We all have obstacles in our lives and learn and grow into the true people we are.
Today, I'm going to describe to you how my journey from a dyslexic introvert who couldn't read, struggling through school, working assembly line night shift jobs after high school, to eventually going to college and flunking out, to becoming a full-time software engineer, raising a family of five, and with all of this finally discovering my true calling as an Indie Hacker.
Join me on this journey through real life and the stages that drove me to my calling.
Dyslexia sucks, but there is light at the end of the tunnel
Growing up in the 80's there wasn't much known or programs available for those of us who are dyslexic. The first known memory of my disability was when my 2nd grade teacher reported issues to my parents with my journal entries having words all scrambled up and leaving out vowels on everything. I not only couldn't read and comprehend, but obviously couldn't write either. Again, growing up in the 80's and in a small town, nobody had understandings of this issue. Except, when I went to see the eye doctor on suspicion I might have terrible vision. Thankfully, the eye doctor of all people had a theory and having perfect vision, he basically gave us the only pseudo diagnoses I know of, in that I had possible traits of dyslexia. I never actually knew about this until later in life because my mom wanted to work with me and not label me as having some condition.
I struggled all through school with this. Being dyslexic makes it extremely difficult to succeed, through school and later in life, as I find out most certainly in a work environment. To this day, I've never read a full novel or completed any of my own book reports in school, in fact my dad would actually read books for me and write me a summary of what the book was about just so I could write a book report on that summary. The scariest was having to read in class. Every time we had to read in class I would count down all the paragraphs in the book from where the first student started reading and locate when it would be my turn and I would try to read and re-read several times until it was my turn. So when it came time for me to read, I wouldn't sound like a blistering idiot and could fool my peers. This struggle carried on my whole life.
The amazing thing about dyslexia though is that at some point it turns into a gift because you have to think completely different and struggle so hard that you find ways past it in a beautiful way. To this day, I struggle to comprehend and understand even the simplest discussions or lectures, but when I get it, I really get it, which almost gives me a super power insight into deeper thought on topics, however, mostly only in my own mind because it's a struggle to convey my thoughts into a meaningful output others can understand. I often talk backwards from how normal people think. You can probably already see that in my writing now.
Some gifts of dyslexia, and going all in
After high school I focused on work instead of college. Now, I was doing community college at the time to please my mom, but as I said focused mostly on mundane work in hopes of becoming a manager some day I guess. My first job was for an assembly line rolling stamps on electrical diodes, indicating it's positive current for use in electronics. I got the job through a temp agency. Eventually, I was laid off because of cut backs and temps were the first to go, but the funny thing is I was actually breaking records at the time for being the most productive. Time and time again I was producing more than anyone ever had. This was very fulfilling. I have an extreme work ethic and love producing results. After that job, I started working on yet another assembly line for an irrigation company producing irrigation tubing. I quickly rose up to machine operator and then supervisor for the night crew. During all this time I was still going to my local community college and was failing of course in most classes.
Then one day I decided this type of work wasn't for me and was sucking my life away. I wanted to better myself and had the thought, well fuck it I'm going to try something crazy and become a doctor, LMAO. That's crazy right, well I trimmed it down a bit to wanting to be a Physicians Assistant which is basically like a doctor with a hell of a lot less schooling. I'm not quite sure what lit this fire under my ass, probably because I've struggled so much in education that I exploded into insanity. But one thing that's always stuck with me was from my high school psychology teacher, for whatever reason, one day she held me after class and said "Greg, you're going to become something great some day. I don't know what, but I do know you have some untapped abilities and strength inside of you. I can't wait to discover how successful you become." That was just out of the blue. Her being a psychology teacher might have been her way of motivating so I did take it with a grain of salt at the time, however it was pretty powerful.
So I moved away and went to another community college and started doubling down on schooling. I still had to do all my general education of course which was a fucking struggle to the death. I failed English three times! English! But my pursuit of wanting to be a doctor kept me going where I eventually passed all my general education. During this time I also started classes to become a medical assistant. I finally got my A.S. degree and also was a certified medical assistant. After earning my degree, I got accepted into a four year university to earn my Bachelors degree in biology so I could move into a P.A. program afterwards. I was still a long way out at this point:(
Something amazing happened though at exactly the same point I got accepted into the university. My girlfriend at the time, of whom I'm married to now, convinced me to switch my major into Computer Science. Wait! What!? Since before I ever went to college, my hobby has been in computers and electronics. I even built a homemade projector. I didn't even realize my true passion until she told me to switch majors. It was like this crazy light bulb struck me and said what the fuck are you doing studying biology? You fucking hate biology, man. Oh yeah, I failed chemistry multiple times, I hated it with a passion. So like that, I switched majors! Now keep in mind, yes I did have a hobby in computers, like building them and fixing family and friends computers, but I never once tried to code anything. This would be all new.
