Imagine living in a 500 square-foot store, in a strip mall. The back half of the business was as expected, with a bathroom, 2 small offices, and work area. The front was a bedroom barely large enough to hold a bed, and a living room barely able to contain a couch and TV. The only thing separating the living room from the sidewalk, and the busy main street, was paper taped onto the floor to ceiling windows. And behind that, some vertical blinds to make it more home-like.
In 1996, that was my life. I was broke, and could no longer afford an apartment, so I moved into the front half of my failing business. I had one employee, who believed in me so much they were willing to donate their spare time to help me because I couldn’t afford to pay them.
Up to that point in my life, I had never made more than $9,000 in a single year. I was a failure, and couldn’t find a way out. I was living by eating a single Subway $5 foot-long sub…each day…for weeks, because that is all I could afford and I didn’t have a kitchen. And friends contributed cigarettes to keep that habit alive.
“I was living on a single Subway $5 foot-long sub…each day”
To top things off, I was experiencing anxiety attacks multiple times each day. After a couple of trips to the emergency room convinced I’d had a heart attack, I finally gave up going there because the bill was already thousands that would continue dragging my credit rating even farther down.
But then, something happened that changed my life as a nurse in the emergency room was asking me general health questions, such as age, height, weight, how much did I smoke/drink? (I answered 2 packs of cigarettes and 2 pots of coffee a day.) She looked at me with caring eyes and asked, “Do you think God intended you to put that much poison into your body?”
For some reason, I’d never thought of my bad habits in that manner, and it made sense to me. So, at that moment I quit smoking and stopped drinking coffee. This caused me to suffer from bronchial spasms severe enough I could visually see my chest quivering despite wearing a shirt, and even more anxiety attacks over the following month.
I moved in with family at the age of 30 and started searching for a job. In northeast Ohio, that is no small task. That area of the country has been abandoned for so long that the population of Youngstown, Ohio has declined from 160,000 in the ’70s to only 60,000’ish in 2017. (http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/youngstown-oh-population/)
Finally, I found a job selling cars for about a year, which paid fairly well. And luckily a friend of my mom offered me a job as a service person with a cabinetry company, which was the best job I’d ever had to that point. I loved it and thrived.
As one part of the job, I generated my own reports allowing me to grow quickly over a couple of years from District manager to Area manager. As I was being considered for Regional manager, the company offered me a job in Florida generating reports for the entire country, which meant I needed to move to Florida. I took it, and in 2000 I moved to West Palm Beach.
This is when I was introduced to programming as the events of 911 caused me to lose my job. In 2002 I started learning to program with PHP and accepted funding from Florida to get some training to learn system administration.
After a job as a system administrator, I decided I liked web programming more and focused on finding a new job doing that.
Over the following years, I continued gaining skills and moved from one job to the next to ensure my level of compensation kept up with my newly acquired skills. I also took up long distance ultra-running, and Judo, as I continued to improve my life and grow personally.
Today, as a senior/architect level web developer, who has also worked as a consultant and now as a developer advocate, I’ve gained much over the past 21 years with many amazing accomplishments.
Maybe I would have achieved these things regardless of the technology used, and PHP enabled me to do it more easily than I think any other programming/scripting language would have. Looking back, it was the approachability of PHP that allowed me to start solving problems quickly and allowed me to continue growing my skills as PHP itself continued to mature.
You may ask, “Why are you sharing this?”. Or you may get the impression I’m bragging. And perhaps that is a little true. But most of all I wish to share 3 thoughts, which is why I am sharing my story in such an open way.
#1 – If you are down on your luck, and struggling to get by. Know that as long as you continue to push forward, great things will eventually happen. Don’t stop.
#2 – If you are doing well, and feel comfortable. Don’t look down on others who may not be doing so well. And, if you are able, help those less fortunate. I am not saying to give them money, or things. Because I know, from experience, that will not really help them. (unless they truly need that level of help) What I’m saying is, be supportive, and don’t let them stay down alone. Encourage them to continue pushing, even though it is hard and they want to give up.
#3 – Don’t look down on PHP. There are many technologies available to do various things. But I feel PHP is still the easiest way for beginners to get started, and to facilitate growing their skills. Though I’ve learned other stacks, I still use PHP to solve problems.
And, though I continue to have frequent anxiety attacks…because that never seems goes away. I’m a much different person than I was 21 years ago living in a storefront, and you can/will be too in the years that follow.
So, what are your experiences? Don’t be ashamed to share. There are others who need your story. Let me know it, in the comments.