Personal Story

<--Hello, world! This is my little self-bio that's just begging to be put in a pretty interactive timeline. I'll do it one day. -->

Preface

My name’s Carl. I like yogurt, spreadsheets and pontificating on the future of the news. But there’s a lot more to me than that.

I’d like to call myself one of those delusional dreamers who believes it’s possible to change the world by writing code and constantly innovating without sacrificing your sanity and sense of place for Silicon Valley and turning into another out-of-touch white male technophile. That may sound cliche to you, but if you’re not a fellow dreamer and crusader for social justice and economic mobility, feel free to stop reading here.

I’m a journalist at heart. When I was 16 years old, I started working as a beat reporter at my hometown newspaper in Waycross, Ga. — a tiny town of no more than 15,000 people in the southeast pinelands of the state, where the elevation is too low to grow crops and the coast too far away to attract any commerce or industry.

Around that same time, I bought my first computer, a 2003 MacBook Pro, which quickly became a cliche extension of my identity that never left my side, just as Steve Jobs cunningly planned it to be all along. In retrospect, that sexy aluminum brick should’ve given me back problems from toting it to school every day and building simple things in Photoshop and Dreamweaver when teachers weren’t paying attention.

Entering Adulthood

A lot’s happened in the 8 years since then. I graduated and earned a full-ride merit-scholarship to Mercer University in Macon, Ga.– a place of wonder and potential which did more to boost my self-awareness and confidence than any other single life experience has. I joined a fraternity, was accepted into the honors program, studied abroad at Oxford University’s St. Peter’s College for a year, served as freshman class president, wrote for my college newspaper, interned and later worked part-time for Macon’s metro daily newspaper, The Telegraph, then sat as news and online editor for The Oxford Student, leading a team of reporters and producers at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, all while speaking in a thick southern accent. We built the paper’s first website in 2009 with a self-installed copy of WordPress and a cookie-cutter news theme that, with a little design sprucing-up, worked exceedingly well and put us well-ahead the competing Oxford paper digitally.

My time abroad taught me never to limit my potential or doubt my abilities. My senior year, I went into overdrive to jumpstart my career in making the news more interactive, social and mobile. I built the website for Mercer’s student newspaper, even developing a mobile version that, looking back now, was so rudimentary that I’d be ashamed even to have it in my portfolio.

New York, Columbia and New Opportunities

I studied hard for the GRE, wrote a killer master’s thesis and got accepted to all 7 grad schools where I applied, including fellowships to NYU, CUNY and Phillip Merrill at the University of Maryland. I eventually chose Columbia’s J-School, partly because of the superficial reason of its location in New York City and partly because I really digged what Emily Bell and Susan McGregor, among others, were doing at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism concerning data, news metrics and charting the future of the industry. I brushed up on JavaScript, delved into Ruby on Rails by attending programming meet-ups, and took courses on business models and startup strategy, including a course with Ava Seave, author of one of my favorite books of all-time, The Curse of the Mogul. I finished my master’s  degree with all honors. More importantly –– and I credit Susan McGregor and Michael Keller for this –– I gained a passion for precision journalism that harnesses the power of interactive technologies to visualize massive datasets, both those readily available as CSVs and those requiring scraping.

The First Tragic Loss, and Gaining Life Perspective

My dad’s death in March 2012 following a three-year battle with melanoma forced me to slow down my speed of living, though, and take time off to reconnect with my family. Nonetheless, I finished my master’s degree with multiple honors, yet instead of accepting job offers in the city as so many of my fellow peers did, I decided to go home to the Georgia flatwoods to spend an extended summer with my mom, who’d spent the last three years caring for my dad and now – suffering from depression and empty-nest syndrome – needed my shoulder to keep her going. I learned to appreciate the simple things more, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t stress about validating myself with external success. When I began my job-search that August, I started out close to home. It didn’t take long before I received an offer to work in Savannah, Ga., just a two-hour drive from my mom’s house, as the online editor and digital media manager for Savannah Morning News. The pay wasn’t bad at all for someone my age, the newsroom culture seemed open-minded to new ideas, it was conveniently located, and Savannah, well, let’s just say it’s where I got addicted to Instagram, thanks in no small part to the industry-renowned digital marketer Amy Brock of Visit Savannah.

Managing a staff of three producers, two of whom were older than myself, was at first a bit scary, but it didn’t take me long to get the hang of it and learn the power of leading by inspiration. Nothing made me feel more career success than seeing my employee Janay Kingsberry light up in excitement after learning how to build her first web app, or watching as Catie Mafera – already a skilled professional in digital content – discovered the magic of using JavaScript to built a simple bar chart in Google Visualization Playground. Our team made some pretty amazing accomplishments in the mobile and social realms in a very short amount of time. About a year-and-a-half in, though, I felt myself yearning to take my next step. Attending the Online News Association conference that year reminded me of the fast-pace of innovation I’d been missing out on. I even came home with a couple of job offers.

The following week, I submitted my 5-week notice to Savannah and rushed to finish my outstanding work projects before Christmas, with tentative plans to accept an offer at a media startup in NYC in late January while working on a contract project in Jacksonville, Fl. over the holidays. Working as an independent contractor, however, taught me a lesson I’d been too afraid or lacking confidence to embrace fully during my time in Savannah: I could still affect change and create products that inspired and informed people in their day-to-day lives just as much without a formal job title as without one. I didn’t have to work full-time for a news organization to promote civic awareness and a free, independent and engaged Fourth Estate. I could strike out on my own path.

It was New Year’s Eve 2013, minutes before ringing in 2014, that I made my mind up to follow through on an idea for a product that’d been mulling over for months. The next day, Jan. 1, 2014, with a slight hangover and rain pouring down outside, I designed the branding and secured the domain names for Borrow.ly, the unique, collaborative item-sharing platform that I believe not only has the power to change the way we consume and share products, but to strengthen our communities and break down barriers that continue to impede true urbanism.

The Second Tragic Loss, and Moving Forward

Just as I was preparing to move and begin my new venture, however, my mom died suddenly after a nurse mistakenly left part of her PICC line in her arm after discharge for a minor injury – causing her to contract acute respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis, which wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.

Losing both my parents before 25 has taught me how to overcome tragic obstacles, as well as take time away from work and the command line to do more leisure activities and enjoy life, because you never know how short it might be.

Despite the tragic loss of my mom and dad, I’ve made a commitment to keep following my dreams, passions and desire to build things and risk failure in the process. Borrow.ly is slated be available for public preview by August of this year. If it flops – which I don’t believe it will – the next then the next chapter of my life will simply begin.