Gifts of being dyslexic continued
So there I was switching majors my first year at a four year university. However, the school I was attending does not condone this activity. They don't want people gaming the system to get into competitive majors. The way it works is if you change majors you are automatically setup for failure and required to either keep taking your desired major courses or earn a higher GPA like 15% higher than normal in the new major or they kick you out. The school I attended just so happened to be one of the best schools for Computer Science. And it was difficult with the average GPA being around 2.7. I was basically screwed and needed to retain a 3.25 or I was out.
I completely switched majors and focused solely on computer science classes. Unfortunately, I still had other classes to worry about like physics, statistics and calculus to be successful too. All of which were very challenging, but I eventually passed those, however with lower scores dwindled my chances of succeeding. As for my computer science classes I was a pure success. As I said before, I have this amazing ability to think very deep and can analyze things in my head. I can actually visualize and prepare whole work flows in my head and produce it to code. It's truly my gift that I've gained from being dyslexic.
Further verification of this gift I haven't mentioned. So I have this amazing aunt that paid for vocational testing as a high school graduation gift (it cost like $400). It's where they determine what you would excel at for a career. This was actually before I moved away and before I had any goal to become a "doctor". It was funny cause after I tested, they have you meet with an adviser to go over the findings. And they ask you what are you interested in doing and at that time I considered being a lawyer (for whatever reason) and the guy actually laughed and said you know I believe you can do whatever you set your mind to, but you actually would do very well at mechanical things like an auto mechanic or fixing equipment like VCR's, etc. I was like what the hell kinda shit is that. Come to find out he showed me my score for Visual-Spatial Reasoning and I placed in the 99th percentile! Apparently, my ability to problem solve in my head of abstract thought is through the roof, even for a dyslexic! And makes sense as to why I do so well at coding. You can read more about this here: https://www.dyslexia.com/about-dyslexia/dyslexic-talents/the-visual-spatial-learner/
Now getting back to the four year university, luckily they had a disability center that I joined to try and increase my test taking time because I had such difficulty in reading comprehension, it's well below average and need more time to process testing questions. So I tested at college and low and behold once again I tested in the 99th percentile for visual-spatial. I think I got like one problem wrong or I ran out of time to keep going, I can't recall. This was further validation I had finally chosen the right career path and was thrilled of the absolute joy it brought me to write code and create things.
Misunderstanding my abilities becomes a trend in the workplace
Well, if you haven't guessed it already, I flunked out of college. Even though I was succeeding in my computer science classes, I was deemed a failure for my grades which were about average and I was sent packing. I wrote letters to the school trying to explain my situation that I wasn't gaming the system and I have passion in what I'm doing. The director of computer science actually signed the waiver (or petition) to keep me in school after I spoke directly with him, but the waiver needed two signatures, one from him and another from the dean of engineering who decided not to sign it for whatever reason. I'm guessing it was to keep stats looking good or something for the department. I don't know, sadly.
I considered going to another university to finish out my schooling near my hometown. I even spoke with the dean, but ultimately decided I had enough knowledge under my belt and didn't think furthering my education costing me even more debt was a worthy step in my life. After 8 or so months of job hunting, I finally landed a job as a programmer for a market research software company. This was the most craziest and grueling job I'd ever had. For any of you who don't know how cutthroat market research is, stay away! Stay far, far away! There's an old saying in this field of work in that every market researcher acts like they're curing cancer. You are basically forced to pull all-nighters, multiple times a week, in order to make these people happy. You have no life. Especially while starting a family really shits on your life that you basically don't have. Talk about pressure, there were even a few programmers that literally went to the hospital for heart attacks and stress related illnesses. The amazing thing though about my time at this company was that it basically was the craziest boot camp of programming I'd ever dealt with. I became a full stack trained to the guns engineer. Ready for any type of shit you can throw at me.
I was very good at my job, one of the top performers. However, I'm extremely modest and introverted which makes me an easy target for being walked all over and being missed through the cracks on promotions. I'm silent, but deadly:) You see being dyslexic, unfortunately, your often mislabeled as dumb because you're not as vocal as most people who just bullshit there way through meetings and fake sounding smart. Of course I could bullshit too, but that's ridiculous, I'm much more successful at deeply going over the material on my own time and analyzing it all to provide much better output than the majority of people. With that, I missed major promotions, but at that time I was so eager to learn none of the crap they put me through stopped my performance so I didn't even really know how poorly I was treated.
