perseverance

How a nerdy kid from nowhere self-published a best-seller and got noticed by Google CEO Larry Page and The Wall Street Journal

Reading time: 12 minutes.

Last week Larry Page, the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world, and possibly one of the most powerful people on the planet, released an interview with the Financial Times endorsing my work and research on the effect of artificial intelligence and automation in the job market. That's quite remarkable, given that my school teachers told me I had no talent, that I wasn't good at writing, and that I was not even that smart. But let me take a step back.

I was born in a small village near the mountains, on the Italian Alps. There were only two schools, and not very good ones. Like many kids who like to think a lot, obsessively study things they're fascinated about, and dream big, I felt very alienated in such a small, provincial environment. There were a few bullies at school whose fathers were in jail, according to some rumors they were in for murder, some even said mafia. I never checked, I just knew I didn't want to mess with them. It was a pretty harsh environment. For someone like me who wasn't good at football, didn't like football, whose favorite bedtime reading was the CIA World Factbook and whose most beloved show was the French animated science cartoon "Once open a time... [Space, Life, etc...]," life didn't get any easier.

Beside my classmates, with whom I could never relate with but didn't particularly care, the biggest problem was the school itself. The teachers, the academic program, the tests, in my mind everything was wrong. Any interest I had was either considered irrelevant, not part of the standard curriculum and therefore not worthy of my time, or just plain weird. It shouldn't be a surprise that I looked for a way to escape.

First, I began with computers. I started with building websites, I must have been 11 or 12, but when I installed a Debian Linux on my machine I fell in love with system administration and programming. I would obsessively type on the keyboard unix commands all day long, writing scripts, hacking things apart and together, often times until late at night. It was exhilarating and incredibly satisfying. I remember once my mother came to my room to check on me at 4AM. "What are you doing up at this hour!?" she asked, "Coding stuff," I replied. I guess she was expecting me to watch porn. To this day, I still don't know if she was relieved or preoccupied that I wasn't.

If working late at night on my computer and reading books on science, technology, and economics was like drinking from the fountain of youth and wisdom, going to school felt like gulping battery acid from a rusty can. When I finished middle school, one of the teachers told my parents that I would have been better off going to work right away, because I was not smart enough to go to high school. Needless to say, we didn't follow that advice.

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