Closing the Loop

When I was 11 years old, my mother — a pious, conservative Muslim woman, handed me an application for a summer computer programming camp south of San Francisco. It was the first youth activity offered that had nothing to do with Islam. So, I jumped right on it.

The summer camp application had only one question, and it went something like this:

What technology would you create to the protect the United States’ Eastern seaboard from a nuclear attack?

It was a juicy question for a pre-teen with a hyper-kinetic imagination and a deep love for science fiction. My reply was a short essay detailing my hypothetical Sonic Defense System (SDS), which could disable airborne missiles with strong pulses of concentrated sound. The essay was well received, and I was given a full scholarship.

My memories of camp are more like random flashes, figments of youth — the dusty, powdery heat of the South Bay, the LETs and IFs and THENs of BASIC programming, the outdoor abandon of wild play, the odd texture of food not made by my mom, and the secret longing for home. I was the only Black boy there, my skin turning indigo in the summer sun. We were a small group of boys on the cusp of something that would change the world. We were oblivious.

At the end of camp, after weeks of learning BASIC, my parents bought me a Commodore 64 personal computer. To this day, I don’t know how they afforded it. We spent most months barely making it, a reality I seemed to understand through osmosis. Without instruction and community, my experiments with coding died after a few months. The Commodore 64 gathered dust and faded into the beige of my room.

Since that camp, I have gone on many adventures — from learning to breakdance to starting my own company. I have lead teams and cultural centers, but I still long to tinker, to experiment, and to create meaningful products and services with the language of ones and zeros. This is why I want to become a software engineer. I have sort of been one my whole life — building communities, productions, and art without precision tools.

I am passionate about telling stories through technology, and that’s been a common thread throughout my life — from work in early reality TV to bridging the economic and digital divide with online products for One Economy. My goal at Holberton, my reason for wanting to attend, is to build the skills necessary to work for a company in this space. But more importantly, I want to give voice and reason to the little boy who played in the dust. He’s still there and he still longs to close the loop.

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