2280078928bfa0b8e35a8d455fc3dead (what is this?)

I don’t know what to write on my resume.

I know, this sounds like a common complaint. But I genuinely have no idea how to compress down the half-lifetime I have now invested into tinkering with technology down in a way which makes sense to a potential employer’s eye. I think often about the fact that almost every element was there for me to be one of those whiz kids who started programming as soon as they could (14 for me), except for one derailing factor: Abuse.

Not physical abuse, for 99% of it. I think I got spanked once when I was in elementary school, that was it and it honestly didn’t bother me. No, I’m talking the creeping abuse of simply being so unliked that communication, sometimes about very important things, gets totally derailed whenever it happens.

A few standout examples:

If you managed to get through all of that, kudos. I have a Markdown file about 10 times as long of these charming vignettes. It was one of the last things I emailed to them before I broke contact entirely.

But I include them to paint a picture of a particular kind of person, not so much unreasonable so much as unwilling to consider counterfactuals at all. There is, I believe, a kind of dark power within such people, an unknowing persistence which lets them surmount obstacles most rational people would, entirely justifiably, balk at. My father might have screwed up my ability to afford college, but he still worked 12-hour-days 6-days-a-week to acquire the wealth that made him so dangerous in the first place. His mistake was simply one of seeing no evil.

And the evils he was able to see he understood. I was an alcoholic during those 4 years. Alcohol was one of the few ways I could escape the torment of feeling like my future had been destroyed, by being swallowed by the maw of actual oblivion for a night. He didn’t kick me out of the house for that; he let fester down in that dust-filled, mold-ridden room. Convinced I’d someday make it through, even though he couldn’t see quite how.

(In my mid-20s it became their favorite thing for a while to attribute any anger or sadness or fury I portrayed to alcohol. I liked it a lot better than being called “bucko.")

College broke me nevertheless, the senseless malevolence of the situation broke me. Prior to that I still had some small tallow candle lit in me, flickering and untamed. Which returns me to where I started: At 14, after 2 more years of arguing with my parents that they needed to get a computer and an Internet connection for their kids to make it in the modern world, I installed Ubuntu Linux 12.04 on the thing and began to tinker with it.

I learned enough to land an internship with Akamai Technologies for the summer as a Unix sysadmin through a city-led effort to get more low income kids into STEM with their Unix sysadmin department. My guess is Boston was footing my bill; they didn’t have much work for me. But I managed to outcompete my friend Rose for the position, so I figured I should make the most of my time there, and spent any minute I wasn’t doing their rudimentary data cleaning tasks learning Python through a tutorial on modding Civilization 4.

I never actually ended up modding Civ 4. If I did I would have realized XML mods are much easier than Python mods. But going in on the summer train to Kendall Square, walking into a peaceful air-purified office, sitting down and working hard through lunch at an adjustable desk mostly independently - it all had a powerful effect on me. I think it was no coincidence that I walked into tenth grade remarkably calmer than any year I had in school prior or since. I was no longer Andrew the nerd, I was Andrew the Linux nerd.

I was out of high school more often than I was in it, due to both poor mental and poor physical health (surprise surprise). But I found solace at 15 working my way through AP Physics in tandem with my growing interest in all things Unix, and I was picked up for a second internship through the same program as before, this time by State Street Corporation. It was 2009. Half my department was laid off at the end of week 1. They sat me down at a Windows XP terminal with a PDF open of an example document, and 500 printed documents I was expected to double-check by hand. I lasted until week 2.

I don’t think I have ever listed my brief stint with State Street on any resume. I do remember feeling ashamed and confused when I left. Wasn’t I good at this? Wasn’t I a “computer guy”? I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t touch a computer professionally again until I was 24 years old. Oh, I was tinkering the whole way through - writing my own Python scripts, picking up esoteric Unix lore. But nothing of value ever came of any of it.

I was one of the perennial nine-tenths of /g/ that had no clue what they were doing, no clue on how people could actually make money with technologies. I was convinced, in one of my apocalyptic failure modes, that open source, despite being a thoroughly good thing for humanity, also meant that no profits made from tech could truly be sustainable and that it was a silly career to go into long term (LOL). I was sad, I was sick, I was tired, I was tired of fighting with my parents, I was tired of being disliked, I was tired of being tired, there was simply not enough gas in the tank to pursue any optimistic line of thought for long enough that I could start anything of value at all.

And when I turned 17, when I applied for colleges and felt firsthand the brutality of getting people who decided a long, long time ago, when you were a toddler, that they just don’t fucking like you bucko to finance your pursuits - I buckled. I stopped trying.

I don’t know what to write on my resume. Even now. I just don’t know.