I have A LOT to be thankful for

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, and while the year’s not quite over yet, it has certainly been a remarkable one for me so far. So much has happened over the past several months that it would be difficult for me to believe if I weren’t currently living it. Since this time last year, my life has changed quite a bit, and for the better. No, I didn’t win the lottery or anything like that, but there’s plenty to celebrate nonetheless.

Since 2009, a lot of my focus has been on my professional life: my job, programming, side projects, etc. I spend time with my family and we have our fun, sure, but my priority has been to provide a stable, comfortable life for them and to make sure it stays that way. This year, however, it was time for my wife (Biffy) and I to take a step back and put more focus on some of our personal long-term goals instead.

It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s all been totally worth it. Some of that hard work has already paid off. Some of it won’t be realized for another couple of years. But all in all, it’s all been really great and I’m so, so thankful for the things Biffy and I have accomplished in 2017.

Credit Woes

Back in 2009, I quit my job at a warehouse to focus on being a programmer. I started with web development and ended up doing mobile games until I was hired by Ansca Mobile (now Corona Labs) about a year later. Unfortunately, my credit took a plunge between the time I quit my job to the time I was graciously hired by Ansca. I’ll get to the “graciously” part later, but at this point—while my finances were finally improving—my credit score had suffered a major blow. Biffy and I have always wanted to purchase our own home, but unfortunately that wasn’t going to be happening for quite a while due to our horrible credit.

Indeed, it took several years to recover. But by April of this year, Biffy and I decided it was time to gauge where we’re at by speaking to a mortgage advisor. We were given some good news, as well as some not-so-good news. The verdict was that based on our current trajectory, it would eventually be possible for us to get approved for a mortgage; however, it could potentially take quite a while longer because there were still some bad items on our credit report that needed to be addressed. Our advisor told me to call him back in the summer around July to let him know where I’m at with those things. It was one of those “so close, yet so far away” moments.

A New Home

Fortunately, with some determination, a bit of frustration, and a lot of luck, I was able to take care of all of the outstanding negative items on my credit report in about three or four weeks. Another couple of weeks after that, we were pre-approved for a mortgage! Long story short, by the end of July, we closed on our first house and moved our family into a new home. This was a major accomplishment for both Biffy and I, and is something we have always dreamed of doing together since we got married in 2008. There were times we didn’t think it would ever be possible.

Over the past few months, we have been putting a lot of hard work into the house. We installed new floors ourselves, landscaped the front and back yards ourselves, pulled out some cabinets, and did some painting. Biffy has been hard at work decorating and making the place look beautiful. A lot of the work we have done has actually been pretty difficult, but it has been a very rewarding experience. I also had some help from extended family, which I’m highly grateful for. But for the first time ever, we are actually able to renovate and change our home however we want, and that feels great.

I don’t want to come off as bragging, and that is definitely not my intention. I hesitated writing this post for that reason, but I think it’s important to take a step back every once in a while and reflect on the positive things in life. I’m writing this not to boast, but with a heart filled with gratitude. As it happens, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am truly thankful for everything. Especially because things could have easily turned out very, very different for me and my family. I’m so thankful for them, and for our blessed life together.

If I was to stop here, I’d have more than I could have hoped for to be thankful for this year. But I’m happy to say that a new house isn’t the only positive thing that’s happened to Biffy and I this year…

Carlos Icaza

Taking a step back for a moment, I mentioned that after a year of unemployment in 2009, I was hired by Ansca Mobile to do some contracting work. I say “Ansca Mobile”, but in reality it was Carlos Icaza, the co-founder and former CEO who took a chance on me. You see, my highest level of education is four college classes I took while serving in the Air Force, that’s just 12 measly credits. The fact of the matter is, I’m just a nerd who loves computers and taught myself programming because I found it enjoyable and I like to build stuff.

I eventually tried my hand at mobile game development using the Corona SDK, and by a stroke of luck, the company’s CEO (Carlos) took notice (in no small part, thanks to Biffy’s amazing graphics) and offered me an opportunity to do some contracting work making demo games for their product (my favorite was an Angry Birds clone, Ghosts vs. Monsters — of course, Biffy provided the awesome graphics). Carlos was happy enough with my work that I was eventually offered a real position at the company. This was a turning point in my life, as well as my family’s.