The company later put together a tiered incentive program for professional growth based on the projects you worked on and how much money you earned for the company. Through this process it became extremely apparent I was the top earner and performer at the company (I was in the top spot at every all hands meeting) working on the most complex projects because I never screwed up, and I mean never! Really because I just loved to figure out the most challenging problems. So anyway, as I said, it became very apparent and my boss quickly recognized I was "severely underpaid" (in his words) and right then and there I was given a $20,000 raise!! BAM! Just like that.
Eventually, I became a lead programmer, and managed 6 other employees and still programming 100% of the time. I was in charge of the biggest client we had at the company. So big, that if they had ever left us we would have been forced to cut a third or more of the staff. The funny thing is, I actually took over the lead job from a veteran employee who had been with the company for 10+ years who was driving a sinking ship with this client putting us in the red. The company gave all that control to me to basically NOT screw up! Which I never did, and soon put us back in the green.
Throughout the grueling nature with the company and having our first child I started becoming interested in developing my own stuff. At first I was developing multiple tools for the company in my spare time to make my job and life easier, tools that they are still using to this day. But I realized one day that I should really be making my own stuff for myself. One of these such projects was a silly little survey site versusyesorno.com (BTW I keep all my stuff up just to have a record). It's just a simple little site for comparing things for fun. It's embarrassing to show here, but what the hell I did make it so whatever laugh it up:)
Towards the end of my days working for this company, I built another site: mealdays.com it was an actual tool my wife requested I make for her. It's a web app that utilizes Yummly's huge database of recipes. It allows you to find and select different meals for the week and then it auto creates a grocery list you can print out or email to yourself for picking up all the ingredients from the store. At one point I had a whole payment system for different plans, but right before I released it, I disabled and offered for free. I actually had it on the top page of HN which crashed my app, using up all my API usage limits from Yummly for the day. This was my first taste of making something that actually had potential to make money and it dawned on me that it's possible. However, this app didn't get too much traction so I basically abandoned it, but it still gets users from time to time so that's fun.
Moving on to greener pastures?
With the stress of this job and having two kids now I had to move on because it was just insane and I could no longer put myself through the punishment anymore. It was literally killing me. So I started job hunting. I found an amazing business management software company soon to go public. With this company I had zero experience in their stack. I was purely a python and c developer, UNIX background, but they were a .Net, Microsoft shop. Since my job was so terribly stressful, I didn't take any chances and just did a lateral move in asking for my current salary (I know what the hell was I thinking, right) which was actually a pay cut for me being in this new city with a much higher cost of living. I was OK with that though and they brought me in house as a staff software engineer.
I had a lot to learn, but was eager to and eventually found my groove and began my second career in software development. Now at the time this company wasn't public, but soon became public and that's when things started turning bad for me. Into my second year, my team gets restructured, and with that, a newly promoted asshole of a boss, who barely knew me for two weeks before he had to determine our new titles. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the company decided to restructure the job titles also to be more in line with the industry. Only shitty part about that was they did this at the same time we got this new manager. So this new manager was so incompetent that he blindly gave everyone titles, without any research about us personally nor our background. My new title...a Software Engineer I. That's right, this asshole put me at a level 1 without any regard to the ramifications of this (e.g. Impostor Syndrome, low self esteem, extremely high anxiety and depression). Now I did get to keep my salary (or back to an hourly wage, they changed this on me too). So basically I'm demoted after 8 years of professional work experience! Give me a fucking break. I was told this was the best thing for me because I can now get a bigger raise later due to promotions, etc. At the time I was expecting my third child and while I was on paternity leave my new boss of going on 6 months gets demoted, and transitioned off because half the team quit and refused to work with him. He literately destroyed the whole team for being so arrogantly nasty. But they still allowed him to give me my yearly review of which he screwed me over and didn't come through with the promise of "promoting" me back to where I should have been or higher for that matter. I didn't even get a merit increase because I was "paid too much" as an entry level programmer. Wow! All my past career work for nothing. I'm in the same classification as new hires coming directly from college now. Just Wow!
