“The operative word was ‘fear.’”
Johnny Boursiquot is explaining how some of the challenges he faced moving from Haiti to the US as a teenager (speaking only Creole French), helped shape him as a programmer today. Because the story of Boursiquot’s American journey is like a hologram of the Go language in which he programs, his unique experience is the subject of this edition of Unconventional Wisdom.
The personal effects on his Workbar desk tell one chapter of his biography: he is a father, a speaker, and a creative, and one of his many talents is in the programming language of Go. This language is relatively new, and Boursiquot has the perspective to see how a nascent community of innovative programmers is changing the demographic of the tech world.
Boursiquot explains, “The Go community is so young that some key members see the opportunity to shape what it becomes. It’s an inclusive one, not so dominated by one sex or one race: ‘Let’s make this a melting pot.’ Whether it’s Go or something else, it’s the people that make the change.
“I have the opportunity, as a 20-year veteran of the programming community, to see how I can remove some barriers to entry.” His own daunting barriers go unmentioned for now. “My job is to open doors, look back, and help from within the industry. I don’t have to be at the top to look back and pull people along with me. Who is struggling? Who fears taking a step through this door? People need to see others like them in this ‘Wonderful Art.’"
He shifts from mentor to father, “Removing these barriers is a duty. If my young girls follow me, I want them to have a path of less resistance than I did.”
Long before he was a dad, when a teenaged Johnny Boursiquot moved to America, there was a time when he watched lots of TV. When he rattles off some of the sitcoms that constituted his crash course in American culture, I understand. “I saw snow! I saw how everyone sounds different, behaves different. In this world, I could tell I was going to stick out. I watched movies, and kids who stuck out got picked on.”
So he succeeded, for a time at least, in passing for an average teenager. “In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t tried as hard, since having something different is an asset, but the message I was getting was: blend in, don’t stand out.”
The young Boursiquot did tune in to “Welcome Back Kotter” to study the nuances of high school popularity, but he also watched CNN to understand the world of money and the value of things. “A new pair of Jordans would cost over $100, but when I talked with my friends and used words like ‘depreciating asset,’ they looked at me weird.” As he describes his high school revelations, I can tell that he must have gone from blending in to distinguishing himself pretty quickly.
“I developed an attitude that stayed with me, sensing that American culture let my peers enjoy youth, their college years, and have fun. That’s fine, but the decision I made was to embrace the opportunity I was given in a different way. Rather than playing ball and goofing off, I chose to see my being in the States as a Golden Ticket. I’d had enough good and bad times in Haiti to appreciate this, the world opening for me.”
Until his daughters are old enough to pass through them, Boursiquot is holding doors open for others. He gives back to his native country through the Haiti School Project. As a Core Member of the GoBridge organization, he is a steward of the Go community around the country; his next event is coming up very soon here in Boston. As a part of Rails Bridge he teaches basic coding skills to all types of beginners across Boston. Even in his free time, his body of work embodies the Go ethos.
He admitted to me that one of his lessons learned was healthy suspicion of anything claiming to be “free,” so I suspect his pupils have a different take away. He makes them earn it.
Our unconventional work space celebrates unconventional wisdom. Explore diverse innovators within the Workbar community for the month of May through our blog and social media. Discover #unconventionalwisdom
About the Author: Dave Gentry is a fan of progress and recess. He believes in Olde English, new fortune cookies and he answers to #davertido.
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