Written July 28, 2013. Reposted from my now expired personal blog.
I have known what I wanted to with my life since middle school when I noticed all of my friends migrating social networks at least 4 times in search of something “better”, something “cooler” and suddenly stopping with Facebook. When Facebook’s “cool” factor dissipated, people still stayed and that intrigued me. I remember processing dozens of questions like “why are people still using Facebook?” and “why is Facebook missing (X)?” I vowed to create something better. My life goal was to create the next social network and constantly change it to make it better so that it would never lose its value — like I felt Facebook had.
I have always been the visionary type. I come up with ideas, make plans, share them and try to get others to join me. In 5th grade I desperately wanted to go to Disneyland with a group of my friends, so I developed an elaborate plan to make $50,000. In 8th grade I was really into filmmaking so I wrote a script for big budget film I wanted to direct. In 9th grade, I saw others making money online by selling ebooks so I did my research and wrote a 60 page “ebook” about making money on the internet.
Amidst these ideas, I have always assembled group of others to help me. Throughout my life I have successfully recruited people to follow me and pursue my ideas (whether it is selling lemonade in kindergarten or running an online marketing campaign freshman year, I have the ability to gather people around an idea and do something). While most of my ideas came and went, one remained in the back of my mind: the social network.
Freshman year, I began to take my idea from paper to something tangible. The issue was that my social network required certain skills that neither I nor my limited pool of peers had. So I did what I could as a 14 year old — I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books on HTML, CSS, C++, PHP, Databases, and a few other topics. I read and read and read some more.
I began to get a grasp on how everything worked but I was soon pulled into the dark side of the internet. I learned that I could use computers for malicious purposes (which I thought would give me some sort of social status boost at school — obviously it didn’t. I was considered the “hacker” who got in trouble). Discovering the world of grey and black hat hacking absorbed all of my attention.
At the end of the year I had an epiphany — I realized that I was one the wrong path. If I kept doing what I was doing, I would end up somewhere that I never wanted to be.
A year passed and I still had the social network on my mind; I realized that it was my calling and that I needed to make a difference. I outlined the business concepts, but realized I couldn’t do it alone, I needed a team. So at the end of the summer before junior year I formed a small team. In the last three weeks of summer we worked relentlessly, creating a business plan, mockups, and a plan for fundraising. Those three weeks were by far the most enjoyable time I have had ‘working’. But because none of us knew how to code, we were pretty much spinning in circles.
I continued to think that I would be able to find an investor to fund the project allowing me to hire a developer. I tried to run a Kickstarter campaign with the team, but wasn’t able to see it through because I had to go back to Riverside and my lack of internet freedom would have led to failure. I continued to get advice from various people that told me I needed to learn to code. Both a distant family friend who owns his own startup and everyone online told me that I had to learn how to code. “Business guys” in the Valley who want a techie to code their startup are a joke. If I want to succeed, I have to learn how to code.
I dipped in and out of the programming over the next year and a half — watching Youtube videos, online classes through Codecademy and iTunes U, and reading programming books. Finally I realized that I needed a structured and responsive environment to learn in. Youtube, Codecademy, or any other online learning site wouldn’t cut it for me; I needed to be face to face with an instructor so that I could ask questions and get immediate feedback. So I outlined a curriculum and ended up getting myself into the second semester of CS3H (Computer Science 3 Honors) at Riverside (the only reason I was able to do so was because I had a good relationship with the teacher — who also served as a great mentor to me).
The class was my first real step in the right direction. I had projects to work on, but for me the stuff we covered I was already familiar with so I didn’t really learn anything new, I just got some more practice. It also didn’t help that my teacher was busy with getting the yearbook created. I don’t blame him, it was his first year doing it and he was figuring everything out so he had to spend a lot more time on the yearbook than CS3H.
So Riverside didn’t give me much help in that aspect — my schedule was pretty packed and the internet at school was shitty at best. Riverside did however help me develop my personal skills. I want to write a lot about my experience at school, but for this post I want to cut it down to the fact that Riverside helped me develop my personal skills:
- Finding the best people for certain jobs (leadership positions)
- Taking care of my cadets — listening to their problems and providing solutions
- Giving people a mission — some more than others.
- Fighting the status quo — Standing up for what I thought was right
- Leading — Being in charge of a group of cadets (either a squad, platoon, or company)
- Communicating ideas — Sharing my ideas and getting people involved.
- Integrity — Doing the right thing even if it’s against the “rules”. — Part of taking care of my cadets.
