a paycheck. But it never quite took off completely. I was burning through my savings with just enough customers to give me hope that things were about to change.
Our property was too much for me to maintain. I had thirty five acres with a creek next to my house. It was a battle to keep the creek from flooding the property and we had beavers to deal with who were always one step ahead of me. They could flood my driveway overnight if I let them. All this was too much work and strain on my back. I’m a programmer used to sitting in a comfortable chair all day. Moving boulders, dragging trees, and building roads was just too much.
The property was beautiful with mountain views all around. The sound of running water at night. Complete silence at times only interrupted with the cry of eagles. It was a great place to relax after a hectic day at Microsoft. But it didn’t fit anymore. So we decided to sell.
This was after the housing crisis and prices were slower to recover far away from big towns and up in the mountains. We couldn’t get what we wanted from the house and it eventually sold as a short sell.
We found a place to rent and managed to keep things going for another several months. I was determined to make my new business succeed and was making videos and selling electronic components to go along with the videos. Eventually, we reached the end of our money. Sure I tried applying to some jobs before then but my heart was still set on helping my customers learn electronics.
Things started to go bad when I could no longer pay the bills. We had an RV and by this time had already turned in my SUV to the bank. We drove across the country to try living with my family but ran into some conflicts that caused us to leave again. I’ll tell you, family can be great. But not everybody gets along as well as they used to when one family shows up with nowhere else to go.
My wife has family in Singapore and they agreed to help us with plane tickets so we could move in with them.
By this time, all we had left were seven suitcases and seven cardboard boxes. The boxes were mostly full of my books. One of them contained a 3D printer that I had built but never did get fully working. The suitcases were used to hold our clothes. I no longer had my electronic components with me but a friend was kind enough to keep the inventory in his garage until I could claim it again several years later in about 2014. Without the electronics, I couldn’t keep the business going. I was sticking with it right until the end though. I was even mailing boxes to customers while driving in the RV across country. It’s amazing what can be done these days with technology.
When we got to my wife’s family, I was the one in a foreign country. None of us had any money. The only source of regular income I had was when I kept the change from buying vegetables in the market every few days. I spent most of my time applying to jobs. One thing about Singapore is the abundance of high tech companies. I must have applied to hundreds of jobs in the time given to me with a visit visa. I needed a technical job in order to stay in the country.
Well, there was one company of all of them that talked to me and started the interview process. That was Google. Now, Google doesn’t do a lot of programming in Singapore so this was more of a technical sales position than a software engineering role. I didn’t mind though.
The interviewing process dragged on for longer than my visa allowed and I had to come back to the states. I stayed with other family members who were not able to help with my full family but had room and the means to help just me. And I continued to interview with Google. I think it ended up being seven interviews total before they decided that they really wanted a salesperson instead of a programmer.
So I kept applying for jobs. I had skills and companies were more willing to talk to me here in my own country. I eventually found a job as a senior software architect with a company in Florida. The vice president of engineering told me that they were really glad to have me join the company because the product that I built while at Microsoft had almost put their company out of business.
You can have this kind of impact as a software engineer. The job is more than just following directions and doing what you’re told to do. Steve Jobs once said that Apple doesn’t hire smart people and then tell them what to do. Apple hires smart people so they can tell Apple what to do.
As a software developer, you get to create things.
It’s fun and rewarding. To this day, I enjoy walking into a bookstore and flipping through a book about Windows Server and looking at the software that I helped build. There’s nothing else quite like that.
In the end, I stayed in Florida for several years and brought my family back to stay with me. I live in New York now and work for a major software company where I get to write really interesting things in C++. I still enjoy teaching too. And teaching software engineering is what I do in my spare time.
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