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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Humans of Silicon Valley: JP

Have you ever stopped to think that beyond the visible spectrum of our universe, lie millions and millions of other galaxies, more vibrant and warm than the one we live in? Maybe there is an alien life more intelligent than ours. However, as Calvin (Bill Watterson) would say: The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. But what if through a magical portal you could reach another life like yours but equally different?

I had the good fortune of meeting JP recently. A 40-year-old French-American with a little twinkle in his eyes. He lives in Bay Area with his husband and two kittens-Princess and Alien. He plays the harpsichord, loves Baroque music, and works in the software industry. He dropped out of high school when he was 17, taught himself to code in BASIC, Pascal, x86 assembly,  c, and c++. One of the reasons he moved from France was that it was easier to get a job in the US without a formal degree. But even in the liberal bosom of Silicon Valley, there are some impediments to overcome, for example, in companies where you need higher education to become a direct hire and enter the tier system of designation and salaries.

When I told him that I love my job because I have all the creative freedom I need, he lamented that the software industry is not what it used to be and engineers are having less and less to do with the creative process while the managers make the decisions about what needs to be done and how. He wants to change fields but he has already invested so many years in IT security, and it is not always that easy. He will probably have to take a pay cut too.

Though he was born in the US, he grew up in a village in France with a population of about 5000. He biked to school through the woods. His father was a Particle Physicist who worked for the government.

I asked him, ' Don't you feel suffocated in this jungle of concrete?'

‘I don't live in this jungle,’ he said with a sheepish smile.

'Of course, I forget, you live in the hills!' I laughed.

Then he shared an interesting anecdote about how his next-door neighbor had to dig his own well because the Santa Clara County line ends just at his place. He talked about the renovations he made to his place recently and advised me against investing in properties in Florida and putting too many eggs in one basket. ‘There are several cost disadvantages to investing in different locations too,' he explained.

He married in 2013 after the US Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision in the United States v. Windsor) declared that part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

He told me how he fought with the DMV in 2008 to get his vanity plate 'HIV POZ'. When he first applied, his request was rejected. At that time, the story caught the attention of some local news agencies. 'My three minutes of fame,' he joked. A DMV spokesperson had said that a team of personnel reviews vanity plates and determines whether submissions are inappropriate or offensive, from degrading sexual terms to negative references.

JP said, 'I don’t think it’s something you need to hide from or be ashamed of. I wanted to break the stigma associated with it. HIV negative means that the test conducted did not show the presence of HIV virus or any kind of antibodies. However, receiving a single negative test result is not confirmation that the individual does not currently have HIV, as tests have various window periods and need to be repeated for confirmation over time depending on one's sexual history.

All types of HIV tests have a window period, which varies from 1 to 12 weeks. 3% of HIV infections still show up negative on the most common screening test, the antibody test, after 12 weeks. This means even if you go get tested today, a negative result doesn't prove you are actually currently negative. It means you were negative as of 1 to 12 weeks ago with 97% confidence. The test can only confirm if you are currently positive, but cannot conclusively prove if you are currently negative.'

He sent me links to his blog, the treatments available, and advice for sexually active gay men.

‘How do you people react to the vanity plate on the streets?’, I asked.

Most people react positively, he said. ‘Some throw high fives on the freeway, a lot of people take pictures that I can see in my mirror. Many pedestrians on the street take pics too, but there are also assholes who cut me off for no reason.’ Then he shared a thread on an online forum which had an excerpt from a news article featuring his case and  some comments like:

‘And, of course, he drive's a Prius. Not only do we have to fear being run off the road by a Prius now we have to fear HIV POZ Priuses as well!’ 
‘Hope he is never in an accident that requires on scene medical assistance.’ 
‘Way to set yourself up for a hate crime, bro. There's being open, and then there's painting a target on yourself.’ 
‘If your car gets rear-ended by the aids Prius, is it gay too now?’

I don't think it bothers him anymore. He lives a very private life and keeps to himself. And tries to educate people who are willing to listen.

(With permission)

1 comment:

amitabha said...

Great story of an extra-ordinary guy.