My unfair advantages

London

This article is a tribute to my family, my friends, and my surrounding who help me to grow up in a positive way. When I meet people and they ask about my past, they are surprised by my “career” and often say “Bravo, you can be proud of being a self made man”.

I never understood the concept of “self made man”. Do you really think you’re making everything by yourself? No. Some people and situations play an important role in your life. Put anyone in my shoes and he/she will probably end up the same way.

My parents divorced when I was 9.

Believe it or not, that might be the most precious gift I’ve got as a child. Not because my parents were fighting and I couldn’t handle it, but the divorce situation forced me to organise things by myself. At age 9, I had to think about way more stuff than the average kid: what clothes should I take for tomorrow, what books should I cary on for classes, when will he/she pick me at school depending on the day of the week, etc. I was always with a backpack ready to go.

Looking back, I’m still like this. Always a luggage and a backpack ready to take the first flight. I don’t own nothing. I want nothing. I want to be the lightest as possible.

I was playing hours with LEGOs.

Another thing that structured me in a particular way was LEGOs. I was lucky to have parents who can afford to buy me LEGOs. That was my thing and my only thing for years. My speciality was picking a new model, make it following the manual, look at it, destroy it, and then do it again without manual. Each time my pieces were unique. I destroyed them immediately after without regrets. This “build, break, observe, repeat” loop was very helpful for the rest.

My dream was to build a city of LEGOs with all the elements: police, cars, roads, buildings, restaurants, etc. I was doing architecture. Exactly what I did later with software: creating large systems composed by small and understandable pieces.

I was epileptic and overcome it.

After LEGOs, my next addiction was video games. But I was playing like a savage. About 6h a day between 9 and and 11 years old. As a result, I started doing seizures and I developed epilepsy.

When the neurologist told my mum I really had to take specific medication, she was scared as hell. But when you take Tegretol at 9 years old, even small amounts, you feel slow because it’s actually a powerful drug.

In combination with my mum, we decide to reduce the dosage without telling the doctor. Each time I was doing electroencephalograms (brain scanner), the results were better. Some weeks after reducing, I stopped taking it completely. My mum and I were convinced it was better doing “our” medication: stopping TV and video games, doing more activities outside, being more balanced. The result got better each month and the doctor was so impressed “Tegretol really made a difference here!”. Of course doctor …

I was lucky on multiple levels in this experience. My mum intuition was more powerful than a doctor prescription. We won this battle without medication and without destroying my brain with strong pills. I learnt very young to not follow the rules of the society when you don’t feel they are right. How many families have the balls to go against a doctor prescription in a scenario like this? Fuck yeah mummy, we did right.

My first best friend was a basketball player.

I was not a sport fan but I started to appreciate it around 12 years old after the epilepsy episode. My best friend was playing basketball and he was the son of an ex french famous basketball player (we have a strong basketball culture in the south west of France).

So I started playing with him and I got addicted. At 14 years old I was playing in the french national league (category 13–15 years old). Basketball became my entire life. I could never have done sport without knowing this guy.

As you can imagine, from not playing basketball at all and being in the national league in two years, it cost me a lot of efforts. I was playing days and nights, under the sun or the rain, pushing myself like never before. I had various ankle injuries but I forced my body to recover quickly. This mindset stayed the same even today. That doesn’t happen to everyone to have a strong goal (win the national championship) at an early stage of your life.

I experienced injustice.

We went to quarter finals with my basketball team and won. I was best scorer of the game and probably my best game ever. Semi finals: same epic game. We are now in final of the french national championship. So close to my dream.

As a reminder, a basketball team is composed of 5 people playing on the court and 5 on the bench to exchange players during the game. But we were 12 in my team so 2 players had to be “out” of the game each time. Normally, the 2 were the baddest players of previous games. These 2 ones are announced just five minutes before the game.

And guess what. Our coach put me out of the game. The same coach who pushed me to the top, doing extra hours for me during the season, believing in my potential to be pro. This person had no reason to exclude me from my dream after all I did. What kind of madness can remove a dream from a child hands? Why me? There was no reasons.

It took me years to integrate this concept in my life: you are no one if your parents are no one no matter how good you are. The 11 other players of my team had influential parents with strong connections with the club. My parents were no one, they barely came to see me playing my games during the season. As a result, the coach was pushed by the parents saying “I want to see my son play the final game”.

Pure injustice, raw, in your face. Relations are everything if you want to succeed. Thanks for the lesson dick heads, that helped me a lot later.

I crashed hard in another injustice.

Thursday 11th January 2007 (I was 16 years old), 8.15 pm, I took my motorcycle like everyday to have diner with my father. Just got out of my alley, first street on the left, and a pizza delivery man destroyed me. Huge crash. He was on a scooter going crazy and I was crossing the street. That accident could have been a disaster but we were both very lucky.

I had an important injury on my foot and couldn’t run for two years. I stopped all sports and started coding a lot because that was the only thing I could do. It was a deep depression. In the end that changed everything. I started to understand that life is short and shit can happen anytime even when it’s not your fault. This accident was positive on the long term and was a gift from life.

When I’m complaining myself about something, I remember that I could have be in a wheel chair since ten years and it’s not the case. “So shut the fuck up, enjoy your life, and get back to work”.

I’m natively bilingual.

My mother comes from a spanish family. My grandfather moved to France in the late 50’s when the french economy was booming and Spain was poor as shit (interesting, seems like history is doing circles again …).