The issue with Riverside was that due to the static military structure, change was not something that happened easily (it never is though). After two years of hard work I was able to get laptops for juniors and seniors, but that wasn’t without the help of my parents (who paid the bills) and my TAC Captain Watkins who kept pushing it up the ladder. So for those of you reading this who went to school with me or were one of my cadets:
I tried to do so much but you know just as well as I do that Riverside is purely political and doesn’t give a damn about what’s best for the cadets. I couldn’t deal with it. I was done with Riverside because I knew that very little was ever going to get changed. Here is a quote from a book I read that exemplifies my relationship with Riverside:
“I knew that my future was somewhere else…Everything here meant nothing if I couldn’t implement the ideas that made work fun, creative, and exciting.”
From Never Eat Alone, Page 35.
I couldn’t do what I wanted at Riverside so it wasn’t fun, it was stressful. Because of Riverside, I realize that I have to do what I love in an environment that will support me 100%, but at the same time keep fighting for change wherever I can.
// Back to programming
After seeing my CS3H class wasn’t going to get me to the coding level that I wanted, I began to look into summer opportunities. At first I had planned to get a group from school together to do web development over the summer. This plan was perfect and I had recruited 4 of my friends to work on it with me, but due to the restricted internet at school we weren’t able to get the jumpstart we had wanted (and required) to demonstrate the viability of the business to our parents. While my parents were waiting for us to prove the model, my Dad suggested I get a ‘real job’ and gave me a warm intro to a local web development firm.
I was able to get an internship for the summer that would provide hands on experience programming with HTML, CSS, PHP and databases. Being able to do the web development stuff with my friends would have been awesome, but I think it was for the better that it didn’t.
Since school finished back in May, I have spent 6+ hours a day coding. This has allowed me to gain a lot of experience. Before I was just familiar with code — I could hold a conversation with any developer and understand what they meant & go through code and piece stuff together — but now I am able to write code on my own and build stuff.
Awesome! So now I can code my social network! No. My technical skills have increased, but they are nowhere near the level needed to build a fully fledged social network.
Through this internship process, I have realized that coding isn’t what I truly enjoy. I like the challenge, it’s intellectually stimulating, and it empowers me to build and destroy, but at the same time it’s lonely, tedious (sometimes), and just not something I can see myself doing every day for the rest of my life.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
- Steve Jobs
I wake up every day only to go to work and write code. I know for a fact that doing that isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life, so I know that I need to change something. I want to get back to those three weeks I worked on my social network with my team. That was the most fun I have had on a project and helps validate my choice to start a company.
So despite all of the online suggestions saying “Learn to code” — it simply isn’t in my cards. I am back to where I was a few years ago, but this time I know exactly why and have the skills to supplement my lack of (advanced) coding ability. — I know enough to communicate with the programmers and can understand what is being done on the backend.
So now what do I do? I’m not going to code millions of lines. What is my purpose?
I realized I needed to take the lessons I learned at Riverside and apply them as a CEO. Somehow, everything became connected to me. But of course I was given another sign…
The Cal Poly Facebook Page has a post from a startup called Jebbit looking for College Students to bring their program to campus. Interested I sent them an email and was given more information about the company. This company was started by 3 Boston College students and the CEO (the one who had the original idea) was a Biology/Theology Major who couldn’t code but recruited two of his friends to join him one of which could code. This company won a startup competition and is now a part of Techstars.
My extract: The CEO didn’t code — he had built relationships with people who could and then he sold his vision to them. — Just like I had to.
I have been struggling to figure out what I want to do. The past four years of high school were a crazy road and I am glad to be moving on. After finally emerging from my Stanford Delusion, I had to get my goals back on track. Cameron two years ago was subconsciously doing what I finally realized — trying to surround myself with great people so that I could build relationships with them and sell them my vision.
My dad gave me some good advice one night; he said “Invest in relationships”. This led me to check out “Never Eat Alone” from the library which clarified a lot of the questions I had.
If I had kept on the path of “I don’t need to learn to code” I would have continued going in circles. But because I took that step, I was able to advance. Even though coding isn’t what I want to do, learning how has been extremely beneficial. Leading me to give this bit of advice:
Sometimes you have to go down the wrong path before you realize where you need to be going.
So once again, I’m going to focus on spending my college experience meeting new people and building relationships with them instead of focusing on programming with the hope of one day trying to code the social network myself. With that being said, I think that switching my major to Business (with a focus in entrepreneurship) with a minor in Computer Science is going to be my best bet. Business is more my skill set and staying up to date with the CS stuff will allow me to maintain my current understand and perhaps increase it a little bit.
I think this whole experience has been interesting. Making all of these connections as I write reminded me of Steve Job’s quote:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.”
- Steve Jobs