I recognize that I am very, very fortunate and I am extremely grateful to be a “software developer” despite not having the standard prerequisites for doing this stuff on a professional basis. I have long since moved on from Ansca (now working at Fingerprint since 2014), but I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I was given back then. It truly changed my life for the better. Carlos changed my life for the better.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s that part about “standard prerequisites” that has been bugging me for some time now.

Quick aside on Carlos Icaza...

Carlos Icaza was a great mentor early on in my career and became a close friend to both Biffy and I. He always made sure we were taken care of. When it was clear that his second startup, Lanica, was not going to make it (where I was working at the time), he was the one who referred me to Fingerprint. Sadly, Carlos passed away in May 2016 due to a stroke. He was only 49 years old. After his death, it became clear that he affected the lives of many others similarly to how he affected mine. Carlos is and will continue to be missed.

The Imposter

So while I now have years of professional software development experience under my belt, and in fact my job title at Fingerprint is “Software Engineer”, I don’t have a proper education in this stuff. I could probably get by without one at this point, but I honestly want the education. I want to be a college graduate. I don’t want to live with imposter syndrome my whole life.

Obviously, the only way to remedy that is to enroll in college and get that “proper” education I’ve been longing for. Therefore, that’s exactly what I did this year. And not just me, Biffy is also taking the plunge with me and going back to school to earn her degree as well. She started earlier this month and is doing great. I must have rubbed off on her over the years, because—much to my surprise—she chose to major in Computer Science! As the resident nerd in this household, that makes me very proud.

I will still be working full-time to support my family, but in my spare time I’ll also be studying to earn my Bachelor’s degree (online). As of right now, I’m a few days away from completing my first class. My mindset and attitude is totally different than my last go-around (about ten years ago), and that is making the experience much easier for me.

Due to the previous classes I took as well as my military experience (which I forgot was worth college credit), I’m set to graduate in about two and a half years. It sounds like a long time, but that’s a whole lot less than four. In my experience, that amount of time flies by fast, and will probably go even faster now that we’ll be even more busy than usual.

The Road Less Traveled

The following is what I would consider the “typical” path someone might take after graduating from high school, at least here in the United States:

Go to college → get a good job → get married → buy a house → have kids.

And by “typical”, I don’t mean that’s the best path or the one someone should necessarily take. I mean that it’s unsurprising and pretty much the path that schools and our culture here in the United States push us towards. Incidentally, the path that I took is a mixed up and somewhat backwards version of that (not including my four-year stint in the military):

Get married → have kids → get a good job → buy a house → go to college.

I have always thought that it’s wise to go against the grain a bit since “following the herd” rarely leads to the best results for any one individual. Everyone has their individual identity and their own goals, so we should think of creative ways to pursue what we want in this life.

With that said, the path I took was admittedly a bit extreme (some might say irresponsible), and I’m very, very lucky to have made it out on the other end of my past decisions with a great family and an overall great life. Because of some risky choices I made along the way, things could have very easily gone a different way. Thankfully, everything turned out pretty good and things should only get better as long as I continue to chip away at my goals, which right now includes graduating from college and building a better public portfolio among other things.

One more thing…

Or two, I should say. In October, we welcomed a couple of new members to our family. No, we didn’t get more pets and my wife and I didn’t have twins. This time, we actually had nothing to do with it.

Early in the year, both of Biffy’s sisters announced that they were pregnant. It was great news, if not a bit surprising, because both had been trying for a number of years and coincidentally got their wish at the same time. Fast forward nine months and Biffy and I gained a new niece and nephew! Both are healthy, and were born just ONE day apart. Even more great news to add to 2017 for us.

Wow. It’s been one hell of a year. After one of the most eventful, productive, and rewarding years of my life, I can only hope to be able to feel this way about other years going forward. I’m excited about the future, and you can bet I’ll be working on that. But as for Thanksgiving tomorrow, I’m just going to sit back, enjoy my day, eat a lot, and think about how thankful I am for my wife and kids who put up with me every single day, and the amazing life we share together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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