Tell me where you’re from?
I’m from Dayton, Texas.
What were your early years like?
My early years were awesome and full of fun stories. I was adopted by my Aunt and Uncle. They separated when I was 12, so through that unique family setup I have 6 sisters and 2 brothers, either half-, step-, or through adoption. My parents were Pentecostal Evangelical Preachers, so I grew up really super religious, sheltered, not that many friends. I came out when I was 13 which was pretty crazy, going through all the stuff that was related to that at a young age in the middle of nowhere in Texas.
I’m curious what it was like in your experience being a gay guy growing up in Texas.
Small town, hyper-religious Texas! I don’t know how I managed to get out unscathed. I came out in school when I was 13, and I think back to what we were talking about at the beginning: having dangerous overconfidence and doing things without thinking was just what I always did. I remember watching Queer as Folk and thinking “Oh, I like guys, they like guys… Oh, I’m gay. I get it.” And I didn’t really think about the consequences but I came out to my friends. Since I lived in backwoods Texas, I was made fun of daily by students and teachers at school, and I was really, really depressed and suicidal at times. My Mom didn’t really know what to do with me during that period but she did tell me that things will get better which was definitely true. It just required moving out of Texas as soon as I could. Some of the people that bullied me have reached out on Facebook to apologize and I always tear up when I get these types of messages and struggle with what to say back, but I always respond and thank them for reaching out.
How did you first get interested in tech? I didn’t know about tech growing up in tiny little south. How did that get on your radar?
Yeah. That’s a really good question. It involves Björk, Spice Girls, and my mom ordering a computer from one of those mail-order catalogs and AOL [laughter]. Oh and it also involves Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Spice Girls, Björk, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
My mom got a computer and then we also got dial-up AOL and at the time there were a lot of services like Angelfire and Geocities. My first fansite was for the Spice Girls, and that was the first year. I made an Angelfire website about how much I loved the Spice Girls. I was just like, “I’m making a Spice Girl fansite.” I was obsessed with Ginger Spice, and there were a bunch of other fan websites, too. I was just like, “How did they make these? These are so cool. I have to learn this.” I would collect all my favorite images and upload them to my fansite, and then the next year I had a total shift from pop stuff to Björk and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then I made a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan site and then I got a personal website where I put up poetry that was based off Björk’s music and photographs I had taken.
That’s how I got my initial taste of digital design, and then I just always did it. In high school, I had moved to Salt Lake City my senior year and they had a lot more classes to offer, like a web design class that I took. The LGBT Center put out a note to any teens that wanted to do web design that there was a multi-media company looking for help with a website for an anti-smoking campaign targeting teens. I volunteered and ended up getting a half year long web apprenticeship from it.
So during that, I did my first professional website where I designed and coded it for that project for the Health Department, and it won an award that year at the Utah Multimedia Arts Festival. And then after that I did some freelance design work, maybe for a Summer or two, then I collected all the stuff that I had done and printed it out and made a portfolio. A friend referred me for a position at a web development company looking for a junior designer so I applied, interviewed and got the job. I was so nervous; it paid 11 dollars an hour and to me that was so much money at the time.
So, it wasn’t anything I really thought about. I started doing it at a young age and it’s just kind of gone up from there. Now I’m at a large tech company, which is kind of crazy. And the caliber that they hire for there, I’m constantly reminded of every day, which leads to imposter syndrome, but that’s a separate topic.
Tell me more about what your experience is like being surrounded by Ivy leaguers, having never been to college?
I’ve definitely experienced Imposter syndrome and my manager has been amazing in helping me unpack that and work through it. I definitely go home and overthink everything I said or did at work. I constantly tell myself that I went through the same interview process as all the other designers at the company, and that a lot of people were involved in that process. I tell myself that I’m supposed to be here and that this wasn’t by accident. I told a co-worker who went to Princeton recently that I didn’t go to college, and he said, “I would have not known that.” That was awesome to hear. I’m starting to feel better about letting people know I didn’t go to college if it ever comes up. So with imposter syndrome I’ve come to refer to it as reverse ego and to tell myself that I’m thinking about myself way too much in a negative way right now. That’s really helped me snap out of whatever mind spiral I’m in, thinking about myself so much and thinking I’m not qualified to do this job. Framing it differently has really helped me recognize when my mind goes there, and to think the opposite.
It’s a testament too, good for you, if you were able to have that life, where you went to the Ivy Leagues. That’s awesome, but that’s not it. That’s not all it takes.
