Joey Ashur: Pursuing the Silicon Valley Dream

Joey Ashur is a Hardware Test Engineer at Google Labs.

It wasn’t easy getting to where I am today. I’ve grown up with a pretty average lifestyle. Although I’m Muslim, I’ve never really had to deal with anything negative due to my religion. My name is simple, and it’s American. Many times I’ve read articles and watched news that captures the unfair treatment of Muslims. I think most people are in fact judged by their names more than we realize. Having the name Joe, as opposed to a more common Muslim name, really makes a difference. It’s quite sad and disappointing, but that’s the reality of it. It speaks volumes not only for Muslims, but also for other minorities, whether it’s religion or race. I grew up not having to deal with the consequences of being a minority.

Am I a minority? On paper I’m not – but my culture and background with tell you otherwise. My parents are both Middle Eastern: my father of Palestinian descent, my mother of Lebanese descent. They came to America in the late 1970s. I was born 10 years later. Although I was taught in American schools, I’ve absorbed the Middle Eastern culture and lifestyle from my parents. Almost every summer, I’d go to Lebanon to visit my extended family. This helped me understand my background on a deeper level. The way they lived, how they prepared food, and even the way they were taught in schools were valuable lessons. Balancing life between America and Lebanon throughout my childhood taught me the difference between the two lifestyles. Lebanon seemed normal because that’s who we were: Lebanese. In America, the melting pot of mixed cultures, my identity seemed unique yet accepted.

The only real struggle I had were personal struggles in school and looking for work. Quite frankly, I have no grievances associated with being Muslim or Arab. You might ask why, and that’s because I have an American name and I don’t have the look of a Middle Eastern individual. I never understood the struggle first hand, only through media reports. My struggle came more from my financial situation with the overwhelming struggle to balance student loan debt, as opposed to the struggle of being a Muslim in America.

In 2013, I left everything I had in Chicago and decided to move to Silicon Valley. I quit my job and had to make the hard choice of leaving my parents. I arrived in Silicon Valley, welcomed by  a small couch in my sister’s living room. I had no savings, and I was drowning in student loan debt. It wasn’t really the best of situations. But in order to make it big and follow the right entrepreneurial path, I had live the struggle. A lot of people have it good, in their eyes at least: a roof over their heads and food on the table. It wasn’t enough for me, though. I had to sacrifice the good things in life in order to get the better things in life.

#JoeStandsWithAhmed at the 2015 Google Science Fair

A nice house didn’t matter to me, neither did nice clothes or nice cars. I had to live the lifestyle of “just getting by” so I can save the most in order to advance to the next level. I was working random jobs to scrape up cash so I could move out of my sister’s place in downtown San Francisco. I was able to find a nice place with a large group of people in Silicon Valley. It still wasn’t the best  situation because I was still sleeping on a couch.

I got a job at Stanford University coordinating graduate events. I had this gig for just about six months until I started my job at Google. That was my ultimate dream. Life at Google was perfect. It was stress free and a very laid back environment. I no longer had to worry about the many expenses I had prior to working here. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was free, along with free gym access, free laundry,  free oil changes, free car washes, and free outdoor activities such as basketball, football, soccer, tennis, and ice hockey. The toilets were even high tech. So I saved a lot of money: It’s been two years since I’ve gone shopping for food. I’ve saved everything I could and caught up with my student loan debt. I knew I was definitely on track.

Two years in, I have now decided that I have enough cushion to begin development for my own app. I am beginning development for my startup with hopes that my app will change and become the next generation in messaging and social communication. Most all of us have Facebook, SnapChat, and Twitter. These are just a few of the many social media platforms that we all have at our disposal. My vision is to change how we communicate. We’ve all watched the news and we know very well that the media has changed with social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. We’ve come to a point in time that if you’re not “live,” you’re too late.

Media these days are just playing a game of catch up to make sure they get the news in first. We are a society that is addicted to our phones, social media, communication, and constant contact with our friends and the outside world. A lot of people now suffer from FOMO, or “Fear Of Missing Out.” We’ve finally entered a time with readily available technology to constantly stream our lives. Does it sound scary? It may seem scary to some people, but not most. And that’s the market I’ve decided to create this app for. The Tweeters, the Facebook addicts, and the SnapChatters are the FOMO sensitive generation.

My American struggle was the hustle. It has been a combination of the head on challenges to pave my way,  as I continue fighting for what I want. I am grateful for the opportunities and resources I have; however, I have a hunger to continue onwards and build my dreams with my own hands.

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