A Journey Back Home

My little ones — Jack and Ella

There are moments where we have to make decisions that change the course of our lives and sometimes the lives of others as well. There are many ways that we can face these choices — some choose to avoid them until they are no longer avertible, some face them head-on and deal with the consequences later, some compromise, and others make a plan and execute.

In 2008, I faced what so many families across the world face everyday — the dissolution of a marriage and separation of a family. Like most, it was a difficult time not only in my life, but in the lives of my children as well. At the time, my son was 3 years old and my daughter was only six months. Both their mother and I chose to do what we felt was the right thing and agreed to an uncontested divorce with a standard, state-approved visitation schedule and child support agreement.

As a father in the state of Texas, my default rights involved seeing my children every other weekend, once a week for dinner, and 45 days in the summer. Even now, in my opinion, I still find this to be difficult to reason with. How can two people bring life into the world, raise that child as their own and, upon their separation not be given equal opportunity to participate in their upbringing? The stigma that comes from becoming the non-custodial parent is a burden that lives long past the bitterness of a failed relationship. As I have come of age and learned the joys of establishing real relationships with my children, I and my kids have found the visitation itself to be not enough; we are always short on time to do the thing we really want to do; but, I digress.

My attempt to get back on my feet after the divorce was not easy and having to contribute 25% of my income to child support on top of providing a wholesome environment for my young children was difficult. I found myself regularly sleeping on a couch while the kids shared the only room in a one-bedroom apartment during their bi-weekly visitations. I worked two jobs to make ends meet and still found myself living paycheck-to-paycheck. In the evenings, I would attend community college, specializing in Web Development and other IT courses.

A Difficult Departure

At a certain point, I recognized that what I was providing for myself and for my young ones was not sustainable. I knew that something big would have to happen in my life in order for me to provide a better future for them and a fulfilling purpose for myself. So, in 2009, I left the small town that I grew up in, my family, and my children and headed to the nearest metro area — Denver, Colorado — with the intention of being able to grow my career into something that would provide for my family and furnish me with a calling beyond a tech bench.

Over the course of four years, I went from spare bedrooms found on Craigslist to shared housing. When I wasn’t working, I was moonlighting — building websites and web applications and banging my head against a wall trying to understand the fast growing technologies used in the UI field.

But eventually, I could not keep up and my will broke. Between talking to frustrated customers in a call center all week with my primary focus on call times (not on helping people), living in a retired man’s daughter’s bedroom, trying to burn the other end of the candle with the web stuff, going to school online, and visiting my kids at my parent’s house every few months, I just lost my composure. I remember bursting into tears at my desk, taking my headset off and putting my phone into “not ready” so I wouldn’t receive calls. My manager pulled me aside, gave me a respectable pep talk, and heard my point of view. Just weeks later, I quit my day job, opened a website development company, and started focusing on my passion — UI.

Of course, my reflex came with poor planning and, within weeks, I found myself seeking contract work to keep me afloat while I gathered a clientele. Luckily, I found a company seeking a Junior Developer with experience in HTML, CSS, and PHP. This opportunity provided me with my first taste of working in a professional environment with other developers and a segue into a new career path. I found the work very difficult and that I clearly knew nothing about programming — just procedural and inline templating a la PHP 4 (for the layman, just a big hot mess of nasty code). Very quickly I learned that the rabbit hole was much deeper than I thought it was and that I had a long way to go.

It Starts to Payoff

In the spring of 2011, while watching my newly founded business fester in my naïveté and looking for full-time work, I bumped into a job listing from a company based out of Boulder offering a developer training program. This several-week-long, paid program involved in-depth training on programming languages like JavaScript, HTML, and C#. At the conclusion of the program, candidates were re-interviewed and recommendations were made for hire for those who did well. I was accepted into this program, which proved to be eye-opening and enlightening. After a few weeks of late nights and persistence, I was offered a full-time job as a Web Developer.