She was speaking to me only in spanish until 4 years old and my father in french. Then I went to a french school. But my grandparents were speaking spanish most of the time and I was staying with them when I was a kid. I was spending at least two weeks per year in Spain to see my family and friends. We kept a strong spanish culture even leaving in France and being “french”.

In addition to having two cultures, I was the youngest of my group in Spain. I was 13 when the other ones were 18. I learnt a lot about group dynamics, relations, love, friendship, and “How to party without doing stupid shit.” (Yes, we have a real party culture in Spain).

I think that played an important role later. Learning english was not so hard after being bilingual. Learning CSS, HTML, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Bash, Python, and other ones was a continuity of the same learning pattern.

I traveled young and often.

Being in this dual nationality situation pushed me to experienced strong cultural shifts during my early years. I have friends in Spain and friends in France. My mother was always open when I was planing to travel. She never stoped me in my adventures. Because I was always transparent with everything I was doing. I never lied to her and she trusted me. Now she’s my best friend, my first lady above everything, because we grow up together and she’s my best adviser.

Having an open minded family and specially my mother is probably the biggest unfair advantage compared to people I know.

My grandfather was a real entrepreneur.

He taught me life. He was a role model because I never really felt the presence of my father. He was the strongest person I ever met. He was a genius, a soldier with a sense of duty for his family. In fact, everything he did was for his family. He transmitted a lot of values to me.

He brought me to his business meetings when I was 11. He taught me how to drive a tractor before driving a car. I grew up in a truck garage with many tools around me and the freedom do to whatever I wanted. When I hurt myself, it was not a big deal. He wasn’t scared about it. He just told me “No eres de chocolate!”. (translation: “You’re not made out of chocolate!”. Meaning: “You’re not a snowflake!”).

No one pushed me to have a formal “career”. They just trusted me. I proved I was able to work with computer young and make money with it, then, no one worried about me. Money is the only proof everyone understand.

My grandfather deserves another post because his story is exceptional. I was just lucky to be around him for years.

I discovered my passion and never questioned it.

This is a big topic in our modern society with endless possibilities. The more choices we have, the more we are lost. How many people are still asking this fundamental question of “What should I do? What do I really like?”.

I never went through this existential question. It is and was always clear: I’m a developer. I love to build stuff with a computer. I always though that was the most powerful thing a human can experience in term of challenge and creation.

I have other hobbies and passions but developing software is the core essence of what make me feel great. I never quit my passion even going through many challenges and deceptions.

So when people ask me “Why do you like your job?”. The answer is dead simple: it’s not my job, it’s my life, and you’d better love your life because no one will love it for you.

Not everyone had the chance to grow up with a strong passion.

My next best friend was a genius.

In High School, I met a guy who was doing business online. I learnt a lot with him and he opened my eyes on what was really possible with computers. He was the brain and I was the coder. We created complex mechanism to hack various servers and extract money out of it (PABX hacking, phreaking, etc…). My first “real” piece of code was a bash script with only 300 lines to crack PABX servers.

Meeting him and working together was a game changer. We knew we were doing bad stuff and I will probably explain this part of my past in another tech post. Remember it was in 2007 and the Web was still young with many security issues. Best playground ever.

Once again, it’s not to show off, it’s to make a strong point: I was lucky to meet him. He’s still in the top 3 of the brightest person I know. Keep it up mate.

I’ve got stopped at the right moment.

I faced the authorities early when I was hacking servers with him. I decided to change the way I approach computers after being caught on this adventure. That could have been a terrible situation but I was lucky to not be charged. Thank you Police, it was the right moment to stop me.

Luck, again.

I’m a normal white dude.

When the Police came to my home to take my computer and interrogate me hours, I was not surprised because I was ready. What was my unfair advantage here? I’m just a white guy looking “good” with formal glasses and a suite.

That’s the hard truth.

I wasn’t charged of nothing even if they had proof of some illegal actions from me. I experienced this many times in other situations. I feel bad for my black and arabe friends. Life is easier in when you’re just a random white dude.

I didn’t graduate.

First of all, I was terrible at school and it was a nightmare to have my High School Degree. I started a degree in a public university but I was already freelancing. I continued working as a freelancer while doing my first year of university. It was an intense “double life” year. University during the day, freelancing and projects at night. More than 12h of work a day, everyday, for a year. Don’t ask me “How did you learn to to X,Y,Z?”. I just did my hours when you were drinking and dancing like a monkey.

I got bored of university after the first year. I was more interested in doing freelance work and launching products on my own. So I started my professional career at 19 years old. I saved a lot of time compared to people going to engineer school: another unfair advantage. At 27 years old today, I have 8 years of freelancing experience and 13 years doing software.

Not having a degree and learning everything on my own has many benefits. The most obvious one is simple: when young graduates start their career, let’s say around 24 years old, most of them have no idea how a company actually works. They underestimate how chaotic things are in the real world.

Wake up. All companies are a mess. I’m lucky I was never influenced by a school teaching me how to do things “in theory” without a clue of how things really were outside.

It’s not enough.

We all have our unfair advantages. Mine were not money and relations but a strong education of life and freedom. Find out what advantages you have on your side and use them. Play on your strength and put your weaknesses aside.

Be thankful for the one who destroyed you: They showed you the way to build yourself again.

Your advantages won’t make it for you. It’s not enough. Life is still a crazy adventure and you’re the only one in charge. No one will succeed for you. Keep it up.

You can lose everything at anytime but you will never lose what you’ve learned.