I became interested in technology at a young age, and started my own music lyrics and charts website at age 12. I started teaching myself how to program in PHP soon after, and launched a URL redirection service called JWDirect! at the age of 15. After that, I was approached by the owner of an early Turkish social networking site to integrate my URL redirection service into his online community project. I started tinkering with Linux and FreeBSD, helping with the system administraton for Zurna before starting my first business, a web-hosting company, at age 16. I continued to grow BlastHosting’s customer base and help scale Zurna to handle the millions of page views a day it was generating while finishing out high school.
Looking to the future, I decided I could probably teach myself most technical skills, and decided to study more business skills during University. I was accepted into the Business Honors Program in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and to Carnegie Mellon, but ended up choosing the Business Honors Program at UT. I enrolled in 2003 and triple-majored in Business Honors, Management Information Systems, and Computer Science. Needing to pay my tuition and living expenses, I started to work at the IT Help Desk at UT, and then as the second employee for a financial advisor at Key Investment Group. A coworker at the IT Help Desk referred me to a job at The University of Texas Applied Research Labs where I also took an IT Help Desk and Windows/Unix/Linux System Administrator role, which gave me free tuition for the rest of my enrollment. Due to work load, I had to drop my Computer Science major, but did graduate from UT in 2007 with double majors in Business Honors and Management Information Systems all while working 40-60 hours per week spread over two jobs.
Love of skiing
Despite living in Texas, a 12 hour drive from the nearest snowy mountains, I picked up a love of skiing during the few ski trips I made as a child and teenager. My last year at University, I took a quick ski trip to Salt Lake City to ski Alta and Snowbird and fell in love with the area. Always knowing I wanted to move to the mountains, I decided to take six months off after graduation to develop my skiing ability, and made the move to Salt Lake City. Skiing nearly every day, I vastly improved my skiing ability, and grew to enjoy it more and more.
Once the snow melted and summer came around, I started looking for a job, and began to work for Tomax as their swing-shift Technical Analyst. This consisted of installing upgrades on production systems that could only be down after-hours, diagnosing and resolving alerts for hundreds of Linux, Oracle, and application services, and maintenance of Oracle databases. With a work schedule of 4 10-hour days a week, I was able to ski or mountain bike during the days and work in the evenings. It also made for long 3-day weekends, and in 2008, I resolved to make the most of those long weekends and travel to a new place each month, and thus began my passion for travel.
Developing a Love of Travel
Fully infected by the travel and skiing bugs, I decided that I wanted to quit my job and spend 6 months backpacking and skiing around New Zealand during the southern-hemisphere’s winter (and northern winter). I saved up money, left my job, packed up all my possessions, and backpacked through New Zealand from May 2009-January 2010. I skied most of the ski resorts and club fields in the country, explored even the tiniest towns, marveled at incredible natural beauty, did some amazing hiking and mountain biking, and made a multitude of new friends.
I returned back to Utah and resumed my old job at Tomax. After several months, I advanced to a position of Oracle DBA, handling the administration, maintenance, and implementation of several of the larger clients. After that, I moved on to a position as a Technical Implementation Engineer for the Claims Manager claim-scrubbing product at Optum (formerly Ingenix), a division of UnitedHealth Group, where I handled all technical aspects of installing, configuring, and tuning our product to integrate with the Practice Management Systems (such as GE Centricity and Epic) of large health-care organizations. Seeing some gaps in our implementation process and the performance of the product, I developed documentation and automated scripts to speed delivery, increase reliability and performance, and automate common tasks for customers. I also asked for and was granted an active role in development of bug fixes and performance enhancements to the product to resolve many of the pain points that customers dealt with on a daily basis. Though I enjoyed my job, it had always been my intention to work in a more entrepreneurial environment.
Pursuing my Passions
Thus, in March 2014, I left UnitedHealth and set out on a year of traveling and experimenting with entrepreneurship. As an avid “travel hacker”, I was able to travel to Chile, France, Colombia, Mexico, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Indonesia, South Africa, India, and Nepal all for very cheaply (less than $2,500 in airfare). I trekked in Patagonia, Hawaii, and Nepal, skied in the Alps, went scuba diving in Indonesia and Mexico, rafting and canyoning in Colombia, climbed my first 14er in the US, tried surfing in Bali, and got up close and personal with wildlife (including swimming with Great Whites!) in South Africa. I also started this website, Book it with Miles, a service to help people find the perfect flights using their miles and points, SLC Flight Deals, a blog of the best flight deals from Salt Lake City, and an online course for saving money on airfare, in addition to expanding BlastHosting. I’ve also experimented with AirBNB and online education through MOOCs.