I come from Alabama. Somebody had to. In my early years I lived in the south of the state, near Mobile. When I was fourteen or so, my father got a job in north Alabama, near Huntsville. Both places are rural, that’s why I used “near” in the previous sentence. Scottsboro, the town where I went to high school, is about 15,000 people. I live 12 miles out of town. I can see my neighbor’s house but it’s far enough I can’t hear them unless they’re running a lawn mower or a chainsaw. That’s right, in Alabama we say “running” not “using.”
After high school I joined the Marine Corps and was trained as a computer tech. I was very bad at it in the early days. I didn’t have a computer growing up so I didn’t know anything about them. It was a fluke I was even given that job. I’d requested to be an electrician. Ultimately I’m glad things worked out how they did. At my first duty station I was lucky to be mentored by a guy much further down the path than me. Who knows where I’d be without him.
I was offered a job with a government contractor after I left the military and spent a few years working on the military’s messaging systems. Even though it paid well I didn’t particularly like the work. Computer systems support is a thankless job. Either the computers work—and they’re supposed to work—or they don’t and it’s all your fault.
I found Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around 2002 and started dreaming of professional fighting. I left server support and started doing desktop support as I thought it would be less demanding and allow me more time to train. In 2005 I had my first (and to date, only) MMA fight. I won the fight (rear-naked choke in the second round), but reflecting afterward I didn’t think professional fighting was how I wanted to spend my life. The training leading up to the fight was grueling. I thought there was no way I’d ever get tired, but when I went back to my corner at the end of the first round I was so tired I could barely stand. I was so tired I couldn’t even hear my cornermen talking. I realized even as hard as training had been, it wasn’t enough. Being a professional fighter would mean getting beat-on every day in the gym and being tired for the next 10 years or more if I was …lucky?
About a year later I started looking for a different path. I moved to California, spent the summer taking classes at Butte College, and spent a lot of time thinking about business. I didn’t grow up with examples of entrepreneurship. Everyone in my family had jobs so I had to look to the internet and books for examples and ideas. I had a few ideas, as most people do, but no understanding of how to execute them.
A friend called me at the end of the summer and said he knew about a job. This was the way it had been for years. I’d get fed-up with computer work and decide to quit; go back to school, change fields, something …but then I’d get a call. It was always more money so I’d say yes. This time the job was in San Diego and the money was more than double what I’d made in years. I was at that job for about a year and a half before being laid-off. Also, I hated that job. I was almost relieved to be let go. I decided this time it was for good.
I moved back to Alabama thinking things would be cheaper and I could go to university and pay my rent using the GI Bill—but I couldn’t. Alabama is cheaper than California, but not enough. I started looking for other options. Turns out you can use your GI Bill outside the US. I decided Thailand was my place. There were half a dozen schools approved for the GI Bill and I sent all of them an email requesting information. Only one emailed back. That’s how I ended up in Chiang Mai.
I was running from computers for about five years, hoping to move into some other industry, some other profession. Finally I decided it might be a good idea not to throw all those years away. Maybe I should do something with computers—but not support. Perhaps software.
I got a job with a local software company doing project management and marketing. My GI Bill had run out and I was desperate. It turned out to be a good thing. I wasn’t happy doing the work I was hired for and circumstances allowed me to start developing WordPress sites for the company’s clients. I started coming to the office early every day to learn more about web development.
After two years at the company I was let go. A friend who did design work for the company was also let go about that time so we tried to build a business together. Think SquareSpace for the Thai market. My part was to build the tech. I built just enough to demo the product and see if we could get customers. They call that an MVP or a minimum viable product. My friend’s part was to get customers. I don’t know if my product was too minimum or if we failed due to sales effort—whatever the case, that business went nowhere.
So that brings us to 2017 and back to Alabama. After all that time and many failures, I’m back on the farm. Back to working cows, cleaning fence rows, and raking hay. It’s surprising the things that have changed around here in 20 years. Two things specifically I would’ve never imaged in Jackson County Alabama. We have fiber internet—to the house. And there’s now Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Scottsboro.