For me, that transition was never seen as a career change from IT to Web. In a way, it was exactly what I was manifesting, but my intentions were simply to listen to my heart. I knew, sitting in that call center, that I could not continue to take phone calls while scrounging up change for a Taco Bell burrito and hoping I would get out of an overdrawn checking account at the next pay day. Yes, money isn’t the source of happiness and this new, full-time job would not deliver the sort of income many software engineers make today, but it was a start. It was a chance to provide excellent medical coverage for my children, a chance to embrace a craft and the potential as a craftsman, and an opportunity to learn more than I could ever learn moonlighting in someone’s spare bedroom.

The kids having breakfast at my apartment in Colorado

Over the course of the two years that followed, I was able to get my financial situation back on track, improve my credit score, obtain my Bachelor’s degree, and move into a place of my own where my children could visit — all while staying current on child support and long-distance visitation as the non-custodial parent. If I can do it, those that do not simply don’t have a good enough excuse.

During those two years that followed, I continued to wholly invest myself in my career. My income increased further, I saw a change in my title as I switched companies and brandished a Senior-level role, and I met the beautiful lady that I am with today. I entered into my Master’s degree program and, in 2013, was offered a job at LinkedIn in Silicon Valley, California. Maria and I relocated to San Jose and I began work in the Mountain View headquarters assisting the messaging team with building the system of emails that millions of people receive all over the world, everyday.

At a certain point though, I realized I was stuck between two polar lives, or at least I thought. My relocation to California strained the relationship with my children and brought upon me an increased amount of guilt and self-doubt. On one hand, I was becoming an accomplished software engineer, working in the big city, and doing interesting things but on the other — I was still the small-town father of two who’s original intentions were centric to providing for the family. I knew that, at some point, I would have to choose between the two. The obligation ate at me and, at some point, I found myself back in the place I was in 2010 — ridden with frustration and contrition that I was not fully living up to my potential and obligations. Here these two kids were, growing older and experiencing crucial, unrepeatable moments like lost teeth, first days of school, and holidays and I was heads down in a software application, nestled in a one-bedroom apartment that cost more than a five bedroom house back home.

Between visits to a therapist and conversations with mentors and family members, I knew something would need to change at some point. At the same time, I was afraid of giving up all that I had worked so hard for. It’s not exactly like software engineering roles were growing like wildfire in the arid lands of West Texas and my hometown was a good 6-7 hour drive from major metro areas like Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth. It was either do this or regress.

Sometimes all we have to do is just ask; take that one step, and suddenly, the impossible reveals itself to you as a limitation you have placed upon yourself.
The whiteboard in my office in Texas

The Unlikely Opportunity

It was around my two year mark at LinkedIn that I sat down and had a routine discussion with my manager. At the time, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of remaining employed in the Valley while living in Texas; the two seemed mutually exclusive. But, after presenting the dilemma, I was offered the opportunity to transition to a remote engineering role. The idea of all of this coming together in this way never occurred to me. Yet, all I had to do was consider the inconsiderable and [God/The Universe/whatever you want to call it], made it happen. Sometimes all we have to do is just ask; take that one step, and suddenly, the impossible reveals itself to you as a limitation you have placed upon yourself.

I am now writing this from my home office in Texas. I am five minutes from the kids and I can see them at a moment’s notice; they are coming over tomorrow night and I can’t wait to see them. We all have our own bedrooms! The relationship I have with my co-workers and my employer remains as strong as the day I left and yet my connection with my children has never been stronger. Granted, the transition wasn’t easy and I had a lot of learning to do along the way, but that’s for another article and another story worth telling.

My children and I with my brother’s family at the amusement park after moving back home.

I share this because I know other people are or have been in my shoes. I know the struggle these sort of changes create. I understand what it feels like to have nothing and be at the end of your rope and I also understand how incredibly empowering it is to climb up that rope and prove to yourself and those you love that you can overcome these things.

In all of this, I have learned that the word impossible, in most cases, is just a label I use to explain self-doubt and provide myself with comfort that I can stay right where I am. Such a limitation can ultimately keep me in the same place where I do not grow, learn, challenge myself, or face the risk that comes with such a bold endeavor. And yet, isn’t that why we are here? If I had to draw out the existential question of “why am I here?”, I would choose to answer that with: I am here to live, to defy odds, to thrive, and to enjoy the feeling that comes with being alive, regardless of the risks. It is that very risk and having overcome it that makes us feel alive.