I was listening to Boston while doing some work around the house this morning, and it took me back to my high school days. Back then kids thought of success as when your band made it big, or your team scored the winning touchdown. Neither musically inclined nor athletically gifted, I learned to write code.
In my teens I started working for a company that designed and built its own computer – Geac – but it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of the company. They actually had their own unique programming language, which ran in an 8K partition. Yes, that’s 8 kilobytes. Not megabytes or gigabytes. Kilobytes. I think I was employee number 21 or something like that. Back in the olden days that was very uncommon. Computers were big room-sized things, and there was no such think as 12 year olds building apps. A computer on your desktop wasn’t yet a thought for the average person, even though they were just beginning to exist.
Back then the smart kids – geeks probably wasn’t the correct word then – didn’t get the girls (ok, I did get at least one – she married me). They really didn’t get much of anything. People with the highest marks in school did get awards, but just a couple as opposed to the annual Athletic Awards banquet. But that wasn’t me either. I got good marks in the 80s and 90s but that didn’t interest me. It was the drive to learn new things constantly that drove me. School just couldn’t keep up with that for me. I learned the stuff too easily, but it wasn’t that interesting, so I just didn’t put that much work into it.
So I went to university, became an electrical engineer (there wasn’t such a thing as software engineering yet), and worked for a series of companies; some enjoyable, and some not so much. I found that I especially enjoyed the smaller companies, or the small leading edge groups the I worked with inside. When the group or company got too big I left, voluntarily or involuntarily. I soon realized that I didn’t enjoy working for somebody; I’d rather be starting the thing myself. I didn’t have a problem with risk, and I preferred to be in control of my own destiny.
I was a bit ahead of my time then. There were no startups like there are today. Starting a company cost millions, not hundreds. No cloud computing, and barely a hint of the pre-World-Wide-Web internet.
But now, decades later, though I’m sure musicians and athletes are still celebrated, the new badge of success is entrepreneurship – starting your own successful business. It’s finally cool to be a geek, with hit television shows like The Big Bang Theory watched by millions every week. And the smart guy gets the cute girl now.
I’m a bit older than startup founders typically seen in Silicon Valley, but I continue to spend my life right there on the bleeding edge, doing something new and different every day. I’ve realized that my biggest goal is to do something spectacular, because the truth is, I don’t want to be forgotten. So I’ll keep going until I hit that target. As Edison said, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration”.
I guess if you are patient, the world will eventually catch up with you. So if you feel a little out of place in your life, keep in mind that it does get better. And it’s never dull.