In February 2017 I lost my job at Fintech. To make ends meet, I started working odd jobs: cutting lenses for glasses, fixing and tuning cars, working as a carnie, and doing any small side programming projects I could. Despite my best efforts, after a few months, I lost my apartment. This is the story of how I went from having a home to homelessness and back again by becoming a programmer.
Part I. Despair
When I lost my job, I was still enrolled in school. After I lost my house, I kept doing school work out of my car and tent for a couple months. My family wasn’t able to help me. They didn’t understand minimum wage jobs don’t pay anywhere near enough to feed one person and keep gas in the tank while keeping a roof over your head. Nonetheless, I was still unwilling to reach out to my friends for help. In September, I sold my truck and cashed what I had left in a 401(k), and drove the 1,800 or so miles from my hometown in Helena, MT to take my chances in Austin, Texas.
While homeless in Austin, I slept in my car. I would park near parks, grocery stores, and construction sites: anywhere I could get some rest. I slept with my .45 near me every night. Sadly, I even had to draw it a time or two when I was harassed at night.
One night, I was pulled from my car by a police officer, cuffed and left in the rain for hours, while he ran the serial numbers of every gun I had with me, even those locked well away in the trunk without checking my ID first. I wasn’t even allowed to put my boots or coat on. That was my only adverse interaction with the police here. Every other cop I met was calm and relaxed. Some of the police officers even gave me food and advice. A few would give my resume to various friends. Sometimes they’d wake me up just to check on me and even bring coffee when I looked run down.
Part II. Hope
Within a week I had two and three times the interviews and responses as when I was applying back home, but no companies wanted to take a chance on a homeless guy, skilled or not. After a few months of this, I had friends, and strangers donating to my GoFundMe to try to help me get back on my feet. At this point, I was eating about once a day, seldom anything good, in any sense of the word. My only shot at getting out of this situation was becoming a programmer.
Finally, I decided to do one last push. I sent out my resume en masse to any job I remotely had a chance of being qualified for. The next day, a small startup called me for an interview. I did my best to look decent. I shaved, put on clean clothes, tied my hair back, showered (a hell of a task for the homeless,) and showed up. I came clean, explained my situation, explained why I took my chances here in Austin, did my best during the interview to show I may not be the best as I stood there at that moment but given an opportunity, I would work my ass off to show that one day I could be the best.
Part III. Becoming a Programmer
I left feeling like I bombed the interview. I thought maybe my honesty had sunk my chances, but a week and a half later, after feeling like giving up entirely, the startup called me back in for a second interview.
When I showed up, it was only the big dog. The boss said he was impressed by my honesty, and he wanted to give me a chance. He told me I had a decent foundation and I was like a box: a sturdy but relatively empty box. He thought I was sturdy enough to handle anything they threw at me and I would learn on the job. Finally, he told me I would start on December 6th.
I quickly figured out my job was more than just being a tester. The company planned to teach me a little bit of everything: development, testing, networking, and even business. Now, people look to me to create environments, build our applications (virtual, hardware or even in the cloud), develop applications, and rework existing ones. I even do some security testing and system administration. What was once a long shot turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.
One year later, I live in a much nicer apartment than before becoming a programmer. I am respected among my coworkers, and they even ask my opinion on significant company matters. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, its that anyone can come out of a difficult situation if they push hard enough to reach their goal. You can do or be anything. Never be afraid to try, even if it means taking a real chance at everything falling apart.
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