I met Isaac at a house-party at my place last year.
We did not have the most usual conversation on a Saturday night as he was telling me how unhappy he felt at work, and that he was considering quitting and going on a trip.
I encouraged him, as I always do with people who want to follow their heart, but you how it is, a lots of people dream of doing that and never actually take the step.
Isaac wasn't one of those.
The second time we caught up, he had quit the same day and was leaving the following week to Europe and Asia, on a one-way ticket. He was literally shrieking and jumping up and down, of excitement. Obviously, champagne was on me!
The third time we met up, he had just gotten back from his trip and was visiting LA, so he had to tell me the whole story over lunch.
“I’ve been passionate about programming for as long as I can remember.
At 13, I became obsessed with Scratch*. I really loved that you could make shit out of nothing, I was like that’s awesome, I can build my own world!
After 3 months, I built up a word-search game that got featured on the front-page of a website.
I wanted to do more of that, but back then in 2010-11, I didn’t know it was possible to do this for a living, I wanted to build websites and apps were not really a thing yet.
My parents didn’t know any of this shit so they couldn’t help me, they were like follow your passion but to an extent, and live a normal life after that aha.
A couple years later, I investigated and found a programming summer-college at Harvard that taught me a little more, though was very isolating because we were basically running a computer inside a computer, which took a lot of memory and slowed down the whole thing, preventing us from being able to actually build stuff.
Fast-forward to my first programming meetup in NYC. I dropped a note on the group and asked if somebody wanted to go with me since I was a high-school kid and didn’t know anyone.
A girl responded and we hung out over pizza. She did not go to college, so I was like “Wow is this something you can do?” It blew my mind. At the time, I was going to private school in NYC and everybody hated school, period.
A few months later, I participated in a coding boot camp over the summer. It cost a fortune and my parents didn’t want to pay…
“What do I do now?” moment nr 1:
I contacted the founder and asked if I could do an internship there. I kept emailing him till he finally said yes. Hustling my way in!
I love that when this guy wants something, he makes it happen and takes chances.
This internship was life-changing because it was still school, but everyone was coming from all these different backgrounds and actually wanted to be there and learn. These were real people, older, not just high-school shitheads… One guy was in the army, another one was a baseball player, one was a surgeon, etc.
We had this thing called “Feeling Friday”, where everyone would stand up and share their feeling of the week, and one time I started sobbing and say, “this is my home”.
When the summer ended, I had to go back to high-school for a final year. It was brutal. I had had a flash of how my life could be over the summer and it certainly wasn’t school.
I got in trouble all the time because at this point I couldn't care less. The principal thought I was crazy so I got hooked up with the school psychologist, and I was able to skip the worse classes I had to chill with her and chat about our common hatred of the place.
Eventually, I managed to get an internship to skip all the other classes I hated.”
This is what happens when the educational system insists on putting people in boxes rather than trying to understand why they misbehave…
“At that point, I had to apply to college as my parents were pressuring me so I did this for a year, but I was dreaming of San-Francisco, the geek heaven.
I asked the founder of Flatiron for contacts and he helped me get an internship in SF. My plan was that they’d love me so much they’d hire me, but of course, none of that happened. They were giving me no responsibilities whatsoever and at the end of the internship I had no plan B, but I still had a place so I decided I’d just figure things out and it would work out.
I spent a year doing freelancing, being a Postmate-career, using my savings, but at some point, it just wasn’t going to pay my rent".
I could totally relate to this…When you sign up for a place on a long-term, it says a lot about your intentions and commitment, and it gives you a push to make things happen.
“What do I do now?” moment nr 2:
"I did a lot of networking, went to hackathons and ended up being approached by this guy who was looking for an engineer to launch his start-up. That was a month before I’d have to go back to college for want of anything better.
His app was pretty cool so we decided to give it a shot. We moved to the Tenderloin (NB: the worse neighborhood of San Francisco, frequented by drug dealers, criminals, and prostitutes).
After we got fundraising, I became a co-founder, we used the money to get a better lifestyle, we hired people, tried to make it work but it just wasn’t going anywhere.
I was in a social cage, it was a mindset thing, all I could think about. As things were going downhill, I met this cute girl, and we literally lived together for an entire month. I was craving social interaction at that stage. On a Friday, she came home (which also was out office) early and we started to hang out. My co-founder freaked out as he saw that I was phasing out, asked me “do you really want to do this, you’re not focused?!”, and he let me go the next day."
It happens SO often that when you don’t want something, you fail it on purpose so that somebody else takes the decision to end the situation, and sets you free.
“What do I do now?” moment nr 3:
"I left and chilled on my friend’s boat in Sausalito. It sounded like a dream but it was pouring every day and there were no bathrooms…
So I got a job in a startup.
My boss was difficult and I could not deal with it anymore – to be honest, when I quit, I first one to leave but since then almost all my coworkers walked the walk.
I was planning on traveling to Europe and South-Asia with a friend but on the first night, she got a call from her boss and had to go back home right away. She ditched me.
“What do I do now?” moment nr 4:
Isn’t it interesting to notice that every time you face an obstacle, and things don’t go the way you planned, this actually gives you a chance to level up?
Well, I had no return flight and had gotten rid of my apartment in San Francisco so there was no way I’d turn back. It was slightly exciting and slightly terrifying.
I went to 9 countries in 5 months (Prague, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan…), did some freelance, traveled and taught kids some English. Even though I originally wasn’t planning on coming back, it felt very temporary because the language barrier made it difficult to have meaningful conversations. So I came back.
Now, I’m switching my career to Californian politics, housing, local stuff. It is more meaningful. I’ve had to live in unsafe and uncomfortable places and areas during my life, and I want to make a difference for others.
Also, housing really is a centerpiece of understanding America’s decay. Once you understand that America’s problems are totally made up and we’ve brought this on ourselves, you find ways to fix it.
We don’t have to be in a shit show.
Our environment doesn’t have to literally burn in front of us. We just need the courage to say that we failed and it’s time to try something new.
In fact, I’m not really switching from programming at all. I see these things as tools — as means to an end. It just happens that programming and creating apps are a great way to reach people.
Before having to face all those "What do I do now moments", I think I was afraid of what was going on around me. You look around and it’s hard not to be scared. But that’s how they get you. That’s the only way Trump will win, is if we become scared and desperate. I’m not afraid anymore because we’re screwed by our inaction. 2017 was a year of roller-coasters, 2018 is a time to act. Go do whatever you need to do!
(*colored blocks that you drag & drop like puzzle pieces instead of typing codes)