Young Success

This engineer was a homeless teen — now he's a rapper who also works at Google

From growing up homeless to coding at Apple and Google—all while rapping for Timbaland
From growing up homeless to coding at Apple and Google—all while rapping for Timbaland

For years, Brandon Tory felt the need to choose between two careers: music and engineering. Fearing he'd lose the respect of either industry, he lived a "double life," splitting his time between work as a software engineer for top firms such as Apple and Google and lavish listening parties he'd hold as a hip-hop and rap artist.

Eventually, however, he realized he didn't need to make a choice, the 29-year-old told CNBC Make It. By embracing all of his interests he could truly grow as an artist and a technologist, allowing his office job and his side gig to fuel one another.

Early days

As a kid, Tory dreamed of being a hacker and taught himself to code. Growing up in rough Brockton, Massachusetts, he'd go dumpster diving every day and build computers out of salvaged parts. He joined his church's summer computer programs, talked to other programmers in online chatrooms for hours and used his savings to buy a book on C programming.

Still, when his friends would ask him what he was working on, he downplayed his projects, saying, "I'm just into computers."

Between ages 15 to 18, Tory's family became homeless. He and his family moved more than 20 times. During those days, he developed a passion for rapping. Soon, music and computer programming became some of the few constants in his life. Still, he hid his passion for technology.

"I didn't want to be a nerd," Tory explained.

A big break

Thanks to a combination of loans, scholarships and hustle, Tory graduated college with an electrical engineering degree. Afterward, he decided to pursue music more seriously. He got his big break in 2014, when he entered a national competition. He won and got to produce a song with Timbaland, an artist who's worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Missy Elliot.

Though Tory didn't expect more than a fleeting interaction with Timbaland, he was excited to find the artist "so positive, so genuine and so supportive." Timbaland exchanged phone numbers with Tory and called him nearly every week afterward, encouraging Tory to keep making music.

The experience was an important taste for Tory of the power of collaboration — and what could come to him if he were open about his talents. "A lot of the music that came out on my first mixtape in 2015 came because of that push that he was giving me, just calling me and saying, 'What's the next song? What's next?'" said Tory.

Opening up

In 2014, Tory moved to Los Angeles. He started to host hundreds of people at listening parties in the Hollywood Hills, earning money by coding on the side. Despite support from hometown friends and sponsors to fund lights and other production costs, he eventually went broke.

Tory returned to office work and took a job at Apple in 2016. While living in Apple housing, he drove a total of 10 hours on weekends between Cupertino to Los Angeles to pursue music.

Still, some of his closest friends didn't know he pursued both music and technology. "I was so insecure and embarrassed about the fact that I had to leave L.A. to do engineering," said Tory. "To me, it wasn't cool at the time."

He found it more and more difficult to keep those worlds apart. "The human in me, just wants to be accepted," Tory explained on his personal website. "The cost of maintaining an image, in order to protect my own insecurities about being a computer nerd — resulted in moments of intense joy, decorated with moments of intense self-doubt."

Eventually, Tory's younger sister told him to open up about his two careers. You need to "tell people who you really are," Tory recalled his sister saying.

He sent a video revealing how he balanced his two careers to friends, coworkers and his social followers. He featured an iPhone in it with the hopes of catching the attention of Apple executives.

It worked. One notable executive responded: then head of Apple Music Jimmy Iovine. Iovine is the founder of Interscope Records (a label responsible for famous artists including Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Eminem).

"When I asked him if we could meet and he said yes, I literally dropped to my knees and praised God," said Tory.

Sharing both worlds helped him grow as an artist and a technologist. When they met, Iovine immediately had suggestions for Tory on building his brand. Iovine challenged him to consider the business aspects of his two careers and to push himself further.

"He got me focused," said Tory. "He definitely called me out on a lot of things."

Pursuing the "multidream"

Today, Tory develops artificial intelligence as a senior software engineer at Google. He continues to pursue music, hosting popular parties in Los Angeles and has thousands of followers on social media.

For Tory, this is his "multidream," a term Tory coined that plays on the computing concept "multithread." To Tory, "multidream" represents someone executing two dreams at one time and without compromise.

Such varied "portfolio" careers are bound to become more common, Slack exec April Underwood told CNBC Make It in 2017. In fact, many successful ventures, such as Tumblr, started as side gigs.

Even if your project doesn't hit the big leagues, it will likely improve your skillsets and expand your networks. As a result, it can even make you a better employee, said Underwood, who also advises startups in an investing collective she helped co-found.

Tory says that those looking to pursue side gigs or multiple passions should resist the instinct to restrict themselves or keep their worlds separate. He said you must be willing to learn, adapt — and share your talents with the world.

This approach will give you the insights you need to improve across the board, he told CNBC Make It. "Almost everything great I've seen comes from rapidly learning and accepting feedback."

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