I I was a few hours old when my biological mother threw me into a garbage container. She was addicted to drugs, I’ve been told ever since, and couldn’t bear to take care of me. When I was discovered, the police called children’s services, who immediately placed me in foster care. My adoptive parents took in over 100 foster children during their lives, but I was one of only two who adopted. They were approaching 70, so adopting a newborn was not part of their plans, but after seeing the ordeal I had been put through, they did not want me to go through the care system.
They lived in a small rural Florida town where everyone knows everyone, so the kids at school had heard my story even before I did. They bullied me and called me Dumpster Baby. It was then that I had to talk to my father; When I was 10 he sat me down and told me about my birth situation. I thought: did someone really kick me out? Am I trash or a person? It bothered me for a long time but I got over it. I had a mother and father who loved me.
The age of my parents meant that childhood was a little different. My father was not physically capable of throwing a soccer ball, so I was fascinated by technology. I read encyclopedias cover to cover. We grew up in an impoverished environment. We went to thrift stores; We went diving in a dumpster. In 1989, when I was eight years old, my father bought me a second-hand Macintosh for $ 24 at a flea market. It didn’t work so I opened it and noticed that some capacitors were broken. My father was a maintenance worker and he had a welding gun. I took parts of the clock radio to put into the computer. After about 50 tries, I got it.
After that, computers were my escape. He kept being harassed and had no friends. That computer became my best friend. I was in an educational program called Children are our future; the principal saw a gift in me and let me work in the computer lab. I would replace the hard drives and add RAM. She encouraged me to start my own business repairing computers.
At 12, I got my first job, working after school at city hall as a computer technician. I helped develop an Internet service protocol to link all of the city agencies. I pushed myself to the limit. I learned everything I could about Windows. At 14, I started writing code; after that, I remember sitting in front of a computer for two days in a row without even being hungry. I loved.
Around this time, I went on a mission trip with the church to volunteer after a tornado hit a nearby town. I helped out at a car dealership. Their files were scattered by devastation, so I built them a cloud-based database. When I got home I started doing this for other companies. I was making a lot of money at 14, but I was always saving because I knew I wanted to start my own telecommunications business.
At 17, my father was diagnosed with dementia. In the middle of the night, he was going to wander. I’d wake up and he was 10 miles away. He forgot to put on his shirt and pants, but he always remembered his shoes. I took one and embedded a circuit board in the sole, which had a speaker and a sensor. When my father left the house, I could go to my phone or computer and say, “Hey, Dad, where are you?” and my voice would sound from the speaker of his shoe. He was working with a technology company developing software and they told the buyer what he had done. They were impressed and bought it from me for $ 2.2 million.
I wanted to use the money to buy my father the fishing boat he had always dreamed of, but he died less than 48 hours after I got it. Instead, I invested every penny in inventing more things that would help people, like a diabetic meter to share glucose levels via Bluetooth. By 24, he had developed 80 custom software programs.
I am now 31 years old and I am the CEO of Figgers Communication. I also run the Figgers Foundation, which helps children in foster care around the world. For Christmas we bought 25,000 bicycles to give away. I owe everything to my parents because they showed me compassion and the power of having good people around you. I never heard my father yell or get angry. He died in 2014, but since I was a child I knew it was the pair of shoes I wanted to wear.
• As told to Daniel Dylan Wray.
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