Where did you find your early support networks, when you came here?
In San Francisco? Oh, that’s a really good question. I had a childhood friend from Texas living in the Tenderloin and she was kind of like my San Francisco Sherpa. She took me to Dolores Park for the first time and she connected me to a lot of people for freelance work. And the gay community was definitely a good support network. That’s how I got all my freelance work. And that’s who connected me to a lot of jobs. I would post on Facebook that I was looking for freelance work and I would get a bunch of referrals. Actually an acquaintance in the gay community referred me to Facebook and that’s how I got my current job.
What are your biggest motivators?
This is a good question. I’ve never thought I was a good designer. I have this idea in my head of what a really good designer is and I guess my biggest motivator is trying to aspire to that. I have so much more to learn and so much room to grow. Another motivator that’s spanned over the past 10 years are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a designer and also being told I wasn’t going to make it in San Francisco. I’ve learned that I love being told that I can’t do something, so that makes me try even harder and makes me even more motivated.
So what are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
Working on traveling more! Right now I’m trying to learn French and reading some books about France and Paris, planning a trip there this summer. I have never left continental North America before so this is my first international trip. Being a contractor for a long time, you never get paid vacation, it’s always about finding the next gig or have a backup gig in case the current job ends early, there’s a lot of hustle involved. So trying to work on traveling more and taking time off work. I can easily fall into the rut of over working and never taking any vacation.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in tech or hoping to get into it?
For the people hoping to get into tech, simply learn to learn and get into a habit of always learning something new and find opportunities to use your newly found knowledge. That opened a lot of doors for me early on. When I was 19, I taught myself CSS over the span of a weekend and then used what I learned the very next week by taking on freelance development gigs that required it. So you need to have hustle too. And also, if people tell you that you can’t do something, don’t let that defeat you; use that as your motivation. For the people in tech with similar backgrounds, hit me up, lets support each other!
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? And Is there anything you’re focusing on doing differently in the future?
That is a really good question. In 5 years, I hope I’m still at my current job. I’ve spent that last 8 years contracting, working at various places, which lead to learning a lot really really, quickly and I’m definitely grateful for those experiences. When reflecting on why I changed jobs so much in my 20s it was because there were always new opportunities,the grass always seemed greener on the other side. On a deeper level, it was mainly centered around being afraid of people getting to know the real me so I switched jobs/places a lot. I was kind of burned at my first job in the Bay Area; my manager would make fun of me to our coworkers. I would wear bowties to work, was younger and little more flamboyant. He would say things like, “did you see what the faggot was wearing today?” As someone who over thinks everything and is highly sensitive, when I learned about this, it was lighter fluid to the fire that is my anxiety. After contracting there, I was very closed off with the people I worked with from then on. When I was asked if I wanted to go with the team for dinner or drinks, I would immediately say no. I didn’t actually talk about being gay at a few of the places for fear of what happened at my first Bay Area job. I really cheated myself on becoming friends with some really cool, talented people because of this defense mechanism. When people would ask me if I had a girlfriend, I would just say I’m single. Now I’m focusing on allowing people to get to know the authentic, real me.
Instead of never talking about anything related to my personal/dating life at work, now when I go to lunch with my team I share about my awkward OkCupid dates and the crazy guys I meet, which is almost every OkCupid date.
So I’ve learned that you can’t make 10 out of 10 people like you no matter what you do, so you should just be yourself no matter what. So my plan is to stay at my current company for as long as possible, learn as much as I can and let the people I work with get to know the real me. I’m grateful to work for a company that encourages people to be their authentic selves at work. Also, learning how to stay put in an industry that has a lot of open roles and when you’re being contacted by recruiters everyday is really hard; it has become the norm to only be with a company for 10 months. What I’ve learned though is that the grass is NEVER greener on the other side and most the time when I switched jobs, I regretted it for the first couple of months. Focusing on working through whatever issues you’re having that’s making you consider changing jobs will make you grow and become a better person, versus not addressing issues and just finding a new opportunity. I’ve tested the old adage many times: “Wherever you go… there you are” and it’s totally true. As for 10 years, I’m not sure where I’ll be. A lot of my favorite mentors in my career completely switched industries halfway through their careers which I think lead to them being even more badass and creative. I’m not sure what my second career will be yet. One of my new goals is doing a project for Beyoncé at some point in the next 10 years though 🙂