At this point you'd think I should look for another job and quit right. But how can I? I now have a family of five that I'm the sole supporter of financially. I'm stuck! So a little light at the tunnel my new boss understands my situation and within another 6 months time (a year later) I'm promoted to Software Engineer II. So three years in or so I'm still where I started when joining the company and because I got promoted I'm forced to wait another year until I can move up again. That's the rules. Oh, by the way, that earlier asshole boss gave me a poor review which almost made the promotion not even possible because apparently that review put me in some kinda penalty box where I needed to prove myself for another year with a better review. However, I talked to the director and senior vice president of engineering and was able to get that taken off due to the obvious discrepancies with me being a casualty of change.
Currently, because of the whole ordeal with my title with the company I'm still misrepresented after 10 years of work experience. As I mentioned from my previous job, I can only assume I'm perceived as dumb by some even though I'm technically very skilled, but if you don't talk it up in meetings you're immediately exiled from promotions for some odd fucking reason. Large organizations absolutely over value being a bullshitter over anything else and could care less about your productivity, expertise, and knowledge. It's literally the judge a book by its cover phenomenon. If they don't hear you, you must be dumb? That's what they go on when considering your reviews and promotions. Completely disregarding tangible evidence in achievements and productivity. What's funny is on my current team I'm absolutely a go to guy for finding solutions to problems and helping out those who can't find their way. Practically acting in a lead way in more ways than one. But of course my current boss has no way of understanding any of my achievements right now because he works on an entirely different team, completely decoupled from my own. What a blunder.
This whole shit storm pushed me over the fucking edge. This was my sign of enlightenment. You can't depend on anybody, but yourself. Doing work and working your ass off for someone else has the risk that nobody will truly know what you're doing, what's your worth, nor do they even care. As I mentioned previously, I'm very modest and do a lot of shit nobody even knows about. Believe it or not, I even have people to this day credited for my own fucking work and/or others just think someone else did it. If you want to work for someone else please don't be modest people, it will only hurt your career. If you want to progress you need to brag, brag, brag and brag some more. Bullshit your way to the top. Play the game and get promoted if that's for you. But for me, I just can't do that shit. I like to get things done and stay out of the politics and games of work.
This is when I discovered the whole Indie Hacker movement. I started doing more research and became extremely interested in it all. I started following Pieter Levels levels.io, a serial maker who's become very successful and admired in the indie hacker community. His philosophy is get an MVP out as soon as fucking possible and stop worrying about all the nonsense of how you architect it. That's just added shit that no customer will ever care about. In fact, he successfully makes tons of money on remoteok.io of which he famously coded on a single php file! Talk about insane right? NO! It's not insane. It's the only way to quickly succeed, especially when you have no time in the world with raising a family with a full-time job.
Since my whole career came crashing in on me, I've created additional projects in my spare time, in the wee hours of the night. I have a mobile app, a few desktop apps, and some web apps. One of those web apps being salaryfeed.com. I was so disgusted at the time with my situation at work that this project just exploded out of me with the idea being for people to more openly share their salary without logging in or anything. I didn't like how Glassdoor doesn't timestamp the salaries and with the mere fact that you have to log into Glassdoor makes people more wary to share their actual salary information, myself included. This project was more of a therapeutic effort than anything else.
My most recent projects are more on the level of a true Indie Hacker spirit in the fact that I actual make money and have real customers:) The first small project yearinprogress.com (inspired by Andrey Azimov andreyazimov.com with his progressbarosx.com app which was subsequently inspired by the very popular twitter feed year_progress). It's a simple little tool for tracking what percentage of the day, month, and year is passing by right in your taskbar. There is no other app like it for Windows and it prepared me for my most successful product of all: Analytics Bar analyticsbar.com (the app to the blog you're on right now). This idea is me scratching my own itch. With having five or so running websites (and other blogs my wife runs), I wanted to have a quick way to view all my traffic for all of my sites at once. I hated having to go to the browser for this information and I wanted to have the ability to notice any sudden spikes in traffic to determine where they're coming from, so that I could double down and interact with the source of referrals. This app is truly putting me more and more on the map in becoming a success as an official Indie Hacker. For that, I'm extremely thrilled and happier than ever to have something to look forward to every day, rather than my current full-time job working for someone else.
I hope you enjoyed this longer than expected read and thanks for sticking it out especially being that it was written by a dyslexic.
If you're interested in learning more about Indie Hacking there's tons of information out there, but if you're just getting started, I would strongly advise starting here: indiehackers.com there you will discover everything you need to ever know and more. Courtland has the best podcast interviews around.
If you're interested in learning more about dyslexia, please check out dyslexia.com which is an excellent resource of information and easy to read to boot:) For a quick overview of what being dyslexic is like check here: https://www.dyslexia.com/about-dyslexia/signs-of-dyslexia/common-characteristics-of-adult-dyslexia/