How Lightspeed’s Dax Dasilva clinched a grown-up desk job at 13

My summer job: Self-professed ‘nerd’ was thrilled to be doing real work for a startup, and got paid in sandwiches and tech

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Montreal-based tech whiz Dax Dasilva — more officially, founder and executive chair of Lightspeed Commerce Inc. and environmental activist at non-profit alliance Age of Union — wasn’t always a tech whiz… just kidding, he was! As a 13-year-old, he landed a grown-up desk job with full responsibilities, just three steps down from the boss. He explains how he did it. As told to Rosemary Counter.

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My dad was a graphic designer at a big manufacturing company in Richmond, B.C. The son of the owner — a nice guy in his late 20s or early 30s — had a big influence on the computers they were bringing into the company, and he was fascinated with Macs. He was building his own software and eventually started his own software company, a tiny little husband-and-wife company. At the age of 13 I apprenticed for him for two summers.

I was a real nerd, and had been geeking out on a Mac for a few years already, after my dad brought one home when I was about nine or 10. I was immediately seriously into the Mac and I was absolutely obsessed with graphic design. More than anything I wanted my own scanner so I could scan graphics. I told you I was a nerd!

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I guess my parents were probably thinking, how will we keep this kid busy all summer? How can we best utilize this little nerd? So this was really a great arrangement, and very exciting for me to go into the office everyday. My dad had to drive me, though. And the couple had kids too, so they were running around all the time, too. Maybe the parents were babysitting me and I was babysitting the kids.

The office was in this kind of strip mall in the suburbs. They gave me my own space and desk and real work to do, which I just loved. My job was to build the online documentation for their product. I built graphics and online tutorials, which required a lot of vision in 1989, and designing some graphics for the product. I knew a lot to start, but I also learned so much as I went about the burgeoning Mac ecosystem. I was so passionate and devoured it all. For me, it didn’t feel like work at all. I’m still in touch with the family and the kids, actually. I try to see them as often as I can.

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As thrilled as a 13-year-old can be — that’s how thrilled I was to be at a startup. I got to see the early daily challenges of a software startup in action, every aspect of it and all the excitement. I remember placing our first ad in MacWEEK magazine. It was several hundred dollars and we all waited by the phone to see if someone would call. All of this was an early education on entrepreneurship, and it sent me on that path.

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In retrospect, I’m surprised that they gave so much responsibility to a teenager. I was doing real work that really mattered. Of course, they couldn’t pay me real money — I was too young for an actual paycheque — so they’d pay me in sandwiches and technology. There were so many gadgets in the magazines that I wanted and thought I desperately needed. Why does a 13-year-old need a scanner? I don’t know.

Several years later, I’d done so many computer jobs — I’d moved from graphic designing to coding, getting bigger contracts as I went. At one point, I realized I’d never done any of the regular summer jobs my friends had done and maybe I was missing out. So I went and got a job pumping gas. I was terrible at it. I was so clueless that people kept stealing stuff on my shift without me even noticing. I had to quit before I got fired and went right back to computers.


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