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Lynn Cyrin

programming zealot \\ productivity demon \\ software artisan

Origin Story

My developer origin story, filled with peril! and strife!


I've mentioned having been homeless often enough that I think most people have heard about it. That's where I'm going to start this off.

What do I mean by "homeless" though? Well, there are 4 main types of modern urban homelessness that I know about. Couch surfing, sleeping in your car, sleeping in a shelter, sleeping outside. They represent a spectrum of how society values that person's safety. We live in a society that does not grant everyone a self place to sleep, thus this spectrum exists. Whether we could grant that is a fun economics question, but I digress.

I was couch surfing, and in a shelter (two of them actually). Couch surfing I think most people can imagine. But sleeping in a shelter... can be a surreal experience. Especially when you juxtapose the two shelters I was in.

  1. women's domestic violence shelter. Pretty calm place. 3 meals a day. Your own bedroom, bathroom shared with 3 people. Average age 35. Lots of children running around. Curfew was 10pm.
  2. young adult (18 - 24) shelter. And erratic and dangerous environment. 1.5 meals a day. 30 ~ 40 people in the 'room', with high concrete partitions. The partitions didn't touch the ceiling, so they weren't walls. These separated the rooms into [door-less] single gender sleeping areas of 4 ~ 7. Bathroom shared with 15 ~ 20 people. Curfew was 7pm.

The 1.5 meals part of the second shelter is actually a pretty important point. Because, if you're homeless and 18, how are you going to eat? Well you need money - and for money you probably need a job. It's very likely going to be retail. While working on said job, you aren't allowed to show any obvious signs of homelessness. In fact, the majority of the homeless people I know are by no means visibly identifiable as such. If you frequent low end retail (Walgreens, CVS) you have had a homeless cashier.

Training Montage

That was a short advocacy aside, because I was not actually employed during the time I was homeless. I was instead working on training my coding skills. In my opinion, learning to code while homeless is a ton easier than working retail while homeless. But objectively, here's an example day of mine (in the 2nd shelter):

  • 8a Mandatory to be out of the shelter by this time
  • 8a - 9a Writing code on my [paper] notebook while sitting outside (+1 hours)
  • 9a Library opens
  • 9a - 12p Writing code on my laptop in the library (+3 hours)
  • 12p - 1p Hunt for free food
  • 1p - 3p Sleep (somewhere random)
  • 3p - 6p Writing code on laptop at the LGBT center (or any community center) (+3 hours)
  • 630p In by curfew
  • 7p - 9p boring stuff (eat, clean, draft emails, etc...)
  • 9p - 11p Sleep (in shelter)
  • 12p - 3a write code on notebook in shelter (+3 hours)
  • 3a Sleep (in shelter)

So there are a few things to note here. First, I was 'at work' for 10 hours a day generally. This is actually a low point in that respect. When I was in the other shelter it was 12 hours, and when I was couch surfing it was 14. Second, I had my laptop no more than 10 feet away from me at any given time (showers were not an exception), but it wasn't always safe to use it. Writing code on paper can be good experience to have sometimes though!

I kept this sort of schedule up for about 4 months. That is, write / read code for 10+ hours a day while eating minimally and living in super unstable housing. Shelters are inherently unstable, and I was changing shelters once a month. This was everything that I did. I didn't leave out time for eating and self care, they just didn't happen.

And at the time that I was doing all this I had an intricate life plan. It went out 6 - 12 years and involved me getting one of these:

  • into school
  • an internship
  • a job
  • crowdfunded income
  • government housing.

I was doing all this work with the idea that it would make me look good enough, to get maybe one of those things to happen. Then I was going to work that particular thing into a long time life plan. 4 months into it I was still doing a ton of work, and wasn't sure what was going to happen. And then...

A String of Wise Women Bring Lynn to the SWORD OF DESTINY

I think a lot about the long, impactful single chain of people [i.e. the Wise Women] that led me to this point. That said, the SWORD OF DESTINY was clearly feminist hackers. I was already the intersectional feminist of your worst nightmares. But it never occurred to me that I could connect my feminism with my professional aspect, as a means of breaking into a community.

When I found out that this community existed (more specifically, when I found out about Double Union) I was extremely excited to be a part of it, AND! it turns out that I happen to fit into it fairly well.

So the feminist hackers contributed to me, and I contributed to them. I started going to hackathons, talking to people about my experiences, coming to terms with parts of my identity. To continue with the gamer theme, I gained a TON of experience in social, community, and professional in a very short amount of time. Except... I didn't really realize this was happening?

I knew I was doing cool things and meeting cool people. But things happened so fast, that it never registered that I was making so many accomplishments. To this day, me brain oftentimes slips back into "I'm homeless, black, trans... I can't buy food, what do I do???". But despite that, I was stilling making the accomplishments. And then all at once, the experience started cashing in.

Lynn Slays ALL of the Big Bads. ALL OF THEM. AT THE SAME TIME.

So my life plan was set up such that if one amazing thing happened, I would then be empowered enough to stitch together a better life. Except what happened was much better than that, so much better that I'm not even sure how to handle it. Also, it all happened in March, but really it happened over the course of two weeks. It being? Well, I:

  • Got someone interested in me in a way felt very akin to a sponsorship. Or, as I've been describing it socially: "halfway between a child adoption and a venture capitalist investment"
  • Got into 2 really amazing internships with local organizations, and with each one doing work that could very well lead to a career
  • Got into a 2 year free housing program courtesy of the state
  • Got accepted as a Gnome OPW intern working on Linux stuff
  • Opened up about me needing financial support, and started getting $250/week [!!!] via crowdfunding
  • Got accepted into Mills College as a Dean's Scholar

And likely a few other things that I'm forgetting. If any single one of those had happened to me, I could have weaved it into a successful life. But THEY ALL HAPPENED. AND PRETTY MUCH AT THE SAME TIME! The bulk of this occurred 2 to 3 weeks ago and honestly I still haven't taken stock of it all.

Happily Ever After

So at this point I'm set. By which I mean that I know at the very least I won't be homeless again, ever. But it means so much more than that! There are so many things I can do with my life now! Like, umm... that's the "problem" actually. My life has been uplifted so radically that I'm not even sure what to do with it anymore. Reconstructing those 6 - 12 plans will take a lot of effort, but it's an effort I'm looking forward to spending time on. And I'll definitely write about it! Hopefully people will like reading it?

-- Lynn

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