I never really addressed this, so I’ll do it now. I’ve been programming as an amateur for a long time. I’m almost 20, and it’s really grown into my primary focus over the last few years. I’d like to share what led up to the starting of this blog. It’s only a part of a big change for me.
It started with a startup.
Early last year, I began working for a startup company here in Ithaca. A bright and clever young team with a great idea and unstoppable motivation. We were little guys trying to launch a new film distribution company. For other little guys, too: Independent filmmakers.
It was a business forged from passion. We were all film buffs and attended film school, which means we had all seen some gems get passed over and lost in even niche film interest groups. Seriously, high-caliber films made by incredibly smart people. We couldn’t believe they weren’t more popular. We watched every film we acquired, and movie night came right after every meeting.
I was their only software developer. We were just getting started, and funding was still iffy, but we worked tirelessly. I was given complete control over the technology, and I had never had such a big responsibility. It was absolutely thrilling. If I wanted to ship a new feature, I didn’t ask anybody. As long as I kept my priorities straight, I could implement whatever I wanted. They trusted me with their website, and I took good care of it.
We continued acquiring films and building features and spreading the word. We actually landed some award-winning short films in the beginning, personally vetted by each of us. We went to Tribeca and interviewed with startup incubators. This was a startup in every sense of the word, and that was totally new to me. It was beyond exciting.
I still get poignant flashbacks when I say that things turned sour. I was literally losing my mind from the stress and we began to shed some connections from circumstances beyond our control. I snapped after a heated exchange with my partners wherein I learned we severely differed on some core principles, which I felt morally opposed to. Things started to get fishy, and I had to leave. Not only was my health degrading, but I discovered a shocking truth that day. These were good people, but the chemistry turned out to be completely wrong. After parting ways, everything fell apart. The company made a failed attempt at crowd-sourced funding and garnered only lukewarm reception in a film festival partnership. Sometimes I felt like I let a lot of people down. I felt like the biggest failure imaginable. I had never been more lost or embarrassed.
All things considered, it was actually a burnout waiting to happen. I couldn’t have kept that work up. No one could for long. We weren’t doing it quite right. It felt like a part of me died when the company crumbled, and it still bothers me to this day.
I lapsed into seclusion. I kept programming, but I did it behind closed doors. I continued to teach myself as I typically did, but there was always something nagging me with every method I wrote. Something that told me I should be ashamed of what I was doing, that somehow it wasn’t good enough. It was so bad some days that I would start up my IDE and stare at the new project wizard for a minute before quitting it and watching television. I was afraid to even start something.
The failure of that startup really got to me. I may not have invested much more than time, but it hurt a lot. I didn’t consult with anybody. And sometimes I lied about it. That nagging voice telling me I wasn’t perfect degraded the quality of my work. I let things slide because I was always doubting myself. I tried again and again to produce marketable ideas, but just couldn’t make them work. I felt dead-ended. I have struggled with depression before, and it made a strong resurgence during this period. I had never felt lower.
Around Christmas last year, things finally started to change. I produced a solid idea, one that I found useful and relevant, something I was compelled to work on. I kept hitting some roadblocks, which prompted me to do a little thinking about what was sticking its thorns in me. As it turns out, every problem I faced could somehow or another be traced back to my isolated nature.
I had been social, of course, but my work was secret. I was afraid of sharing anything. I realized that had to change.
I perused forums, I signed up for mailing lists and message boards. I signed up for Github and put up a repository of my own. Even though that repository was pretty worthless, it was a symbolic step for me. That project was one of my first, and now there is nothing to hide about it. I hadn’t been very open before, so I’m taking more steps now. I’ve also netted myself an account with a hip new programmer’s network called Koding. I’m asking questions and seeking advice. I really want to be the best programmer I can, and I know that’s impossible if I stay in my bubble. No matter how good I get at Trivial Pursuit while I’m here.
This blog may be unremarkable on the scale of the Internet, but it is huge for me. Maybe my ideas really are unique and interesting. Maybe I’ll make a connection to someone that kicks my ass and changes the way I think forever. And what if by letting go of my comforting solitude I flourish enough to create the systems I dream about? I would be crazy to ignore these possibilities.
The people that know me personally might find me socially capable and outgoing. In many cases that’s true. But professionally and with my work, I never talked to anyone seriously. I had chats about what I do, but I couldn’t connect. I am hoping that changes.
So here I am. I’ve accepted my past shortcomings and I’m playing to my strengths. I don’t want to cover up my weaknesses anymore. I want to bring them into the light and be realistic about them. If I can fill in these weaknesses, I will. Even if I can’t, I’ll gain insight into the ways I can best support my work and the work of those I collaborate with.
As I say often, all I’ve ever wanted to do is help people, and that means accepting help when I need it.
I am beyond grateful for any advice I get through the things I write and I can’t be appreciative enough of the time anyone spends helping me. I realize now that we’re all in this together, and being a vigilante was crippling me. I need to embrace the world, and I’ve been truly inspired by a lot of really smart programmers and genuine technologists who are all looking to improve the world around them. I’ve probably sent you emails at some point or another, you know who you are. Thank you. Truly.
That’s why I do this. I want to learn. I do this for me right now, but I hope that it may help others and eventually become a channel through which I can return the favors I’ve been granted.