A Different Route To Silicon Valley: From Truck Driving To Tech Startup - NBC Bay Area
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Bay Area Proud

Inspiring stories of people making a difference

A Different Route To Silicon Valley: From Truck Driving To Tech Startup

A Different Route To Silicon Valley: From Truck Driving To Tech Startup

In the cab of a tractor-trailer crisscrossing the country, Mike Dunlap used online lectures to give himself an education and turn his life around. Garvin Thomas reports with this inspiring story for Bay Area Proud. (Published Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019)

At the Booster fuel yard in San Jose, catching a glimpse of Mike Dunlap teaching a new employee about all the technology wired into one of their tankers is not uncommon.

What is uncommon is where Dunlap learned much of what he teaches.

Not that long ago, Dunlap, a high school dropout, was driving a tractor-trailer for a living alongside his father.

"We went out as a team," Dunlap said. "We'd stay out on the road two months at a time (driving) all over the country."

It wasn't really what Dunlap wanted to do for a living, however. He got into the job as a way to help his father pay off medical bills after cancer treatment.

Their time on the road turned into an education in more ways than one. Dunlap's father shared with him stories from his life and the regrets he lives with to this day. "It showed me how short time is," Dunlap said. "How quickly you realize you are 40- or 50-years-old and I haven't accomplished what I wanted.

That feeling of not wanting to spend his life doing something he was not passionate about is what inspired the other part of Dunlap's education. During their seemingly endless hours on the road, Dunlap turned to online lectures from elite schools such as MIT and Yale.

"I listened to everything and anything I could," Dunlap said. "Electromagnetism, electronics, just how anything worked." Dunlap basically gave himself a degree in engineering. Without the degree, of course.

"My resume consisted of a GED and driving experience," Dunlap said.

Still, when Dunlap moved to the Bay Area two years ago to be close to his girlfriend, those skills were enough to get him hired as a driver for Booster, an on-demand fuel delivery service.

He didn't remain a driver for very long.

Dunlap took advantage of the freewheeling nature of a start-up like Booster to pitch in in other areas of the company. He used all that he had taught himself to begin working with the company's technology.

Within a month, Dunlap was presenting a mock-up of Booster's app he had created to the head of engineering. He used his self-taught coding skills to help make the entire operation run more efficiently.

Now, less than two years after being hired as a driver, Dunlap is already Program Manager for Fleet Operations.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished," Dunlap said. Proud, Dunlap added, to be teaching new drivers not just about what powers their trucks but the powers within them.

"You are only limited by what limitations you put on yourself."

  

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