I’m Somalian. My dad came to the US in 1987, settling in New York City. My mom and older sister followed shortly after. In 1993, I was born and went on to spend my early life in Harlem. My family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2002. People always ask why my family chose to relocate. My aunt and some cousins came to America around then, and they settled in Michigan. We didn’t have immediate family in NY, so that was nice. Harlem was also rough, the schools weren’t great, and there was always this sense of fear for my family. I remember we had so many locks on our door and my parents never let us play outside. I missed NYC at first, but having been in Michigan much longer now, I’ve come to appreciate it.
I was blessed with the opportunity to attend one of the most diverse high schools in the country – East Kentwood HS. As a young kid, I hated being different. It goes without saying that Somali culture is drastically different than its American counterpart. Navigating those worlds, constantly explaining things to classmates and teachers was hard. In high school, I met people who also had that struggle. It bonded us and helped me understand that being “different” is cool. That was a great dynamic to have, especially during those teenage years.
My favorite thing to do in those days was to make funny videos and make music. I’ve always enjoyed connecting with people that way, and I had a lot of fun doing it. Back then, I thought I was going to end up being a film director or work in the music industry. And I believed in that idea until about my second year into college.
I went to a local school, Grand Valley State University. I told myself I’d do a year there and then transfer to Emerson College in Boston to study film.
Now, this next part is kind of cheesy tech boy dream stuff, but it is what happened. My sophomore year, I was gifted Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. It had never occurred to me how impactful technology was to the world. I had always just been a consumer of it and never really saw the world of technology as a possibility for me. I also started to apply for internships at the time. One application after another, I finally heard back from a tech company in my city. I was like, yo; this could be tight. I wanted that job and was fortunate to land a marketing intern at Open Systems Technologies, where I worked for the remainder of my college years until I transitioned into a full-time role when I graduated. Not at all what I had planned as a kid, but was incredibly thankful because working there brought me into technology, a world I became so fascinated with.